If you’ve ever had the misfortune of losing your Apple TV remote between couch cushions, you’re probably aware of how cumbersome the alternative — the Apple TV remote for iOS — can frequently be. It lacks a proper keyboard, for one — you have to hunt and peck for letters using a digital directional pad — and doesn’t integrate with Siri on the fourth-generation Apple TV or offer virtual keys for games. But on Tuesday, Apple released a new app, Remote, that’s significantly more capable.
The new Remote app doesn’t come as a surprise, exactly — Apple’s head of internet software and services Eddy Cue teased it at its Worldwide Developer Conference in June — but that doesn’t make it any less welcome. Gone is the antiquated setup process in the old Remote app, replaced by simpler, PIN-based pairing. Connecting the iOS remote to an Apple TV now requires no more than keying in on your iPhone or iPad the sequence of numbers that appear on your television, a process that worked consistently in our testing.
Once paired to your Apple TV, the Remote app shines. As Cue promised at WWDC, Siri is present and accounted for: It’s activated by pressing a virtual Siri button. Just as with the physical Apple TV remote, you can shout commands like “search for movies starring Dakota Fanning,” “play music by the Beastie Boys,” or “show me popular sci-fi shows,” and if they’re at least semi-intelligible, your Apple TV will respond accordingly. Somewhat annoyingly, you have to hold down the digital Siri key while giving the command — the Remote appears to relay your voice to the Apple TV for transcription rather than handle it natively.
But that’s grasping at straws. If you have a television and/or audio receiver that supports HDMI-CEC, you can control its volume level using the volume rocker on your iPhone. And the new Remote supports proper keyboard entry, which is to say you can type search queries and enter credentials using your phone’s familiar QWERTY setup.
Support for app and game controls is a lot more robust now, and they’re contextual: When you’re playing a tune on your Apple TV, the Remote app surfaces track forward and back buttons and album cover art. When a video is onscreen, they’re replaced by rewind and advance buttons and the vid’s thumbnail. And launching a game on your Apple TV triggers “gamepad mode”: a landscape control scheme that splits your phone’s screen into a touchscreen on the left and two buttons, “A” and “X,” on the right. It supports movement-based accelerometer and gyroscope, too, although only on apps and games that explicitly make use of it.
The new Remote is a free download from the App Store for devices running iOS 9.3.2 or later. And better yet, it’s backward compatible with the second- and third-generation Apple TV. No need to panic, then, next time you lose the Apple TV’s tiny controller — you’ve got one just as good in your pocket.