It contains so few electronics that it serves as an opportunity to show what more Apple products will look like in the future when components get small enough to fit in truly tiny spaces. As that happens, the emphasis in product design will be even more driven by suitability as a tool used by humans. For example the design process for a commonplace object such as a pair of secateurs is all about comfort, hand feel and allowing force to be applied in an efficient manner to perform a specific task. The materials and form factor all defer to these objectives. The Apple Remote feels very much like that to me. Electronics devices in general however, usually have to compromise some material aspect of their form in order to fit the components.
The latest rev of the iPod Touch is a good example, the edge is very thin (you could just about use that thing in a knife fight) but I’m sure Johnny Ive would have liked it to have a more gradual taper from the sides to the centre of the back casing. Instead there is a bevel that creates just enough space internally to fit all the components (and it is pretty snug in there).
But with the Apple Remote the internal components constraint is largely gone and the result is this tiny splinter of aluminium that I just love having in my hand. The central select button is scooped out in an intriguingly non-circular way that just seems to fit my thumb perfectly. The length of the “handle” leaves it comfortably braced in the thickest part of my hand with the buttons sticking out at just the right spot to be reached without needing to adjust it’s position in any way. The feedback from the tactile button click, the movement distance and sound are just right. The whole experience is like some sort of magicians trick of clicking your fingers to change the channel.
I also admire the ambitious lack of buttons. If used with something like Remote Buddy you can control just about anything with it. Some may even be upset by the recent (well not so recent anymore) introduction of an additional play/pause button, you’ll find it’s existence adequately explained in this post from John Gruber.