The remote control on the next Apple TV will reportedly trade an ultra-svelte figure for one that supports touch controls.
Citing an unnamed "employee briefed on the product," the New York Times claims that the Apple TV remote will include a touch pad for scrolling through menus, and will also have two physical buttons. As a result, the remote will be chunkier than the existing version (pictured above), with a similar thickness to the remote for Amazon's Echo speaker.
Apple hasn't revised the Apple TV remote since 2010, when the company switched to a smaller set-top box running iOS instead of a modified OS X. While most set-top box remotes use AAA batteries, the Apple TV remote uses a coin cell battery, allowing it to be much thinner. It's also more sparsely-equipped than other remotes, with only a directional pad and buttons for selection, menu, and pause/play.
With a major revamp for the Apple TV hardware reportedly on the way, it appears Apple is rethinking its approach to television input. The new set-top box is rumored to have Siri voice commands, HomeKit smart home controls, and a full-blown App Store, but no 4K streaming support.
While it's unclear exactly how touch controls would work, Daring Fireball's John Gruber speculates that Apple could use the same haptic feedback and pressure-sensitive "Force Touch" controls that appear in the new MacBook. For instance, users could potential feel when their finger passes over a menu item, and press harder to speed up rewind and fast forward controls.
Why this matters: The idea of putting a touch pad onto a television remote isn't new. Several remotes for the failed Google TV included trackpads, and keyboards will built-in trackpads are readily available for home theater PC setups. But the execution has never quite worked, as you need to train your eyes on a small cursor and move your finger with pinpoint precision. If the Times' report is correct, hopefully Apple's marriage of hardware and software can produce something better.