Apple TV Remote app puts a Siri Remote on your iPhone

Apple has released a replacement for its old Remote app, rather than an update.

A new remote app designed for the Apple TV addresses most of the remaining points of friction between the fourth-generation TV box and the increasingly long-in-the-tooth Remote app designed for controlling iTunes and previous models of the Apple TV. The new app effectively simulates a Siri Remote and features a game mode that sits somewhere between a Siri Remote and a physical game controller. It’s also free, as opposed to $80 for a Siri Remote made of atoms.

The new Apple TV still feels unfulfilled, and that’s partly to do with it being released in what felt like an incomplete form. The new app and tvOS 10 may help take it all the way.

A long time coming

appletv app game mode

The default Apple TV Remote app functions just like a differently shaped Siri Remote.

When the fourth-generation model shipped in October 2015, the original Remote app couldn’t work with it, Bluetooth keyboards were unsupported, and Apple said third-party game controllers had to be optional for games, not mandatory.

Adding to that malaise at release, the Siri Remote remains one of the least well-designed Apple products in recent memory, with no easy way to determine which end is up by feel without brushing its touch pad, which could scrub the active video or audio. Apple also changed the simulated keyboard entry in tvOS, using an absurdly wide line of letters and numbers instead of a grid.

Given the number of passwords and other data that needed to be entered when setting up an Apple TV, this all combined to make the interaction side of things half baked, even when the device and tvOS were just fine. In December 2015, Apple added Remote app compatibility, and in March 2016, it fixed some of the Siri Remote touch issues and added Bluetooth keyboard support.

But a full-fledged Apple TV app for iOS remained on the horizon. In fact, until the Apple TV Remote appeared on August 1—so far, not optimized for an iPad—the expectation was the app would only be available for tvOS 10, which will be released later this year in conjunction with updates to all of Apple’s other OSes. Instead, we have it now, and it’s backwards compatible to the second- and third-generation Apple TV models. (You still need the Remote app to control iTunes, however.)

How it works

The app pairs to an Apple TV just like other remotes, requiring the entry of a code displayed on the screen connected to an Apple TV. Once paired, the screen looks like a slightly wider Siri Remote with a different arrangement of the buttons.

Using Siri in the app is a weird experience, because the app still requires that you hold down its virtual Siri button, and it relays your voice data to the Apple TV for processing, rather than using built-in iOS support. This is a good choice given the range of hardware on which the remote app can work, but it was confusing at first; the Apple TV does prompt you to hold down the button, just as with a Siri Remote.

The volume up/down buttons are a notable omission onscreen, but if your Apple TV is set up to use HDMI-CEC to control the receiver or television to which it’s connected, you can use the hardware volume buttons on an iPhone to control volume. Even though my A/V system is set up that way, it didn’t work for me; many colleagues I checked in with had varying experiences, but it does work for some. (The Siri Remote includes infrared, so it can control devices without HDMI-CEC, but my system is configured for HDMI-CEC, an HDMI-CEC label appears on screen, and the remote works without line of site.)

The app changes which buttons appear by context, so when you’re playing music, track forward and back buttons appear, and watching a video, 10-second rewind and advance rewinds buttons show up. The app also shows album art or a video cover. On an iPhone with 3D touch, you get force feedback when making certain choices, although I wasn’t able to find cases outside of games in which that occurred.

The app also sends gyroscope and accelerometer information for movement and relative orientation, just like a Siri Remote, but I was hard pressed to find apps that supported these. I tested with several games, and only Octodad: Dadliest Catch made use of tilt.

appletv app siri mode

The Apple TV Remote includes a Game Mode with a reduced interface and landscape orientation.

When using an app, a game-controller icon appears whether or not the game is enabled for a controller. Tapping the icon switches from portrait to landscape orientation, and puts the touch pad at left, while removing most buttons and hiding other parts of the interface. (Find the tiny Done link to return to Siri Remote mode.)

The game controller makes it easier to hold in two hands, and the Select and Play/Pause buttons double as old-school A and X buttons. In testing with many games, the apps don’t recognize Game Mode as a controller, and Apple hasn’t provided details yet on whether app developers will be able to sense that mode. With tvOS 10, Apple will allow app makers to require a game controller, and it may be that the new app will gain more capabilities then.

Where the Apple TV Remote app will really make a difference is in households that don’t want to pony up the money for additional Siri Remotes, but want to use games that require multiple remotes. With an iPod touch or iPhone running iOS 9.3.3, Apple has now opened up a cheaper way for families or roommates to play games together.

Join the Good Gear Guide newsletter!

Error: Please check your email address.

Tags iOS 9iOS 10Apple TVtvOS

Our Back to Business guide highlights the best products for you to boost your productivity at home, on the road, at the office, or in the classroom.

Keep up with the latest tech news, reviews and previews by subscribing to the Good Gear Guide newsletter.

Glenn Fleishman

Macworld.com
Show Comments

Essentials

Microsoft L5V-00027 Sculpt Ergonomic Keyboard Desktop

Learn more >

Lexar® JumpDrive® S57 USB 3.0 flash drive

Learn more >

Mobile

Lexar® JumpDrive® S45 USB 3.0 flash drive 

Learn more >

Exec

Lexar® Professional 1800x microSDHC™/microSDXC™ UHS-II cards 

Learn more >

Lexar® JumpDrive® C20c USB Type-C flash drive 

Learn more >

HD Pan/Tilt Wi-Fi Camera with Night Vision NC450

Learn more >

Audio-Technica ATH-ANC70 Noise Cancelling Headphones

Learn more >

Budget

Back To Business Guide

Click for more ›

Most Popular Reviews

Latest News Articles

Resources

PCW Evaluation Team

Azadeh Williams

HP OfficeJet Pro 8730

A smarter way to print for busy small business owners, combining speedy printing with scanning and copying, making it easier to produce high quality documents and images at a touch of a button.

Andrew Grant

HP OfficeJet Pro 8730

I've had a multifunction printer in the office going on 10 years now. It was a neat bit of kit back in the day -- print, copy, scan, fax -- when printing over WiFi felt a bit like magic. It’s seen better days though and an upgrade’s well overdue. This HP OfficeJet Pro 8730 looks like it ticks all the same boxes: print, copy, scan, and fax. (Really? Does anyone fax anything any more? I guess it's good to know the facility’s there, just in case.) Printing over WiFi is more-or- less standard these days.

Ed Dawson

HP OfficeJet Pro 8730

As a freelance writer who is always on the go, I like my technology to be both efficient and effective so I can do my job well. The HP OfficeJet Pro 8730 Inkjet Printer ticks all the boxes in terms of form factor, performance and user interface.

Michael Hargreaves

Windows 10 for Business / Dell XPS 13

I’d happily recommend this touchscreen laptop and Windows 10 as a great way to get serious work done at a desk or on the road.

Aysha Strobbe

Windows 10 / HP Spectre x360

Ultimately, I think the Windows 10 environment is excellent for me as it caters for so many different uses. The inclusion of the Xbox app is also great for when you need some downtime too!

Mark Escubio

Windows 10 / Lenovo Yoga 910

For me, the Xbox Play Anywhere is a great new feature as it allows you to play your current Xbox games with higher resolutions and better graphics without forking out extra cash for another copy. Although available titles are still scarce, but I’m sure it will grow in time.

Featured Content

Latest Jobs

Don’t have an account? Sign up here

Don't have an account? Sign up now

Forgot password?