Explain A Television Remote Control To Me Like I’m Five
While I haven’t had cable television in quite some time, I still have a television. I simply use some combination of Apple TV, Chromecast, and Roku to get the content I want on to the screen. And it’s great because the only time I have to interact with the television remote is when I turn the TV on or want to adjust the volume. In other words, I use two or three buttons.
And while my situation may be a bit abnormal (though increasingly normal), I’m not so sure my remote control usage is. It feels like pretty much everyone uses just a few buttons on their remote controls, no matter how they view video content. And yet, look at your typical remote control. I mean, just look at it:
Insane. What the hell are all these buttons for?
I mean, I think I know what most of them are for — I can read (though I could not tell you what “PIP PR-” or “PIP PR+” or “ARC” or “Q.VIEW” or “REVEAL” or “INDEX” or the unlabeled yellow one are for). But I wonder how often the majority of them are used. And thus, why they’re there.
The obvious answer is that each television manufacturer actually decided not to design their remote controls. Instead they just threw up every single button that could possibly be wanted by the smallest subset of users. And this is the result: button vomit.
The remotes that come with televisions are bad, but the ones that come with cable boxes are actually worse because they almost always have a shittier build quality. It’s like the cable companies said, “Okay, let’s take this thing that’s overly-complicated which users hate and figure out a way to make it cheaper and thus, worse.”
This is all interesting to think about in the context of the “future of television.” The long-rumored new Apple Television has been said to be centered around a new interaction paradigm. But if it is indeed still a box that plugs into an existing television, all of us will still have to deal with the old-school remotes.
It’s the same situation with the current Apple TV (which has a remote which is almost too sleek and minimalist), the Chromecast (which has no remote and instead relies on you using a smartphone or computer to control), and the Roku (which is nice but has a Blockbuster button — Blockbuster!?).
In a way, television remote controls look similar to how phones used to look (both landline and cellular). And I suspect we’ll see a similar transition to touch at some point. And some people will complain that they can’t use the new remotes without looking down at them, just as they used to complain about this with smartphones.
The funny thing is that when you pick up a remote control for the first time (as I often do now in hotel rooms out of sheer morbid curiosity), you have to not only look down to see what you’re doing, you have to take five minutes to study the damn thing. It’s only when you orient your hand to where the two or three buttons you’re actually going to use are on the remote that you get comfortable.
And then when you consider that most people have three or four remotes which they use to control their living room media, it’s insanity.
It leads to this:
I’m not sure remotes should be designed for a five-year-old or for grandma. But I’m certain they at least should be designed.