Apple TV & Invisible Design


Apple is known for dedicating themselves to solving smaller problems that often go unnoticed.

Examples include how the reversible lightning cable can be connected in any orientation, or how the MagSafe adaptor can save a laptop from being dragged down when the cable is tripped, or how the iPad’s screen comes to life after flipping open the SmartCover. These problems are initially not obvious nor do they seem of importance. However, after getting accustomed to these improvements, users quickly find it hard to live with out them.

That’s why I was surprised when Apple announced their new Apple TV with out solving a common day every day problem.

Finding a lost remote is a very common problem

Especially with its small size, finding Apple’s new Siri remote for the Apple TV will be a common annoyance users will frequently have.

A simple solution could have been to add a tiny speaker so that the remote could ring once a location request was made from the Apple TV unit or from an iPhone. Unfortunately, iFixIt’s teardown of the new Siri remote shows no such speaker exists.

Since the new Siri remote comes with Bluetooth there could be some way to track it using Bluetooth signal strength, however, as other similar products have shown, that solution is neither quick nor reliable.

Apple isn’t a stranger to tiny speakers

What surprises me is that Apple itself has added a tiny speaker to improve the experience of a product before: the Mighty Mouse.

When the Mighty Mouse introduced a small multidirectional trackball, users found that they missed the ‘clicking’ noise made from physical track wheels that confirmed they were scrolling. Apple’s solution was to install a tiny speaker into the Mighty Mouse that would play a subtle artificial clicking noise whenever the trackball was used.

If you have access to one of these mice, you can see the difference the speaker makes by scrolling with the batteries in and then scrolling without the batteries. The artificial clicking noise does in fact make using the mouse feel more comfortable.

Apple is known for solving invisible problems

There are many examples where Apple has gone above and beyond to solve problems that weren’t immediately obvious, often referred to as ‘invisible’ problems. Tony Fadell, the former head of iPod & Special Projects group at Apple, discusses this notion in great detail during his TED talk.

“It’s seeing the invisible problem, not just the obvious problem, that’s important” Fadell said during his TED talk. “There are invisible problems all around us. First we need to see them. To feel them. Then we can solve them.”

During his talk, Tony explains that to solve invisible problems one needs to use the product extensively in real world scenarios. This is precisely what seems strange about how Apple didn’t include an easy way to find the new Siri remote. It’s an invisible problem that would have easily presented itself after using the product for some time.

The fact is solving invisible problems in clever and practical ways has become the trademark of Apple’s products. We have grown accustomed to Apple proactively identifying and solving problems that otherwise would not have garnered attention. It has become an expectation for Apple.

Innovative features like Live Photos and new interaction paradigms like 3D Touch and the touch sensitive click pad on the new Siri remote are a testament to Apple’s constant re-imagination of their existing products. It’s evident that Apple hasn’t slowed down. However, in the pursuit to innovate and re-invent, Apple needs to continue to also give importance to invisible problems — like it has done so many times before.