Over the past year I’ve spent a ton of time working & thinking about an option to experience TV on the iPad. There’s a lot of great things that can be done with a swipe or press of a finger. It opens up better conventions than are available on a set top box that has to deal with old technology and legacy issues. It also opens up one issue that every designer wants to improve—the remote control. All of a sudden if a person doesn’t have to rely on an input device that is painful to use to search and browse combined with an iPad the whole convention of TV & movie viewing changes for the better. I’ve blogged in the past about the remote control experience trying to understand how it could be improved. One remote that got my attention when it first came out through images was from Boxee because of the keyboard on one side. I’ve never tried one so I found the review from Terrence O’Brien to be helpful for pointing out a couple things I wouldn’t have considered to be an issue.
FROM SWITCHED—TERRENCE O’BRIEN: The other major hardware component is the remote, which is unique with its full QWERTY keypad on its reverse side. On the whole, it’s a wonderful creation. Using the keypad is much more pleasant than navigating on-screen keyboards with basic directional controls. That being said, there are a few design quirks that keep it from being perfect. The symmetrical controls make it very easy to grab the remote the wrong way, which had us constantly hitting “menu” when we wanted to hit “play/pause.” The remote is also just a little too wide for comfortable typing, especially since the QWERTY keys take quite a bit of force to press. (Still, we’d take the Boxee remote over the Apple TV and Roku remotes any day.) Alternatively, you can always use the iPhone app, which gives you the option of controlling the Boxee Box with virtual buttons or by using hand gestures. Still, neither the remote nor the the iPhone app offer a good solution for controlling the on-screen cursor. Unlike the Boxee desktop app, many videos require you to launch full-screen mode with the remote’s directional pad, something that is at best inconvenient and at worst maddening.
Reading about the experience of using the Boxee remote a couple themes emerged. Trying to find something to do vs a simple action. For example trying to find a show/video through exploration vs. hitting a specific channel. Again because things are being relied from the remote with an up/down & side to side action it still relies on conventions of normal remotes. That’s not necessarily a bad thing. One of my favorite remotes is from Apple. It’s pretty disciplined with the number of buttons it has. The difference perhaps is that there isn’t such a physical disconnect from looking down on the remote while trying to keep one eye on the TV. The other issue mentioned that I wouldn’t have considered is the symmetry of the remote buttons. On screen it looks well balanced—but what happens when the icons and names rub off? Hopefully in V2 of the remote one of those two buttons in changed slightly in shape to signify which is which.