I really like the Apple TV 4K. Sure, it's far more expensive than 4K streaming devices from Roku and Amazon, but it gets so much right that it earns a spot in our best streaming devices list.
Still, the more I use Apple's competitors, the more I realize that Apple could really stand to steal one feature that they might think is too subtle. Or maybe they think it's too meta.
In the world of streaming devices, innovation is difficult. The new Amazon Fire TV Cube 3rd Generation has Super Resolution Upscaling, which is supposed to sharpen non-4K content to make it look sharper on your UHD TVs. And that's possibly a great boon, but I've never really felt the need for it. Instead, I've thought about how streaming devices can just make it easier to, you know, start streaming.
And that's why Apple should look at the Roku and Fire TV mobile apps for inspiration.
The Apple TV remote in the iPhone is missing a key feature
One of the best reasons for iPhone owners to get an Apple TV is because of the seamless integration of the two devices. Because you can add an Apple TV Remote button to the Control Center on your iPhone, you can get to that remote from your lock screen with a mere swipe and a tap.
And while that app-based remote is good — basically a giant trackpad, with play/pause, TV, back and power buttons — it could be better. To paraphrase Canadian pop superstar Carly Rae Jepsen (opens in new tab), I wanna cut to the streaming. And Roku and Fire TV actually one-up Apple in this regard.
As I've learned testing hardware such as the Roku Streaming Stick 4K and the Fire TV Stick 4K, those platforms also have app-based remotes. And at the bottom of Roku's Remote app, there's a Channels button. At the top right corner of the Fire TV app, there's a little icon with three squares and a "+" sign.
Both buttons (basically) serve the same function: opening up a tray of your apps. This way, you simply tap the app you want to watch on your TV, and it opens.
Yes, this is a really simple function. No, I can't see any reason Apple wouldn't want to do it. (There can't be a licensing fee, can there?) Apple could even do it better, too.
Outlook: Apple could beat Roku and Fire TV at this
The one thing about Roku and Fire TV's implementation is that you don't have much control over the streaming device apps you see. You merely see recently opened on Roku and all of them on Fire TV.
Now that iOS 16 is playing with lock screen widgets (give us an Apple TV Remote widget, Mr. Cook, please), Apple may realize that customization isn't a four letter word. Its implementation of this feature could let you hide the apps you don't want to see (like, say the Movie/TV Store, Settings or something else).
This is the brilliance of a virtual remote: software is ultimately customizable. I just hope some Apple exec has checked out the Roku and Fire TV apps, to see this for themselves.