The old Apple remote control was a thing of beauty. A little sliver of a thing, it had two round buttons and one four-function ring. You never needed to look at it. The raised ring told you exactly where your thumb was at all times, and one of the buttons was inside the ring, the other just below it. Those absurdly simple controls were all you needed to operate an Apple TV, a Mac running Front Row, or your docked iPod.
The new remote is, at best, a step sideways. The aluminum body is a pleasure to see and even nicer to touch — and it’s a match for most of your more recent MacBooks or iPods. But it’s also quite a bit bigger, which might be an improvement for folks with bigger fingers. The ring is now flush with the body, so it’s more difficult to intuit where your thumb is. And without explanation, the buttons have been moved. They now lay side-by-side under the ring — the Menu button on the left, Play/Pause on the right.
The manufacturing is, as expected, a delight. The reveals (where parts meet) have been reduced to a bare minimum and as seamless as can be. It’s not often you can get a brushed nugget of aircraft-grade aluminum for under twenty bucks. You just want to fondle this thing. Compare that to some plastic hunk of overly-buttoned bulk from Sony or Logitech.
But then there’s this: The center of the ring, although unlabeled, works as a second Play/Pause button.
Huh? The world’s only minimalist remote now has an unnecessary, duplicated button? WTF, over?
This thing must have slipped under the radar back when Steve Jobs was recovering from his liver transplant, because there’s no way El Jobso would have approved it.