Will Smartphones Make Remote Controls Obsolete?

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News Posted: Sat, Mar 16 2013 10:58 AM
It seems like everyone is toting a smartphone these days, even teens. According to recent data by Gartner, smartphone sales were through the roof in the fourth quarter of 2012 with a record 207.7 million units sold, up more than 38 percent year-over-year. Meanwhile, feature phone sales are on the decline, having dropped 19.3 percent year-over-year in the same quarter. That wouldn't be the case if people were just using these devices to place calls, but smartphones are capable of so much more. That might be bad news for the remote control industry.

William Webb, a writer for U.K.'s The Independent, believes that by the year 2025 smartphones will have evolved into a device that guides you through your whole life, from the moment you wake up until you lay down at night. That's already the case for some people, but his vision of the future has the smartphone acting as a "remote control for your life."

He goes on to explain different use scenarios, but one that I'm interested in is how they'll be used to control home entertainment centers. It made me think of Logitech, a company that has a vested interest in remote controls, yet wasn't afraid to put out a product called the Harmony Link.

Harmony Link

The Harmony Link turns your iPad, iPhone, or Android device into a universal remote. I spent some hands-on time with the Harmony Link, and it worked as advertised, allowing me to control my various devices (TV, surround sound receiver, Xbox 360) on my phone, along with additional functionality that isn't available on most universal remotes. And that's just the tip of the iceberg of what's possible.

"[Smartphones] will work with your home entertainment system while you sleep to find programs that will interest you and download them as a podcast to watch on the train or in other spare moments," Webb writes.

DirecTV Phone App

Some of that is already happening. If you're a DirecTV subscriber, you can download a free app to not only configure your DVR to record programs while you're away from home, but also watch movies and TV shows right on your phone or tablet. The only thing missing is the ability to change channels on your set-top box at home.

The biggest hurdle, in my opinion, is developing an interface that's as easy to use as a remote control without having to look down at the screen. I rarely look at my remote because I can feel where the necessary buttons are, but you lose that ability on a touchscreen interface.

What do you think, will smartphones end up replacing remote controls in the future, or will the two continue to co-exist?
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Your last paragraph concerning the tactile feel. I have one of the Harmony remotes with a touch screen and it is amazing as I can preset functionality and have the right devices start in one go, but if the rest of the remote was like that, I would cut myself. Touch screens do not work for certain things.

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Psit3k replied on Sat, Mar 16 2013 12:12 PM

After using my Android as a remote for XBMC. I can honestly say that I would prefer buttons over touch screen. I found myself constantly looking down at the screen. Granted, after a while my thumb learned the position of some touch screen buttons. There have been many times I have for instance hit two of the virtual buttons at once or missed an intended one. I prefer being able to actually feel the buttons on the remote. If there were on-screen feedback for remote apps, for instance a transparent button overlay with what is appearing on your TV in the background, a smartphone remote would work. Some blu ray players have smartphone capabilities with decent on screen feedback. It depends on how the app is designed and the capabilities of the device being controlled. It's possible to stream TV to a smartphone. Stream on-screen feedback to the remote app, control your TV from any room in the house. I doubt conventional remotes would completely be done away with it's hard to say.

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I have the same style remote as MayhemMatthew (a Harmony 900 in my case) and I actually choose it over the Harmony 1100 which is pure touch screen. They were both the same price, but after playing with both of them I decided that I really wanted buttons.

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