How (and why) to use an iPhone as an Apple TV remote

Amazon’s Fire TV isn’t the only streaming box with voice search. With the Remote app, you can use your iOS device to control Apple TV and hunt for content simply by speaking.

Matt Elliott Senior Editor
Matt Elliott is a senior editor at CNET with a focus on laptops and streaming services. Matt has more than 20 years of experience testing and reviewing laptops. He has worked for CNET in New York and San Francisco and now lives in New Hampshire. When he's not writing about laptops, Matt likes to play and watch sports. He loves to play tennis and hates the number of streaming services he has to subscribe to in order to watch the various sports he wants to watch.
Expertise Laptops, desktops, all-in-one PCs, streaming devices, streaming platforms
Matt Elliott
3 min read

Amazon announced the Fire TV yesterday, its entry in the streaming box arena that will battle Apple, Google, and Roku for control of your living room. One feature grabbing headlines is the microphone in the Fire TV's remote that delivers voice search -- a far better way to search for content than slowly and painfully selecting each letter via remote in the same way one composed a text message in the late 1990s on a flip-phone.

I have an Apple TV, and as any good consumer or tech blogger, I must weigh it and its various charms against Amazon's new competitor. One feature that is a wash, however, is voice search. No, the tiny Apple TV remote isn't hiding a microphone, but if you have an iPhone, iPad, or iPod Touch, you can use it to search Apple TV using your voice. And unlike voice search with the Fire TV, which reportedly works only with Amazon Instant, you can use an iOS device to search an Apple app like iTunes, as well as third-party apps like Netflix.

Remote app setup
Screenshot by Matt Elliott/CNET

It's easy to set up an iOS device as a remote for Apple TV as long as all of your devices are on the same network. First, you need to install the free Remote app. When you launch the Remote app for the first time, it provides a button to set up Home Sharing. Tap the button and enter your Apple ID and password.

With Home Sharing enabled on your iOS device, you then need to turn on Home Sharing in iTunes or on your Apple TV itself. Because I avoid iTunes as much as I can, I would direct you to simply set up Home Sharing on Apple TV. Just go to Settings > Computers to enable Home Sharing on Apple TV. (If you insist on using iTunes, here's the path: File > Home Sharing > Turn on Home Sharing.)

Now, when you head back to the Remote app, you should see Apple TV listed. Tap on its icon and your iOS device will control Apple TV.

Remote app
Screenshot by Matt Elliott/CNET

Like the tiny remote that comes with Apple TV, the Remote app features a sparse collection of buttons. Along the bottom are three buttons: options, menu, and play/pause. On the blank area above the button you can flick and swipe to control the on-screen selection on your TV, and you can tap to select an item. When playing a video, you can swipe left or right to rewind or fast-forward, while flicking down shows chapter markers.

These gestures don't make it any easier to navigate an Apple TV with an iPhone than the regular remote, but we've yet to discuss search. After you use your iPhone to search for content, you may never return to the Apple TV remote.

Remote app search
Screenshot by Matt Elliott/CNET

For starters, when you go to search for content -- in iTunes or Netflix, for example -- the keyboard will automatically appear. I don't need to tell you that typing out a search query on a QWERTY keyboard -- even a smaller keyboard -- is much faster than searching using the on-screen letter grid with the Apple TV remote.

But, wait, there's more! Tap the microphone button in the lower left, and you can search by voice using an iOS device. Just speak your search term, tap Done, and your words will appear on the Remote app search box and, more importantly, your Apple TV.

Remote app voice search
Screenshot by Matt Elliott/CNET

Lastly, there is one more advantage to using the Remote app rather than Apple TV remote. The app does not require your iOS device to maintain a line of sight with the Apple TV like the infrared Apple TV remote does.

In addition to Apple TV, the Remote app also lets you control your iTunes library and iTunes Radio on your Mac, PC, or Apple TV.