How Apple is future-proofing your TV and why its new remote is inspired by the iPod

How Apple is future-proofing your TV and why its new remote is inspired by the iPod

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Apple has revealed some of the inspiration behind the Apple TV remote (Image: APPLE)

Apple’s all-new Apple TV 4K arrived in stores this week, and the Cupertino-based firm is pretty confident its latest streaming box will future-proof your telly for some years to come. Like its predecessor, this new set-top box can handle 4K resolution with High Dynamic Range, but this time, there’s the added bonus of watching shows, movies, and live sports at a high refresh rate – up to 60 frames-per-second, to be exact.

This means content will not only look razor-sharp and drenched in rich colours, but any motion will appear silky smooth: perfect for an action-packed Premier League fixture.

Well, it would be …except you’ll struggle to find any Premier League matches broadcast in 60fps HDR right now. Fortunately, Apple is well aware that, while its hardware is pushing the boundaries of TV technology, the broadcasters behind your favourite content are lagging a little behind.

This isn’t anything new. While Apple has supported 4K output from its Apple TV line-up since 2017, to this day, a number of UK broadcasters, including the BBC and ITV, still don’t regularly make their shows available in the upgraded resolution …let alone HDR and high refresh rates.

Fortunately, Apple isn’t fazed by the fact that it’s ahead of the curve. Tim Twerdahl, Apple Vice President of Product Marketing for Home and Audio recently sat down with Express.co.uk, telling us that Apple TV 4K is designed to be “ready for the future.”

“There is a little bit of a chicken and egg issue which is, why produce the content if nobody can watch it?” Twerdahl said. “I think we’re taking a great step forward with Apple TV 4K offering high frame rate support and it will be an incentive to create more and more of this content.

“For example, here in the US a couple of years ago, they started producing the Super Bowl in high frame rate HDR. And we’re seeing more and more. We really want the product to be ready for the future and the great news is we’re out there working with all of these top providers around the world to bring high frame rate content, especially for sports.

“I think, as a customer, the fact that you can buy the Apple TV 4K now and it’s essentially future proof is great.”

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Apple TV update

The new remote features a click wheel similar to the original iPod (Image: APPLE)

As well as the future-proofed visuals, Apple has completely redesigned the remote control. When the design team sat down to dream-up a new way to scroll through menus, fast-forward through adverts, and more, Apple’s Tim Twerdahl tells us that some of the inspiration came from the most iconic Apple device of them all: the original iPod.

The revolutionary music player had a circular click wheel to help navigate through long lists of songs, rewind to your favourite verse, and play games. And now, Apple TV 4K has something identical.

The updated remote allows you to both physically tap around the outside of the circle – like a directional pad – or use the swipe gestures found on the previous remote design in the touchpad in the middle. Like the original iPod, dragging your finger around the circle works as a jog control and is designed to make scrubbing through video more accurate.

Explaining more, Twerdahl told us: “If you think about it, since we first had on-demand formats, like the VCRs and DVDs, we’ve been stuck with those 2X, 4X, 8X kind of control speeds and it’s just not very intuitive or useful. You always overshoot and then try to get back to a point.

“Once we came up with this circular design we thought it looked a lot like the iPod quick wheel, so what could do that could really help people with their TV using an interface like that? The scrubbing of video came as such a natural thing, professional editors often use these jog-style controls, which are quite powerful, and it’s really nice to bring this into people’s living room.

“It’s super accurate and I can’t wait for customers to get it in their hands.”

Apple TV update

The Apple TV is now compatible with 4K HDR content at 60fps (Image: APPLE)

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Also new to the Apple TV remote – a power button that acts as a universal remote and powers-on your television and any soundbar attached to your set-up. While that might sound pretty simple, it’s not as easy as you think.

“There is a fair amount of complexity there,” Twerdahl tells us. “There are some standards over HDMI there are some standards that use Infra-Red. And so we have to sort of negotiate and figure out what the best way to do that for any given TV is. The key is that it’s just about simplicity for customers. We’ll do all the hard work and the heavy lifting in the background.”

The final big change to the new Apple TV 4K remote, which is also available to buy on its own in the Apple Store for those with older Apple TVs, is the new Siri button on the right-hand side. For iPhone owners, this placement will be instantly familiar – something Apple hopes will make moving between your smartphone and telly seamless.

Simple voice commands to Siri can bring up boxsets, films with a specific actor, or entire genres. You can even ask Siri to show any content that’s filmed in 4K HDR – to test your new telly box. This is often a lot quicker than typing using the on-screen keyboard, but does Apple think enough of us have got used to barking orders into a remote control?

“It’s an interesting point,” agreed Twerdahl. “We want to make it super easy to engage with Apple TV regardless of your comfort level. If you hit the Siri button on your remote and don’t say anything some suggestions will cycle through on the TV screen to help you understand the kinds of things you could say. By moving the Siri button to the side – where it is on your iPhone – we’re hoping that also reinforces with people as you can do exactly the same kind of things on your iPhone as your Apple TV remote.”

In our Apple TV 4K review, we were thrilled with the new remote. But with the channel changer getting such a drastic makeover this year …why has the set-top box stayed the same? This current Apple TV design has been around since 2015 and there’s no sign of any of the colourful new options found on the iPad Air, iPhone 12, and even newly-rebooted iMac.

“A lot of people end up tucking away the box itself and it’s the remote that people interact with on a day to day basis, so it’s where we put our effort in terms of designing the new Apple TV 4K and making sure there was really a magical experience with the primary interface. We think we’ve done a great job, and we’re really excited about the remote,” Apple’s Tim Twerdahl tells us.

Apple is clearly proud of its all-new Apple TV 4K. And it’s not hard to see why – while you might not be able to take advantage of the awesome new high-frame-rate format supported by Apple TV 4K right now, you’ll be first in line when Premier League matches, F1, Hollywood blockbusters, and more, start to embrace HDR 60fps.

In the meantime, Apple TV 4K still supports 1080p, 4K, Dolby Vision, Dolby Atmos, and more – all of which are supported by the likes of Netflix, Disney+, Amazon Prime Video, and, of course, Apple’s own TV+ streaming service.

With the Apple 4K TV now on store shelves worldwide, the pressure is on the broadcasters to catch-up.

You can read our full Apple TV 4K review here.

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