Fixing Apple TV’s Terrible UI


Despite Apple’s unfailing dedication to UI, they still sometimes manage to put out some stinkers. The latest of these is the ‘keyboard’ for the search interface in the Apple TV. It’s an alphabetical keyboard, laid out in a square with the obvious frustration that goes along with that terrible idea. [Lasse] was frustrated with this design and realized searching anything with the Apple TV IR remote is a pain. His solution was to build his own version of the Apple TV remote with a web interface, powered by an Arduino.

Inspired by the Apple Remote Arduino Shield we featured a few years ago, [Lasse] stuck an IR LED int the pins of Arduino with an Ethernet shield, current limiting resistors be damned. The web UI is the innovative part of this build. He’s hosting a simple website on the Arduino that allows him to type – with a real keyboard – a search query into the website, and have the Arduino take care of moving the Apple TV cursor around to select each letter.

The web UI has all the features found on the Apple TV remote, including the swipe gestures, and has a really slick brushed metal texture to boot. You can check out the video of [Lasse]’s project typing text into an Apple TV hilariously fast below.


32 thoughts on “Fixing Apple TV’s Terrible UI

    1. Yes, but that wouldn’t really be an interesting read, would it?
      I expect a lot of similar answers from Apple users though.
      They have to start thinking “How would Woz have solved this?”

        1. There there, my Kiwi friend, I said neither. Reread my comment and thou shalt be enlightened.
          Also, I am very confident that Steve Wozniak did not get stuck in a transporter 20 years ago, you are mistaking him for Scotty.

        1. Seriously? A company that has it’s whole reputation on user friendliness and nice UI’s dropped a junk one and you are defending it?

          Fix things that suck. Make things that work, work better or do something different. Cobble together new, interesting things from other things. That is what hackers do, but first, reality must be consulted. If you have a problem with that attitude, hacking is not in your future.

          1. FWIW, while I am an Apple zealot and an ATV user since the original launch.. the latest UI is garbage.

            The crazy thing is, it was actually a lot more sane in the way it handled TV shows on the old system (frontrow).

            As for the on screen keyboard, it truly is garbage. Although I can’t think of a better way to do it with the tiny remote. Maybe this hack isn’t necessary (BT Keyboard,, etc), but it’s pretty cool anyways.

  1. It’s not just reinventing the wheel, this is reinventing poorly. You know what would have been more helpful? Getting this to work with Home Sharing somehow over IP. But it wouldn’t involve the magical Arduino that seems necessary to be interesting to others.

    Hopefully the person learned something by wasting time on this.

  2. QWERTY, a terrible user interface. 1875 tech and deliberate anti-ergonomics!
    There is no order in alphabetical “order”. Frequency of use, vowel group, nope just a historic jumble. Look at Morse, they knew how to do it. The marketplace does a terrible job of evolution. People will buy all kinds of s…, and put up with anything and be happy.

    1. QWERTY isn’t deliberate anti-ergonomics. It’s a myth that the arrangement was intended to slow typists down. The point was to make sure the most common keys weren’t next to eachother so typewriters wouldn’t jam constantly. The speed decrease reported was due to the unfamiliar layout, and quickly went away as people got used to it.

      And just for the record, the data for DVORAK being better in any sort of objective way is extremely dubious. Keyboard layout fanatics just need to accept that it comes down to preference and habit.

      The only sane choice for a virtual keyboard is provide multiple layout options. A square layout in alphabetic order is practically the worst of all possible world, save for the god-awful all-the-letters-in-a-straight-line setup that started cropping up recently.

      1. E R T are next to each other and if I’m not mistaken those are some of the most common letters. U I O are also next to each other and used a fair bit. Most of the Qwerty home row keys are not common, especially the semicolon. If you look at the Dvorak keyboard all the vowels are on the home row as well as the letter T. Surely typing without moving your fingers to alternate keys for the most common letters is quicker than moving them off the home row.

  3. This is awesome. It’s better than that time my girlfriend dipped her finger in my butt during a particularly passionate night of love making.

    Who want’s to use the ready made app that does the same thing for free when you can make your own awesome hardware to do it!

  4. BT keyboards work just fine with the ATV, most people that own and ATV and use it regularly do the physical keyboard thing, or just use the Apple “remote” app and do it all from the tablet or phone.

  5. remote app FTW. you need another idevice though.
    i would not bash AppleTVs UI at all, as it is clean, very easy to use.
    i did not see a better way to enter ip addresses than they do it. all with those shiny simple remote with 4(8) buttons barely thicker than the battery.

    however the hack itself still impresses me.

  6. This was just a technology demo for stuff I have been prototyping lately. The idea is to move HTTP and the REST architecture style to work on other transport stacks than TCP/IP. The web server this demonstration is using is capable of handling the HTTP requests coming in from the standard Arduino ethernet shield, the CC3000 Wi-Fi chip and the hardware serial ports. This makes it possible for example to recycle the HTML user interface to be used in a PhoneGap application where HTTP is transferred over BlueTooth to the Arduino. With wireless serial adapters like the XBee you can make the microcontrollers to communicate with each other using HTTP and the current web standards.

  7. I think it should be noted that Steve Jobs KILLED this project for exactly the reasons everyone is going on about. Now that he’s”left the building”. We can expect more crap like this.

    1. I suspect you’ve got a point there. I don’t think he would have let the interface in question (seriously, sequential???) out the door, though at least one of the designers of that UI might well have been pushed out the door for doing it so poorly…

  8. There doesn’t seem to be *any* discrete resistors to limit the current going into the IR in the picture. So the LED current is pretty much determined by whatever the internal resistance of the AVR I/O and the IR forward voltage drop.

    Bad idea!

Leave a Reply

Please be kind and respectful to help make the comments section excellent. (Comment Policy)

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.