Design Critique: the new Apple TV (4th generation)

4th generation Apple TV


Apple has long been a company praised for their innovative, design-forward, intuitive technology products. I have long been an admirer and user of their products since I was seven years old. I even worked for the Apple Store for over three years and gained more knowledge of how and why certain products where designed the way they were. On the other end after interacting with customers, I learned sources of frustration, some valid, others were just the ignorance and unwillingness of the customer to learn. I have not worked at the store for a few years now and many new products have come out since then and so I am coming from a consumer standpoint with only assumptions of why their products are designed the way they are.

This past Christmas I received a much-wanted gift of the new Apple TV (was released at the end of October 2015), I owned the second generation and it was failing me for several months (spontaneously restarting on its own) and I was wowed by the new features of the new one. Since I had so much experience with Apple products, I did not read any manuals or start up guides prior to using it. I wanted to see if it is really as initiative as Apple wants their products to be. While I am amazed at its redesign of the operating system, the remote and the new features, there are certain issues with it and the two I am focusing on are: the design/layout of certain apps and the remote.

Issue #1: Design/layout of Netflix app

When one clicks on the Netflix app, after you select the profile you wish to use, you are taken to the pretty Netflix menu which has been redesigned to a more horizontal view than the previous OS. What I didn’t expect was the horizontal view to apply to every navigation part of that app. One of my major frustrations was that I couldn’t access my list the old way, where you could see all of the images of the movie/tv show on your list and just scroll through them vertically and horizontally. Now you can only see what is on your list four or five images at a time, scrolling horizontally. I have over 300 titles on my list, I don’t want to spend my time scrolling horizontally at only four titles at a time. I hope there will be a future update of the OS that allows a user to be able to click and be lead to a vertical view of their list. I would suggest maybe allowing a user to decide for themselves on the settings section of the app. For now I will use my laptop to look at my list.


Netflix interface on the old Apple TV
Netflix interface on the old Apple TV



Netflix interface on the new Apple TV
Netflix interface on the new Apple TV


Issue #2: Remote

The redesign of the remote, is still simplistic as the previous one but does offer more features. The visibility of those features seems pretty clear at first glance but the mapping function of the remote can lead to issues for the consumer. As you can see in the image, there is a menu button, play/pause, volume control – which are clear and something anyone can understand. The buttons provide tactical & auditory feedback when pushing the buttons on the remote, you can feel a click and through the television, you hear a sound effect when the remote buttons are pushed/clicked. What is not immediately visible on this remote is the touch surface feature (at the top part of the remote) which is the same color (though a matte surface) as the rest of the remote and the home button (the television symbol). When I first utilized the remote I already knew about the touch surface, but I did not know that one could also click on the surface. I had some trouble figuring that out especially due to my knowledge of the previous remote, which had a play/pause button and was sometimes used to select an option. In the case of the new remote this did not work, which is a mode error. The new remote also allows for other mode errors because some of the buttons allow for more than one feature. If you look at the image below or click on this link for the guide to the remote:,

Part of the set up guide, on Siri remotePart of the set up guide, on Siri remote

you can see that the Touch Surface and the Home button each have three functions. These functions are convenient but not immediately visible, and require memorization to utilize them. Luckily Apple was smart enough to program it so that clicking on the Touch Surface does start a program even though Play/Pause would be the intended button to use. However if I push Play/Pause to select an app, it will not select it, no feedback occurs. So there is a bit of a struggle in the “Gulf of Execution” where my intentions are pure but it requires extra effort on my part to remember which button can be used for what, even though the logic behind my actions make sense. My only recommendation might be to redesign the Touch Surface to a different color – one that makes it more obvious to the fact that it is a touch surface. I know that the top two buttons are on the touch surface so that it is easier for a user to use their thumb to navigate on the touch surface and press the buttons – if they are too far apart a user will have a hard time going back and forth with their thumb. Ideally I would like the top two buttons to not be on the touch surface, but we can’t have it all. Or can we?