Over the weekend, the New York Times pondered whether the television remote control is on its way out, thanks to smartphone and tablet apps that can do the job instead.
Although doomsday predictions can be dangerous for any technology, I’ll gladly join the chorus of people who think the remote should be put out to pasture. But before that can happen, a lot of things need to change in the phone and TV industries, all of which will take a very long time.
As the Times points out, smartphone users need to be mindful of battery, given that today’s best handsets don’t last much longer than a full day. Until battery life is a non-issue for powerful phones, they won’t be ideal as remote controls.
The logistics of smartphone ownership also pose a problem. Dedicated TV remotes can be used by anyone, but if Mom’s the only one with a smartphone that controls the television, it’s back to the old remote for everyone else if she leaves the room or takes a call. Smartphones can’t fully replace the remote unless all TV users have one. (Comscore says roughly one sixth of the U.S. population owns a smartphone now.)
The actual television and set-top boxes are still the biggest hurdles. You can use an iPhone as a universal remote today, but not without a clunky IR dongle like this $50 accessory from L5. Add one for each TV or each phone, and the smartphone universal remote becomes an expensive investment. The other option is for networked devices to start including their own apps, to be controlled by Wi-Fi. Samsung and Mitsubishi are working on smartphone apps for their televisions, the Times reports, and you can already use a smartphone to control Google TV, Apple TV, Sonos, iTunes and more. But then you’re dealing with a patchwork of apps, with spotty support across major smartphone platforms.
In other words, the smartphone remote control, in its current state, can be just as clumsy as the remote from your cable company. It just looks nicer.