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Ultimate Remote Control

1 rating: 5.0
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1 review about Ultimate Remote Control

How to create the Ultimate iPad Universal Remote Control

  • Apr 3, 2010
This review is a little different than my other reviews.  Rather than review something specific that already exists, I'm reviewing my own vision for the ultimate iPad Home Theater Remote Control.  I'd love to get feedback and comments letting me know what you think -- where are the holes in my design?  how would you improve upon it? etc...

If you've read some of my other remote control reviews, you might notice that even the concept of using an iPad as a universal remote goes against my core nature.  I have always been a big proponent of remote controls with an intuitive button layout that can be controlled with one hand (leaving the other hand free to hold your beverage of choice) and would not require the user to look down at the buttons to see what they are doing... In general, any sort of "touchscreen" remote violates both of these key principals... so what makes the iPad remote different?

Navigating iTunes on iPhoneAnyone that has used a new iPhone or iPod Touch knows that scanning through content in the iPod app  by flicking your finger across the screen is incredibly more efficient and informative than navigating through a TV guide using your DirecTV remote.  What I would like to see is a change where all the information about your available content is stored on the iPad.  

Currently, if you want to record a show on DirecTV that is scheduled for next week, you have two choices:
  1. Page through pages and pages of the programming guide to get to the day the show is scheduled for
  2. Search for the show using the DirecTV "on-screen keyboard" where you use your navigation arrows to type in the name of the show.Existing DirecTV Guide
Either option is a beating.  However, if you moved the program guide to your iPad, either method would be a breeze.  You could control how quickly you fly through the programming guide by how fast you swipe your finger, pull up a calendar interface to go to a specific date, or use the iPad's on screen keyboard to type in the name of the show you want to record.  Just imagine how much better of an experience that would be.

In the scenario above, I use DirecTV as my example, but the same approach could be used for the newer internet content providers such as Hulu, Netflix on Demand and Boxee.  I love navigating through Boxee because of the rich information and coverart for all the shows that are available.  But even still, navigating by clicking buttons can feel clunky.  It would be great to move all visual content to the iPad and use it to navigate to the program you want to watch.  Just to reiterate, I'm still using the TV to actually WATCH the program, but the iPad is a better mechanism for browsing through the content and picking a show to watch.  There's already an iPad App for the XBMC (Xbox Media Center) which uses an "iTunes Coverflow" type implementation for browsing the media that's stored on your computer.  This is a perfect example:
XMBC Remote HD

Moving the content navigation to the iPad also allows for some slick interactive functionality.  Since the iPad has internet access, you could click on a show in the tv guide, and then get a full cast list, reviews, synopsis and even a trailer.  The IMDB App already does most of this for you.  In an ultimate "Minority Report" display interactivity world, I'd love to be able to "flick" the trailer towards the TV and have the trailer show up on the TV for everyone to watch.  In this case, whoever has the iPad becomes sort of a video DJ.  They can browse and queue up lots of things to watch, and then send each item to the main TV for everyone to watch.  I can see this requiring a much more substantial hardware requirement to get all the devices to talk to each other with a proximity to one another, but I'll throw that out there in case some enterprising developer wants to build it.

People accustomed to the standard remote controls will note that the iPad doesn't have an IR emitter to be able to control you inputs.  Perfect!  Sony already started down this path by removing the IR receiver from their Playstation 3.  Instead, they offered a Bluetooth remote which eliminated the "line of sight" requirement of most IR remotes.  However, I feel like they missed a major opportunity by creating a "one-way" bluetooth remote control.  The iPad has both WiFi and Bluetooth,and if you haven't noticed, almost all of the new audio/video electronics now have at least an ethernet port.  This would allow the iPad to connect to any device on your home network, and in theory, control it, regardless of what room you are in.  Yamaha and Pioneer recently announced iPhone apps that let you control their new receivers.
Yamaha iPhone App
Pioneer iPhone App Remote

Once again, rather than throw up a big green "VOLUME" bar on the bottom of the TV and fiddle with up/down clicks to get the right volume right, you can set the volume exactly where you want it using a much more intuitive visual indicator directly on your iPad.  I even think it would be possible to control some even older devices that have a "serial" connection port.  It's just a different way of thinking.  Rather than sending IR signals all over, just replace that with ethernet and bluetooth traffic.

Hopefully by this point, you're drooling at the possibilities of the Ultimate iPad Remote and want to know "when can I get it??".   The good news is that almost all the functionality I've described already exists in some of the great apps already released.  The bad news is that all of these are separate apps and none of them really do any sort of cross communication.  Right now, with the right setup, you could get by with the iPad as your ultimate remote, but it would require constantly switching applications.  One app to control the volume of your speakers and switch the inputs of your receiver, one app for Boxee, another for DirecTV, etc.  I actually wouldn't mind the switching too much provided there was a way to get the volume control for my Yamaha Receiver in all the apps.

Is there a solution?  I do feel like it won't be too long before an enterprising developer creates the iPad equivalent of the Logitech Harmony remotes.  Rather than just collecting IR signal patterns for your devices, they'll be coding for the network codes that can control your device as well as XML or other data transfer protocals for reading the "content" and "tv guide" information from your devices and sending it to your iPad.  

The coolest thing about the iPad release is the potential that comes with it.  The interface, the power, and even the price make it a device which in and of itself inspires creativity.  I haven't even touched the thing yet, and I can't wait to see what kind of Home Theater remote applications are released for it.

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