How Many Buttons Do You Use?

Posted October 23rd, 2007 by Mike Cherim

I have several remote controls throughout my house. Televisions, cable boxes, a DVD player, satellite radio, air conditioner, and more. It’s crazy. They’re all over the place (maybe I need a holster with a universal remote). Most have a multitude of buttons. This thought occurred to me the other day: All those buttons, yet I only use four, or seven, or ten — a fraction of what’s available — I have to wonder, is this an indication of poor design, or is it just me while the rest of the world uses these devices to their maximum potential?

Here’s a quick run down at my house:

  • A remote for a DVD player has 40 buttons, but I only use a maximum of 9.
  • A remote for a TV has 33 buttons, but I only use a maximum of 16.
  • A remote for a cable box has 38 buttons, but I only use a maximum of 16.
  • A remote for a satellite radio has 28 buttons, but I only use a maximum of 5.
  • A remote for an air conditioner has 11 buttons, but I only use a maximum of 4.
  • A remote for another TV has 20 buttons, but I only use a maximum of 3.

So tell me, am I the anti-tech or what? Am I not alone in feeling that many remote controls and perhaps many electronics are over-engineered or over-designed? Even my phone has 22 buttons on it. I use 14. Maybe I’m ignorant to a wonderful life full of untapped potential. But not all electronic user interfaces suffer this fate, mind you. My computer keyboard has 104 keys and I use a whopping 102 of them (I don’t use Scroll Lock or Pause/Break). Now that’s good design!

What do you think? How many buttons do you use? And what about a lot of electronics — overkill?

Note: I didn’t treat the abbreviations in this entry. Namely DVD and TV. I didn’t use the abbr element because they widely known so I feel this would be overkill. Moreover, what they mean is irrelevant to the context in which they are used. They’re common household electronics. Just wanted to share that.

15 Responses to: “How Many Buttons Do You Use?”

  1. John Lascurettes responds:
    Posted: October 23rd, 2007 at 2:43 am

    Well an iPod has three controls: a clickwheel, a button and a switch. One of those things all have multiple uses, so you might argue that there’s about 12 different things you can do with those three controls. I pretty much use about 9 frequently. Not bad.

  2. John Faulds responds:
    Posted: October 23rd, 2007 at 3:00 am

    Sounds like you could do with a universal remote. ;)

  3. JackP responds:
    Posted: October 23rd, 2007 at 5:30 am

    There’s also the argument that I’ve come across somewhere that DVD doesn’t really stand for anything. It’s just called DVD. And Wikipedia has an interesting history on the etymology of the DVD name.

    And yes, I probably don’t use at least half of the buttons on my remotes either.

  4. Rob Mason responds:
    Posted: October 23rd, 2007 at 6:27 am

    What more do you need - on/off, change channel (up/down and numbers), change volume…? No-one has yet had the balls to “do an Apple” (that I know of) and re-design remotes to our actual needs. Most (if not all) home entertainment systems have an On Screen Display, so don’t really need hundreds of buttons on the remote.

  5. David Zemens responds:
    Posted: October 23rd, 2007 at 7:48 am

    You use many more of those buttons than I do, MIke. I never even learned how to tape something with my old VCR. Now I have a DVD recorder that history tells me I will never use, either. Tweny years ago, would you ever have dreamed that you would have six remote controls in your home?

  6. Elliott Cross responds:
    Posted: October 23rd, 2007 at 8:11 am

    I can’t wait for the day that you can buy one remote, aim it at a device and it auto programs it for you! I hate having to put in codes and try to figure out the multitudes of different remotes!

    Maybe something like the iPod: simple design with an on/off, wheel to select options, and a button to select the option you want… hhhmmmm…

    I have 3 remotes and like you, only use maybe 1/4 of the buttons on them.

  7. Joe Dolson responds:
    Posted: October 23rd, 2007 at 10:45 am

    I guess I’m a bit outside the norm, here…I have two remotes. One for my computer, one for the stereo. I never use the stereo remote at all — haven’t for years. The computer remote I use frequently, because I can use it to skip songs or change volume without moving program focus. Of the 37 buttons on my computer remote, I use 13 with any regularity.

    I like the idea of the Universal Remote; I just don’t use remotes enough to at all justify it!

  8. Jermayn Parker responds:
    Posted: October 23rd, 2007 at 11:39 pm

    More importantly, what does the Pause|Break button do?? Am I missing out on something???

  9. Rich Pedley responds:
    Posted: October 24th, 2007 at 4:20 am has a pretty good explanation.

  10. Peeter responds:
    Posted: October 24th, 2007 at 6:10 am

    Digital Versatile Disc I think - including DVD-audio and computer DVD’s which don’t contain video.

  11. Helena Boylen responds:
    Posted: October 27th, 2007 at 4:50 am

    I also find that, perversely, the longer I own a piece of equipment (e.g. a DVD player or TV) the less functions I use on it. When you first buy the thing you read through the instructions and note all those fancy functions such as picture-in-picture and various image quality enahancer things that you can set up. But within a few weeks (read days) those are all forgotten and you’re back to Play/Pause/Stop/Back/Forward.

    The only exception to the rule for me is my cable remote as they keep introducing new stuff there like catch-up TV and various libraries of older programmes so I have been using more and more buttons there.

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