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iPhone Becomes a Universal Remote This February

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I love my Logitech Harmony remote, but that doesn’t mean I wouldn’t jump on the opportunity to ditch the thing forever and simplify my digital world even further. A new third-party accessory and software combo announced at CES will allow me to do that by turning my iPhone or iPod touch into a Universal remote capable of controlling all of my home theater equipment.

It sounds promising, but it also brings back memories of apps for the Palm (s palm) pilot that were supposed to do the very same thing. The Palm devices had built-in IR communication, so all you needed was the software, which sounded great, but ended up being clumsy and not really that usable on a regular basis. I still have a Palm in a bedside drawer that I occasionally drag out to use for that purpose, in fact. It never stays out long.

Hopefully the iPhone’s accessory, which is called the L5 Remote and will cost around $49.95 when it hits retail stores this February, won’t suffer from the same failings. Once you have the dock-connecting IR blaster, you can get the application for free from the App Store. It promises to control televisions, DVDs, DVRs, cable boxes, audio equipment and more. I’ve got my fingers crossed for some unofficial support for the Logitech Harmony PS3 adapter. The blaster is said to have a functional range of up to 30 feet.

One place where the iPhone’s universal remote app should easily trump the dated Palm version is in user interface. No messing about with a stylus or hit-and-miss finger touch response with Apple’s (s aapl) smartphone. And you’ll be able to create your own custom button configuration by dragging and dropping the appropriate commands from various devices in whatever arrangement you choose. That should make it easier than my physical remote, too, since I won’t have to rely on the pre-arranged layout of the buttons, which is sometimes far from intuitive depending on what device you’re controlling.

The press release for the L5 describes a “short, guided training sequence” before you can begin using it with your home theater setup, which could be coded PR speak for a long and arduous process of holding your remote up to the IR blaster add-on for each command you want your iPhone to learn. I’m really hoping that the app comes with a built-in code database for common brands and makes of equipment, or that they at least open it up to user-generated databases.

As of right now, L5’s web site is just a placeholder, which isn’t a promising sign, but keep your eyes peeled for the official release of the attachment and software next month. Hopefully by then there will at least be a place on the web to go looking for more info.

44 Responses to “iPhone Becomes a Universal Remote This February”

  1. i see it as a great “optional ” remote…more like something for fun. But if other people using my tv would have to hold my phone to do it….just doesn’t seem practical if there’s already a great option (the universal remote that I can leave in my living room all the time.) Neat technology though. Looks like a great way for some people to make a butt-load of money!

    • I’ve just got the ‘Re’ from NewKinetix mainly because I needed the high degree of functionality it offered over the others including the L5. It didn’t have built-in remote codes nor could it be setup for different viewing areas with different sets of remotes for any location. The Re also replaces a couple of remotes I lost some time back. True, we might not ‘need’ it but it sure has improved my R&R time!

  2. “I can’t change channels if I’m on the phone, I can’t take my eyes off the TV to push a button”… do you people hear yourselves? It’s like pounding on your microwave because the popcorn takes a whole minute to pop. Get a grip, this isn’t Star Trek just yet, relax, have a cream soda. And take your Ritalin!

  3. This is awesome, I cannot wait for the release. I will be purchasing an iPad to complete the home. Using the iPad as the controller for everything.

    Yea I could use it on the iPhone, but like others said I still want to use my phone when I need to.

  4. I’ll buy this for my old ipod touch and if it’s anywhere near as snappy as the boxee remote app., I won’t be disappointed. I can’t wait to get rid of my clunky logitech harmony.

  5. There are far too many scenarios where this would be cumbersome and difficult. Even basic operation:

    iPhone remote
    1. Plug in IR adapter
    2. Slide iPhone unlock (3a. Enter code if you have codelock on)
    3b. Navigate to Universal Remote app
    4. Giving all credit to a perfect app requiring no more steps to get to the right profile, etc – press button to operate remote

    Current universal remote
    1. Press button to operate

    Why are people so excited about this?

    I use the Remote app to operate iTunes in my office, but that’s because it’s running on a server far away from my desk. That’s ideal. This is not.

  6. theboogiedown

    Why not an app from each manufacturer with a replica of their remotes for the phone.That way, no learning curve from the family member already annoyed with a man-cave dwellers need for more for all, no clutter same process for using all your equipment.

  7. Jackie Won

    Am I supposed to be carrying the dongle with the phone when I take the device out of the house ? Unplug it when I need to cradle sync for other reasons ? As it is, I can’t find my remote half the time. Slim chance I will be able to find the itsy bitsy dongle if I remove it.

    They should have done the flip of this – create a, say, WiFi to IR gadget or a Blue Tooth to IR gadget that is just sitting in the house plugged in and I can control that gadget via the iPod.

  8. Does this solve a problem? Or is this a technology hammer looking for a nail? If there is a feature that does something I couldn’t do with a regular remote then that would be useful but since I don’t carry my TV and DVD around with me, the portability of having it on a smartphone doesn’t seem to provide any added benefit.

  9. Hopefully the software has something up it’s sleeve because I can’t wouldn’t want to use a remote without tactile buttons. Maybe it’ll support gestures as well as buttons? or even voice commands?

    • Couldn’t agree more.
      I can’t imagine taking my eyes off TV to check which button is now below my finger and where I need to move to. Or better, try imagining this – Balance a beer and chips in one hand, the expensive iPhone on the other, reclining on a couch with a dog by the feet and the spouse by the side, in semi-darkness. Now change channels, look up the TV Guide, look into your DVR or set up the home theater. Bet the dog goes crazy, the spouse moves to the bedroom TV and you spill beer on your iPhone :-)

  10. While I understand the want for this there is the part of me that goes…yeah but when I want a mute button or a pause button I want it NOW and when I want that often I’m getting a phone call. Sadly I think I’ll stick with my one remote and my iPhone for extra apple tv fun digging thru what I have while currently watching something.

    • Yeah, or if you are in a call and want to change the channel. Or if you handed the phone to a friend or relative to talk to someone, and now you can’t control your TV? A remote control seems like the kind of thing where you *do* want a dedicated device.

    • Ernest Terry

      I agree the app would not get tons of use on my iPhone because of incoming calls and txts. However on my iPod touch and the coming iPad I see ton’s of potential. The best application would make use of the built in WIFI and transmit the remote application’s signals to a device on the user’s WIFI network just like a WIFI printer or Airport. The advantage over all other competitors is this device would relay signals in three different methods to equipment (steros, flatscreens, DVD, PS3); these would be by blasting IR signals to equipment in front of it, sending IR signals through cables attached to IR receivers on the controlled equipment and most importantly by sending out Bluetooth signals to devices like the PS3.