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Jorge Piñon

The TV Remote #

January 30, 2013

Some people are wondering when some company (Apple) will announce the new amazing way to control TV. Yes, there’s also the question of content, but the controller is hardware, and that’s Apple’s strength.

Main points to consider:

The answer for a better TV input method is solved. It’s here, and it’s plain as most solutions tend to be in the long run. It’s your iOS device of course. After all, why do we still call the iPhone a “phone” at all? I use it as an actual phone – to make or receive a voice call – about 10% of the time. Hell, if we’re going by most-used function, it probably should be called iCheckMailAndSocialMedia.

If you’re like me and have an iPad as well, you know that you can control your AppleTV with either your iPhone, your iPad, or your iPod touch. In fact, we can all sit around the sofa with our touch devices and all control the AppleTV at the same time. Like a bunch of idiots.

Second screens are already being considered in all kinds of ways to provide secondary content to the primary content on the big screen. The Wii U is trying to make this second screen a natural element of gaming. Well, my iPad is the perfect size for that too.

I don’t have an iPad Mini, but since it was rumored and the specs started to leak out, I’ve been convinced that it makes a perfect TV remote. There will be a small breakthrough soon when Apple does release a new solution, but that solution will be a really good Remote app, which of course will spawn dozens of (better?) alternates from third-party devs. The current Remote app in the app store is very basic, and it works, but it needs a little more imagination before it can inspire the industry – and that, after all, is what Apple has always been best at.

Speak when it’s quiet, tap when it’s not #

Imagine the near future when you can grab any iOS device, speak your voice commands into the remote app when you’re alone and it’s quiet, or use the touch controls to navigate or search when it’s not (or if you have an older device without Siri). I know it’s like this because it’s how everyone on Star Trek communicated with the ship’s computer. Bridge protocol required everyone (except the Captain, I think) to use the space touch screen interface, but back in their space rooms everyone’s using voice commands.

You’ll never see anyone on the S.S. Enterprise use arm gestures to call up a Romulan Ale.

It’s true that flat touch screens make for bad remotes because you have to keep looking at it to know what you’re doing. But the benefits and economics of it makes that problem moot. Haptic feedback may be poised to solve this problem anyway.

The Bigger Problem #

As Steve Jobs replied to an audience member at the D8 conference (video on allthingsd), the problem is the “go-to-market strategy”. In other words, it’s not that there are no breakthrough ideas in hardware or UI. In fact, I bet Apple has those pieces already in place waiting for an answer to the bigger problem—content. Until the day when content is not controlled as it is by cable companies, any TV breakthrough will be doomed to fail. Most likely each year will bring an incremental step and Apple (and others) will have to decide the point at which their go-to-market strategy is viable.