Apple Releases a New Siri Apple TV Remote: What are the Accessibility Implications?

Member of the AppleVis Blog Team

While the big news for Apple TV fans today was the updated Apple TV 4K, with HDR support, it looks like the Siri Remote also got a few small updates. How will these updates help or hinder the blind and the visually impaired as well as the physically disabled, however?

Over the weekend TV OS was leaked to the frantic public posting and blogging and tweeting about what they saw in the firmware code. The code showed a lot of things but the bit I was curious about was the part that didn't really have to deal with the operating system. I wanted to learn about the new remote features. After many moons digging and poking and prodding I found the part of the leak that talked about hardware and haptic feedback for the new Siri remote. I began sniffing and digging and abusing search engines to finally get a concrete answer. Brazilian developer Guilherme Rambo found references to "actuator calibration" and "force calibration" in the firmware that indicate haptic feedback. Also, there's evidence in the tvOS 11 firmware that the Siri Remote model number has jumped from "B239" to "B429", indicating an imminent refresh. He tweeted a picture highlighting the exact bit where it talks about haptic feedback.

While I don't have a model to verify, I'm sure he's right. First, it looks like the menu button has changed. It is no longer a physical button, but instead part of the glass touch surface. It has a white ring around it, so sighted people and people with low vision can easily see where to press.

Apple has said, publicly, repeatedly, that the accessibility principle is not going to go away anytime soon. The haptic feedback would be a way for visually impaired users to know if their actions were processed. It would also be useful for deaf users of the new Apple 4K TV as well.

The only accessibility withdraws, that I can see, is that the menu button has been integrated into the touch surface. Physically disabled users may need to start using keyboards more, which will become easier to do because in TV OPERATING SYSTEM 11 various input devices will work better. A few enhancements are,

  • Support for Braille Displays: Connected Braille displays deliver text of what's on screen (button labels, movie titles, etc.) that you are currently hovering over. As you move focus, VoiceOver speaks and Braille displays print the text. In addition, Braille display buttons map to VoiceOver commands and support basic navigation around the Apple TV UI.
  • Support for VoiceOver keyboard commands: Bluetooth connected keyboards will allow you to issue VoiceOver commands for more efficient browsing/navigation.
  • Switch Control Menu for Media Playback: Switch Control users now have access to a playback control panel to pause, play, fast forward, rewind, and skip while media is playing.

In addition, the below features, compiled from various other media outlets, are coming to the new Siri remote as well.

  • Bluetooth 4.0 wireless technology
  • IR transmitter
  • Accelerometer and three-axis gyro
  • Lightning connector for charging
  • Rechargeable battery providing months of battery life on a single charge (with typical daily usage)

At the time of this writing the new apple TV is available to preorder from September 15 for $179, and will be released on September 22nd.

The new Siri remote can also be bought separately for $59; $20 cheaper than the previous generation.

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6 Comments

RE: the Siri Remote

Interesting blog post. However, the features you describe, lightning charging, IR transmission, etc., are already on the AppleTV remote. Is it possible you got information on the old AppleTV mixed in with info on the new TV?

RE: REmote Specs

Sorry. I was reading the bullet points from your original post, and it sounds like the exact things that the current remote has. I am referring where you wrote, "In addition, the below features, compiled from various other media outlets, are coming to the new Siri remote as well."

Thanks for digging

App Developer

I like this post, both in itsstyle and the fact that it required some digging not available to the general public. The sad thing is that the Siri remote was so problematic from a general usability standpoint in the first place. My cited partner simply cannot use it, because every time she reaches for it, it ends up fast forwarding or else she just gets confused about which buttons she needs to press. Something as simple as a remote control should not have high-level cognitive or dexterity requirements. And she is quite intelligent, , by the way. Steve Jobs was a visionary who could get away with ignoring best practices, but the new Apple suffers greatly from the lack of real world user testing. And I'm looking at you, 2017 MacBook Pro on my desk. For the next model, I was really hoping they would have addressed something as obvious as the fact that you need to be able to reach for and grasp the remote without activating functions like fast forward and rewind.

The user experience.

Member of the AppleVis Blog Team

I hope to do more analysis of the correlation between accessibility and user experience. I had a lot of mainstream media training in the past so I guess that is where this style of writing comes from. I like Apple a lot and what they have done to preserve the accessibility practice, but I also see a lot that can be improved on the basic user experience side of things as well.

Well Said

One of my biggest gripes is that if you turn off Voiceover on the AppleTV, all of your volume settings get lost as soon as you turn it back on. I generally turn the Voiceover volume down especially when media is playing, mainly because especially with audio ducking on, Voiceover will be way louder than it needs to be compared to the playing media. Something so simple and yet obvious to me should have been a simple fix a long time ago!