While the growing number of network-connected TVs coming to the market have had the lion’s share of living room–focused attention lately, it’s changes afoot in a more humble device category — the remote control — that may have the biggest impact of all.
Recent news shows technology companies new and old are thinking the same thing. Skype, this decade’s VoIP superstar, recently filed a patent to allow consumers to Skype from their TV, while IBM, perhaps the staidest technology company around, also jumped into the patent pool with a technology that allows “for automatic blogging of media viewing using an enhanced remote controller, suitable for use while viewing media programming and content.”
These patent filings are just part of the story. In fact, we’re on the cusp of a remote control revolution, where networking, compute and more advanced interface technologies will come standard in tomorrow’s consumer electronic remotes.
So, how will the remote control change in the coming years? Below are four major shifts I expect to see:
Network-enabled remotes. While this shift is self-evident in the move to a networked world, it’s important to understand how underlying changes in remote control communications technology will drive this shift. Today, most remote controls use infrared, a technology limited by distance and line-of-site issues. However, the consumer electronics industry has been developing the required specifications to enable low-cost, standards-based radio technology for network-based control of consumer electronics.
QWERTY/Touchscreen Remotes. If you’re lucky enough to own a universal remote from the likes of Logitech or Control 4, you’ve witnessed the power of robust input technologies. However, since most consumers won’t pay the $400 for a universal remote just to TV-tweet, more vendors will follow Vizio’s lead and simply add a QWERTY (or even touchscreen) option to their remotes as more Internet and computer apps make it to the TV screen.
Motion Sensing (or, as NewTeeVee’s Chris calls it, Gesture Control). There’s no doubt the game guys are often on the leading edge for consumer interface technologies, with the Wii being the first widely adopted accelerometer based motion sensing controller, and Microsoft talking about making the body the controller with Natal. Clearly gaming is the most logical place for motion sensing, but over time low-cost accelerometers and motion recognition technologies could revolutionize how consumers change the channel.
Remotes May Not be Remotes. In the future, the best remotes may not even be remotes, but simply hand-held devices with downloadable remote software. One look at the Apple app store and you’ll see hundreds of remote control applications (including Apple’s), as software and creative consumer electronics vendors realize the power of a network-enabled device like the iPod touch. Others, such as tvCompass, are building entire platforms for TV-centric control applications across a range of wireless hand-held network devices.
In fact, this last trend may ultimately be the biggest one of all in the remote control space. There’s no doubt the faster development cycles, high-programmability and processing power packed into devices like the iPhone and coming Android devices will surpass that of any fixed-function remote controls. It’s no stretch to say the future remote may not be something you already own: a mobile hand-held device.