May 7, 2016 at 5:51 p.m. PST
Apple TV 4 ships with the Siri Remote, but it’s not the only one you can use. This article covers how to control your Apple TV 4 using an iOS device and the Remote app.
The Siri Remote is a remarkable device. With its glass Touch Surface, gyroscope, accelerometer and microphones, it surpasses any TV appliance remote on the market. What happens if you break or misplace your Siri Remote? It costs $79 to replace it. You might not be able to get a replacement right away.
If you own an Apple TV 4, you probably own an iPhone or other iOS device. Fortunately, you can install Apple’s Remote app for iOS. This app turns your iOS device into a remote control for your Apple TV. It also works with the second and third generation models of Apple TV.
Configure the Remote App Even If You Don’t Need It
There’s a catch-22 with the Remote app — you need a working remote to configure it. This means if you break your Siri Remote, you won’t be able to set up the Remote app. Since the Siri Remote is made of glass, it’s quite fragile and can easily break if dropped. It’s best to think ahead and set up the Remote app, even if you don’t need it.
Remote App Limitations
Apple’s Remote app has been around for several years. I used it with my second generation Apple TV 2 whenever the original remote ran out of batteries. Unfortunately, the app isn’t very good and hasn’t improved. This is par for the course with most free Apple apps. Several prominent writers in the tech community have recently pointed out that Apple’s apps are mediocre. Where have they been? Apple has never made great apps. iTunes has been around for over 15 years, and it’s never been excellent. Maps, Mail, Safari, Reminders, Notes, Music, Podcasts, News and virtually every free Apple app is mediocre at best.
The Remote app isn’t even average. Although it gets a 2.5/5 rating in the App Store, you have to take this with a grain of “fanboy” salt. Apple fans are inflating this score. It’s a poor quality app, but if you break your Siri Remote, it may be your only alternative.
The Apple remote app has some serious limitations. For one, it doesn’t work with Siri at all. Even though every iOS device has a microphone, Apple’s Remote app can’t relay your Siri request to Apple TV. Furthermore, there is no Home button (the one with the TV). This means you can’t launch the App Switcher with the Remote app. Using your iOS device as a touch surface is clumsy. There is some latency between one’s touch and the response on Apple TV. It’s easy to overshoot menu items.
The Remote app is also buggy. In the course of writing this article, I have encountered basic features that just don’t work. For all of these reasons, you probably won’t use this app regularly, but it does have a few advantages.
Remote App Advantages
The Remote app works over WiFi instead of Bluetooth. This gives it a lot more range than the Siri Remote. It could prove useful if you are controlling music playback throughout a large home. Apple’s Remote app also offers a nice keyboard control. It’s much easier to enter text using the Remote app, as it pops up the standard iOS keyboard. Although Siri dictation was introduced in iOS 9.2, it doesn’t work well with passwords and other non-dictionary words. You have to spell these out letter by letter. The Remote app’s keyboard is far more useful.
If you have a large iTunes library, the Remote app provides a convenient way to browse your collection. You can navigate albums, artists, songs and videos directly on your iOS device. Anything you play will automatically appear on Apple TV. Of course, Apple TV already has a built-in interface to explore your iTunes library. All of these features are enabled by activating Home Sharing.
Installing and Configuring the Apple Remote App for Apple TV 4
The Apple Remote app is free and available in the App Store. It’s compatible with any iOS device running iOS 7.1 or later. Even an old iPhone 4 can control your new Apple TV 4. It also works with the iPad and iPod touch.
Open the App Store and tap on the Search tab at the bottom of the screen. Enter “remote” in the search field, and the Remote app should be the first result. Tap on “Get” to download the Remote app. Once it’s installed, tap on “Open” to launch the app.
Make sure your iOS device is connected to the same WiFi network as your Apple TV. Start up your Apple TV and tap “Add a Device” on the Remote app. Using your Siri Remote, navigate to Settings > Remotes and Devices > Remote App on Apple TV. The Remote App configuration screen is displayed on your TV. You should see your iOS device listed under “pairable” on this screen. Use the Siri Remote to select and click on this device. You will now see a pairing code displayed on your television. Enter this pairing code on the Remote app. Your iOS device should now be paired. As a test, hold down the Menu button on the Remote app. This should take you to the Apple TV main menu. Try moving your finger on the touch surface area of the Remote app. You’ll notice that the control isn’t as smooth or responsive as the Siri remote. I recommend using the Siri Remote, however, the Remote app is a good contingency plan.
When you re-launch the Remote app, you will see the Devices screen with an Apple TV. If you follow the next step and configure Home Sharing, you’ll also see available iTunes Libraries. For basic control of your Apple TV, tap on the Apple TV icon. If you wish to browse an iTunes library, tap on its icon. You can get back to this top-level screen by tapping on the Devices link on the top left of the screen. This doesn’t always work. If not, simply close and restart the app. Come on Apple, what happened to “it just works”?
Using the Remote App
Operating the Remote App is straightforward. You can get help within the app by tapping the “?” icon on the top right of the screen.
The Remote app works much like your Siri Remote, with a few exceptions. There’s no Siri button and you cannot issue Siri requests. It’s also missing a Home button (the TV set button on your Siri Remote). The lack of a Home button means that you can’t launch the App Switcher.
The large area above the virtual buttons serves as a touchpad. Slide your finger over this area to move the focus and tap to select items.
When a video is playing, you can use the touchpad and virtual buttons to control playback.
The Remote App also provides controls for audio playback.
Using the Remote App Keyboard
The keyboard is the Remote App’s most useful feature. It enables text entry using the standard iOS keyboard instead of Apple TV’s clumsy on-screen keyboard. Although tvOS added Siri dictation to tvOS, this can also be problematic. Siri will often confuse ‘p’ and ‘b’ no matter how clearly I speak the letters. Fortunately, the Remote App’s keyboard feature makes it easier to do text entry. It may prove to be even more useful with tvOS apps that require a lot of text entry. For example, using a tvOS email client with the on-screen keyboard or Siri is not ideal. tvOS currently has no email client, however, developers may create these apps in the future.
Using the Remote App’s keyboard is simple. First, launch the Remote App and select your Apple TV. The controller screen will appear. Use the touchpad to navigate to a text entry field on Apple TV. For example, launch the Search app on your Apple TV home screen. In this case, the Remote App will automatically display the iOS keyboard and search field.
It’s designed to integrate with tvOS seamlessly. If you want to navigate the screen, tap the Hide button on the top left corner of the Remote App. This will display the remote control screen. You can relaunch the keyboard by moving the focus back to the search field using the Remote App’s touchpad.
Configuring Home Sharing with the Remote App
The Remote app is integrated with iTunes Home Sharing. It enables browsing and controlling multiple iTunes libraries directly on an iOS device, while content is played on Apple TV. This may prove to be convenient for some users. For example, if Apple TV is the hub for an extended AirPlay speaker system, you can control music playback using your iPhone or other iOS device. You can be anywhere in your house or yard and still control your Apple TV. The Siri Remote has a limited range and it doesn’t have a display screen, making it unfit for such long-range remote applications.
Configuring Home Sharing is easy, but it has to be done on your iOS device, Apple TV and computer (iTunes). First, tap on Devices on the top left corner of the Remote app’s main control screen. Next, tap on Settings and turn on Home Sharing. Enter your Apple ID and password. Activate Home Sharing on your Apple TV by navigating to Settings > Accounts > Turn On Home Sharing. You will be prompted to use the displayed Apple ID or enter a different one. Finally, enter your password.
The iTunes library is the third component to this system. Launch iTunes on your Mac or Windows computer. Select Preferences from the top iTunes menu located on the top menu bar. Next, tap on the Sharing tab. Check “Share my library on my local network”. By default, “Share entire library” is selected. You can adjust this to select specific types of media. It’s also possible to enter a password for Home Sharing access. iTunes must be running on your computer in order to use Home Sharing.
Now that Home Sharing is on, you can use your iOS device to browse your iTunes Library. Any media you play will automatically display on Apple TV, if AirPlay is turned on. You’ll see an AirPlay icon on media player screen.
Although we activated Home Sharing on Apple TV, when using the Remote app, the sharing is between your iOS device and iTunes on your computer. Activating Home Sharing on Apple TV allows you to access your iTunes library directly from Apple TV, using the Computers app.
With Home Sharing, you can browse albums, songs, artists or videos using the familiar iOS interface. If you have a large iTunes library, this feature is indispensable, however, Apple TV has an adequate, built-in Home Sharing interface accessible from the Computers icon on the home screen. The Remote app is more useful for long-range control of your iTunes library.
Keep Remote App Connected
Chances are that if you use the Remote app, your iOS device has Auto-Lock enabled. You don’t need to set Auto-Lock to Never in order to keep the Remote app connected. I recommend setting Auto-Lock to Never only if you are constantly using the Remote app. You can dim the screen to reduce battery usage.
By default, the Remote app has “Stay Connected” mode activated. This keeps the Remote app connected to your Apple TV, even if your device locks. This will use some battery power, but not as much as setting Auto-Lock to never. If you turn this setting off, it will take a brief moment for the Remote app to re-connect with your Apple TV. I recommend leaving this setting on, which is the default. You can turn it off by tapping Settings on the top right of the Devices screen. Next, turn off the “Stay Connected” switch.
Beyond the Remote App
The Remote app is somewhat useful, but in the age of streaming music and video, iTunes libraries are becoming less practical. To be honest, I haven’t used Home Sharing in a few years. I play Spotify music over AirPlay. The built-in Apple TV channels are more than enough for me.
If you subscribe to Apple Music or your iTunes library is consolidated on an iOS device, you can use the iOS Music or Videos apps as remotes. For example, if you launch Music and connect to AirPlay, anything you play on your iOS device will be beamed to Apple TV. You can browse music on your device and control playback on your Apple TV from virtually anywhere in your home or yard. For those who have iTunes videos stored in the Videos app, the same workflow applies.
Although Apple’s Remote app leaves much to be desired, it will come in handy if you lose or break your remote. I encourage you to plan ahead and configure the Remote app. You won’t be able to do this if you lose or break your Siri remote. The Remote app is limited and cumbersome, but it’s a decent alternative if you can’t use your Siri remote.