Wi iTV

There is a lot of speculation about the rumoured update to Apple TV, which is expected by many to be unveiled later today. Can Apple revolutionise the TV like they revolutionised the phone?

The two points that fascinate me most are the means of control and whether there is going to be an explosion of applications for TV.

The Controller

With pocket sized devices, Apple has more or less proved that touch screens provide the best control mechanism. What is the best form of control for big living room screens? Something like this would be appropriate:

Photo of Wii Remote, edited to show an Apple logo rather than the Wii logo.

The problem is, this controller was made by another company four years ago. Nintendo are remarkably good at making controllers.

The pointer based interaction of the Wii is just sublime. Not just the Wii Remote, but the combination of the Remote and the design of the Wii system software. I have tried using a Wii Remote to move the mouse pointer in Mac OS X and it does not work well.

The Wii's interface is much, much better than that of most TVs and set-top boxes, which have remotes with fifty or more buttons. Although it is currently less familiar to many people, I think the Wii Remote is a more approachable device compared to these many-buttoned remotes: it is easier to pick up and learn how to use.

One could debate whether the Wii Remote is ‘better’ than traditional game controllers as used for the PS3 and Xbox 360. I am happy saying it is different. However, I very sure that the Remote is more approachable than traditional game controllers.

The Wii Remote is primarily designed for games. There are actually a lot of buttons on this thing! Turn it sideways and you have a lovely wireless NES controller. This is really fantastic for gaming, but at the cost of greater complexity. In my experience, it is not always obvious to first time users how to ‘click’ on things on screen once you are pointing at them. (It seems very obvious to me though: you press the big button right under your thumb.)

Despite being more approachable than other devices used to control content on televisions, I do not think the Wii Remote is good enough for Apple.

Let’s say Apple were to buy the rights to use a derivative of the Wii Remote for the Apple TV. Whoa, crazy! For this purpose, the Remote could be simplified. It is difficult to say much about this without seeing the software it controls. I am pretty sure the NES controls could go though. (The d-pad, and also the 1 and 2 buttons.) And I reckon Apple would make it thinner.

My point regarding the controller is that I believe a Wii style pointer is the way to interact with a living room screen. Of course I do not expect Steve Jobs to hold up a Wii Remote on the stage today, but I do wonder what Apple thinks about the problem of the TV controller. If they are taking this new Apple TV seriously (not just a hobby), then we could find out in a few hours.


I shall keep this section short in order to get this published before the Apple event later today.

Take a look at the Wii Menu. (For example, a Google Image Search.) With a grid of channels that scrolls left and right in full screens this looks similar to the iOS home screen. Some of the Wii channels are applications rather than games: news, photos, Opera web browser (erroneously called the Internet Channel) and even BBC iPlayer.

There has not been an explosion of apps on the Wii, like there has for iOS devices. It is easy to find lots of reasons for this. The most important must be that Nintendo have not aspired to create a thriving app market place. (Or maybe they are just really incompetent at stuff like this.) An example effect of this is that the barrier to entry for Wii development is much higher than for iOS.

The question then is whether Apple will try to make a popular market for TV apps. I believe Apple has sufficient expertise and influence to make this happen. We may have an answer to this question shortly.

Compact Summary

Nintendo makes great controllers. Will Apple take inspiration from this? Nintendo has not tried to make a booming TV app market. Will Apple do this?

Update: Answers

No and No.