Apple TV 4 features a reinvented remote, with Siri, a Glass Touch surface trackpad and other features. This article covers how to use the Siri remote with the fourth generation Apple TV.
The new Siri remote for Apple TV 4 borrows and innovates on existing technology. Adding voice control to a television remote is nothing new. Amazon, Xfinity and others offered this functionality years before Apple. The new Siri remote also adds a trackpad, accelerometer and gyroscope. The remote is rechargeable and controls the base unit with Bluetooth 4.0 technology. It can also power on your television and adjust its volume.
As a total package, the remote is innovative and one of the best things about Apple’s new television appliance. The remote can do a lot, and not all of its functions are obvious. Let’s take a look at how to use the new Siri remote.
Don’t Drop the Siri Remote!
The fourth generation Apple TV has an Achilles’ heel. The remote is constructed with a glass face. It is fragile. It might not look like glass at first glance, but a few unlucky people have dropped and cracked their remotes. Make sure to handle the remote with care.
There are protective cases and straps designed to protect the remote. If you are accident-prone, I strongly recommend purchasing a case and strap. I personally don’t use a case or strap. When I play video games, I make sure to stand on a rug so that my remote will fall on a softer surface. Given that I have dropped my previous Apple TV remote a few times, it seems like only a matter of time until I drop my Siri remote. A replacement Siri remote costs $79. This exorbitant cost has me exercising greater care when handling the remote.
Siri Remote Trackpad and Buttons
The new Siri remote features a minimalistic design. I’ve always disliked the complexity of cable and television remotes. One must scan the remote to find the right button, because each button controls a specific function. Buttons are crowded together, making it all too easy to press the wrong one, especially in the dark. Apple TV has always employed a contextual user interface. The remote only offers a few controls, as users are guided by on-screen information. Basically, one can navigate through the UI to change settings, select content and operate other functionality. With Siri, it’s possible to control playback, settings and other features using one’s voice.
The trackpad on the Siri remote is constructed of glass and is very sensitive. The surface is smooth, but feels more like hard silicone or plastic than glass. The trackpad can be used for basic navigation, moving the selection focus up, down, left and right. Just about any direction is possible, although this is more useful with games and other apps. Press down on the trackpad to click. This is often used to make a selection. Tapping on the trackpad, without clicking it, is another method of user interaction. This can be used in a variety of ways. In the Music app, this will toggle between the Now Playing and Up Next views. Simply holding your finger down on the trackpad is yet another way to control your Apple TV. When playing videos, this gesture is used to display the playback timeline and skip forward or reverse in 10 second increments. We’ll take an in-depth look at these features later in the article.
Menu and Home buttons are placed directly below the active area of the touchpad. It looks like they are part of the touchpad, however, the surface adjacent to these buttons is inactive. The Menu button is used to go back, show the main menu and display the screen saver. The Home button can also return the user to the main menu or launch the App Switcher interface.
The Siri button is located below the Menu button. This button launches Siri, which receives voice input using two small microphones located at the top of the remote. The play/pause button is underneath the Siri button. It can be used to play, pause, and start videos directly from most thumbnails. Volume controls are situated to the right of the Siri and play/pause buttons. This multi-function button controls the volume on your television.
Basic Use of the Siri Remote
The Siri remote operates in a uniform way across Apple TV, with a few exceptions. App developers are able to override the functionality of most buttons. For example, the play/pause button may serve as acceleration for a car racing game. Apart from these exceptions, the buttons tend to serve the same function across tvOS. Let’s take a look at basic operations of the remote within tvOS.
Touchpad: Use the touchpad’s touch surface to change the focus of selection between objects on the screen. Move your finger up, down, left and right to put the focus on an item. Click the touchpad to select an item. Rotate your finger slowly over the center of the touchpad to “wiggle” an item. This is useful if you’re not sure which item is selected. It also provides some “eye candy” by manipulating the 3D parallax effect.
Menu: Press the Menu button once to move back to the previous screen. For example, if you are in Settings > General > Screensaver, pressing the menu button once will take you back to Settings > General. Press and hold the Menu button to return to the home screen. On the home screen, press the menu button once to go to the top icon. Press it again to manually launch the screen saver.
Home: The Home button resembles a television set. Press the button once to go back to the home screen, no matter how deep you are nested in an app or menu. Double tap the Home button to launch the App Switcher. We’ll take a closer look at the App Switcher in a later section. Be careful with the Home button, as pressing it within most video games will exit the game and take you back to the home screen.
Siri: Hold down the Siri button, wait for the multi-colored line to appear, and speak your command while continuing to hold down the button. The TV volume is automatically lowered when initiating a Siri request. The screen is also dimmed. To dismiss Siri, press the Menu button. This will also clear the screen of any information that Siri presents. Check out the section about Siri commands later in this article for more information.
Play/Pause: The Play/Pause button does what one would expect — it plays and pauses content. Within the general tvOS user interface, pressing the Play/Pause button will directly start playback of content when a video or album is selected. This is different from clicking the trackpad, which will often show information and options pertaining to a video. The Play/Pause button can also delete apps from the home screen, which is covered later in this article.
Volume: The volume controls increase and decrease the sound level on your television. This functionality normally works by default, even if you have an older TV that doesn’t support the newer HDMI CEC standard. The Siri remote can control your TV using IR. Make sure to point the remote at your TV if it uses this older technology. The Siri remote uses Bluetooth to control the Apple TV base unit, so you only need to point the remote at an older TV to turn it on and adjust the volume.
Turning Apple TV 4 on and off with the Siri Remote
You can turn on both Apple TV and your television by pressing any button on the Siri remote or clicking the trackpad. If you have an older TV, make sure to point the front of the remote (the trackpad end) at your television. You can turn off your TV by holding down the Home button. A message will be displayed asking if you want to put your Apple TV to sleep. Simply press down on the trackpad, and your Apple TV will be suspended and your TV will turn off. Once again, if you have an older TV, make sure the front of the remote is pointing at your television.
Restarting Apple TV
Apple TV 4 and tvOS are new technologies and aren’t as stable as most Apple products, like the Mac and iPhone. Apple isn’t a monolith. Some product teams are better than others. Unfortunately, Apple doesn’t have their best and brightest engineers working on Apple TV and tvOS. This means you may experience problems that require restarting the device, which is something I have never, ever done on my Mac. I find myself restarting Apple TV about once an evening to fix various issues.
There are two ways to restart Apple TV 4. You can drill down into Settings > System > Restart. This won’t be of any use if your Apple TV freezes (which, so far, has not happened to me). It’s also possible to restart Apple TV by holding down the Menu and Home buttons for six seconds. You should see the front light on your Apple TV flash rapidly. Release both buttons and the system will reboot. Fortunately, it takes less than 30 seconds to restart Apple TV.
Switching Apps with the Siri Remote
Previous Apple TV models offered some support for basic multitasking. Both the second and third generation Apple TV’s were capable of playing music while users browsed content in different channels. tvOS brings a whole new level of multitasking with an App Switcher borrowed from iOS. Simply tap the Home button twice and thumbnail previews of currently open apps will appear. You can switch between apps using the trackpad. Click the trackpad to return to the selected app. Sliding your finger upwards on the trackpad will close an app.
It’s not necessary to close apps, as tvOS will manage resources for you. It may prove necessary to close an app that’s not working properly.
You can also re-open apps from the home screen. The App Switcher simply provides an alternate user interface for switching between apps. If your home screen icons are arranged efficiently, it may be easier to just use the home screen. It’s important to be aware of the App Switcher, as it provides a way to close malfunctioning apps.
Using the Siri Remote During Video Playback
The Siri remote only has a few buttons. Their functionality is “overloaded”, meaning that they operate different functions depending on context. During video playback, the trackpad acts as a scrub control. Moving a finger left or right on the trackpad will scrub backward or forward through the video. When you have found the right place, you can either click the trackpad or press the Play/Pause button to resume playback. I prefer the latter, as there is less risk of accidentally moving the playback position.
Holding your finger on the trackpad will display the video playback progress bar. This is useful if you want to see how much time is left in a TV show or movie. The progress bar will disappear shortly after removing your finger from the trackpad.
Placing your thumb to the left or right of the trackpad center will display a 10 second icon. Clicking the trackpad while the 10 second icon is displayed will move the video position forward or backward in increments of 10 seconds. Make sure not to place your thumb close to the edge, as it will be more difficult to click the trackpad.
Swiping your thumb down on the trackpad displays a top-aligned panel with information and settings for the video. Information presented on the panel varies depending on the video, and can include Info (program summary), Subtitles and Audio. Move the trackpad to toggle between settings and select options. Click the trackpad to set an option. You can close the panel by swiping up on the trackpad when the top row of options is selected. The panel can also be dismissed by pressing the menu button.
The Play/Pause button functions as one would expect. It toggles pausing and resuming video playback. The Siri, Home and volume buttons all offer the standard functionality. The Menu button will return to the previous screen. Holding the Menu button down will display the home screen. You can also display the home screen by pressing the Home button once.
Using the Siri Remote During Music Playback
Apple TV 4 ships with a stock Music app which can play Apple Music and iTunes purchases. Use the trackpad to launch the Music app from the home screen. The trackpad can be used to find and play songs, artists or albums. Clicking the trackpad will drill down on an item until you are at the final selection, usually a track. You can play an item, like an album, directly by pressing the play/pause button.
You’ll see the Now Playing view when music is playing, which displays an album cover. Hold your finger on the trackpad to display the playback progress bar. Although you can’t scrub through music, holding your finger to the left or right side of the trackpad will display a skip icon. Clicking the trackpad will skip to the next or previous song. Tapping (not clicking) the trackpad once will display the Up Next view. You can scroll through the tracks and click the trackpad to play a specific track. Swiping up on the trackpad will focus on the “…” icon. Click the trackpad to view a menu of track-specific options. You can play the track next, start a radio station based on the track, go to the album or change speaker output. Click the menu button to dismiss the track options menu.
You can multitask and operate other Apple TV features while music is playing. Hold down the Menu button to return to the main menu or press the Home button twice to launch the App Switcher. Most apps will function while music is playing, however, if you start a video, music will stop playing. I was even able to play music while playing Asphalt 8, but the music stopped once I pressed the play/pause button, which controls the nitro booster in the game. It won’t work everywhere, but you can browse videos, do some shopping, or check the weather while using the Music app. Previous Apple TV models also offered this feature.
Use Siri Remote to Arrange and Delete Apps on Home Screen
App icons on the home screen can be moved anywhere and apps can be deleted. Unlike previous models of Apple TV, even the top row of Apple services can be moved, but not deleted. I recommend keeping Apple’s app icons at the top, as they interact with the top marquee. Almost every non-Apple app I have placed in the top row doesn’t offer an interactive marquee. At best, the marquee will display an image of the app or static images of featured videos. HBO NOW and a few other apps provide an interactive marquee. You’ll get more out of your Apple TV if top-row apps support this feature.
Icons are arranged by moving the trackpad to select an icon to be relocated. Next, click the trackpad and hold it until the app icon starts to wiggle. Now you can move the icon anywhere, but this has the consequence of forcing other icons to move. It’s best to place the icons starting at the top left, then place each icon to the right as you proceed. Make sure to move the icon from the bottom right, so as not to shift the other icons you just placed. It’s not the most graceful process, but it is similar to arranging home screen icons on an iPhone or iPad.
Apps can be deleted in a similar fashion. First, select an app to be deleted and click and hold the trackpad until it wiggles. Press the Play/Pause button to delete the app. A confirmation message will appear. Click delete to remove the app and all of its data. This doesn’t just remove the icon, but deletes the entire app and its data.
Essential Siri Commands for Apple TV 4
Siri is a broad subject, and goes beyond the scope of this article. There are some essential Siri commands that will enhance your Apple TV 4 experience. You can launch Siri anywhere by holding the Siri (microphone) button and speaking your command, slowly and clearly. Release the button when you are done. If you are lucky, Siri will handle your request. It doesn’t always “just work”. Sometimes the personal digital assistant will be offline due to heavy demand or problems in the data center. Siri will often misinterpret your speech.
Siri will turn on the reduce loud sounds feature when you say “turn on reduce loud sounds”. You can turn this off by saying “turn off reduce loud sounds”. This feature will tame the dynamic levels of movies and music, making them much more audible at quieter levels. You can turn on subtitles by saying “turn on subtitles”. “Launch [app name]” can be used to launch any app. Find your favorite show or movie by saying “find [show/movie]”. Play music by saying “play [artist/album/song]. This will only play music through Apple’s Music app. These are the most useful and essential features. You can also ask Siri to display the weather forecast, stock quotes, and sports scores. There are many more possibilities, however, Siri for Apple TV is not as mature or capable as the iOS version. You can’t look up information from the web, set Reminders, do calculations, or invoke many other features found on iOS.
Charging the Siri Remote
The Siri remote features a lithium ion battery that lasts a very long time, depending on use. If you play a lot of video games, don’t expect the battery to last for three months. Apple TV 4 will display a warning when the battery level is low. Although I have yet to see this, I ended up charging my remote after I noticed problems with it controlling my TV through IR. I charge it every 2-4 weeks, mainly so I am not unpleasantly surprised with poor remote performance while playing a video game. You can check the battery level by clicking on Settings > Remotes and Devices > Bluetooth. You will see a visual representation of the battery level in the Remote field. It looks like a gray AA battery, with no percentage displayed.
Charge the remote by plugging the lightning cable into the socket and the other end into a computer or wall adapter. The remote takes 9 hours to fully charge, if it is completely drained. You can use the remote while it is charging. Be advised that your Apple TV may turn on unexpectedly while handling or plugging in the remote. I recommend setting the sleep timer to 15 minutes (Settings > General > Sleep After) before you plug in the charger. This ensures that if your Apple TV and television turn on automatically, they will turn off in 15 minutes. You can also use an alternative remote or the Remote app for iOS, which is available in the app store for free.
Adjusting Touch Surface Tracking Speed
If you find the trackpad to be too responsive or sluggish, it’s possible to tune the sensitivity. Click on Settings > Remotes and Devices and set the Touch Surface Tracking appropriately. After some experimentation, I find the default of medium to be best.