The Apple TV Controller

(These are some thoughts on how the ATV could grow beyond the streambox it is now.)

A lot of writers have thought on how the Apple TV set top box might become, variously, a full sibling in the iOS family, or a gamebox, or even a $99 PC. Many Apple-watching pundits have predicted these things as being right around the corner, for some years. But the ATV remains a streambox and nothing more.

Most of the speculation circles around how to control the thing, and the predominant wisdom runs that an iPod Touch, iPhone, or iPad would be the logical choice to serve as controller. But with AirPlay, if you have these devices, you can stream through the ATV to your HDTV set now … so why would you need or want to have the ATV be the workhorse and relegate your other iOS device (with likely more computing power onboard) as mere controller? Or, looking at it the other way, spending $99 on the ATV and then $230, $300, $500 or more on a ‘controller’ does not make a lot of sense financially.

So this is my idea: take the Apple trackpad, pair it through Bluetooth to the ATV and use it as controller.

This would mean changing things a little bit:

  • this trackpad would need to include an onboard gyroscope and accelerometer

  • the variant of iOS on the ATV would have to be modified to include an onscreen cursor (more than one, actually)

You would control the trackpad with thumbs, moving the thing, tilting it. The onscreen cursor(s) show where your touches would affect the graphics onscreen. Tapping the trackpad would constitute a screen tap in iOS.

Adding the gyroscope and accelerometer to the trackpad adds to its cost. I could see that these could add usefulness to the trackpad with a Mac, though. Adding the cursors etc. to the ATV flavor of iOS would be harder to do. Maybe it would be too much.

I still like the idea though.

Another thought: iOS v7 added support for external game controllers, and though the market is not great, and maybe the support Apple has offered so far is not very good, these things could be used with the ATV. I would imagine that going this route would not be feasible yet – it would need an iOS upgrade (v8 maybe) along with a decent list of games that support the controllers on iPads and iPhones, before bringing it along to the ATV.

Another problem for this whole concept is its complexity. Touching an iOS device is so simple and natural; that is the whole genius of doing without a stylus on a pentop computer. But the idea is getting complicated, even cumbersome, with all the special gestures now. Adding the game controller also Balkanizes the platform further (along with needing 1080p resolution support for the games).

Last built: Mon, Feb 23, 2015 at 3:58 PM

By SWP Pond, Monday, March 10, 2014 at 11:08 AM. Only steal from the best.