You probably use it more than once a day. It may be the dirtiest item in your house. And if you lose it, there's a good chance you'll spend 20 minutes digging around before inevitably finding it buried under the couch cushion.
I'm talking about the TV remote -- it could be the source of Apple's (NASDAQ:AAPL) next technological revolution.
In 2007, Apple introduced the first version of the Apple TV, complete with the Apple Remote. In the years since, Apple has refined its design, while its competitors have adopted a similar layout. Remotes for other set-top boxes, including Roku, Amazon's Fire TV, and Google's Nexus Player bear a striking similarity to the Apple Remote.
Is Apple about to do it again? Early next month, Apple will unveil its fourth-generation Apple TV set-top box, along with a redesigned remote, according to a recent report from The New York Times. The changes it makes could set the standard for years to come.
How important is a remote?
Apple's next remote could ultimately be as significant, if not more so, than the changes it makes to the Apple TV itself. Rival Google's first foray into the living room, Google TV, was an abysmal failure, largely due to its overly complicated remote. While it had its advantages, it included nearly 100 buttons and a full miniature keyboard -- far too complex for most users.
When Google reentered the living room with Android TV last year, it scaled down its ambitions -- and its remote -- significantly.
As the central interface between the user and the Apple TV, the new remote will dictate how the device is used. Allegedly, Apple will include a touch pad with two physical buttons in addition to the remote's current input methods. That will make it slightly more complex, but it may be necessary.
Compared to its rivals, the Apple TV is lacking in one major area: it doesn't have access to an app store. Despite running a slightly modified version of its mobile iOS operating system, Apple has yet to open the Apple TV up to the iTunes app store -- developers haven't been able to take advantage of the 25 million-plus Apple TV set-top boxes that have been sold worldwide.
The next Apple TV will finally gain the ability to run apps, according to BuzzFeed. The possibilities seem endless -- more video apps, streaming music, and games. A touch pad would allow for a level of interaction with apps that the current Apple Remote cannot offer, particularly if it includes Force Touch, Apple's user interface innovation that has already found its way into a wide variety of its products.
The Times report, however, makes no mention of a microphone. The remotes that come with Amazon's Fire TV, Google's Nexus Player, and some versions of the Roku 3, include a microphone that allows for voice search. Dictating commands into the remote can facilitate significantly faster searching. Including Siri and a microphone would seem like an obvious way for Apple to keep pace with its rivals in the space, but perhaps it plans to go in a different direction.
That offering, combined with HBO Now and the other streaming services, could finally make the Apple TV the center of the living room. Rather than switch between a traditional cable box and an Apple TV to get their occasional Internet video fix, consumers could set their TV's input to the Apple TV and never change it back.
Then everything could flow through the Apple TV, and its remote could become the only one you ever need.