Challenge: Control All Your Devices with the iPhone Starting at Under $99

Cleverboy

macrumors 65816
Original poster
Got your attention? Excellent.

Ok. I'm a little angry. I'm not a conspiracy theorist, but I know the way the world works. There is an industry dedicated to providing remotes that would be sorely impacted by any economic solution that provided sophisticated universal control from an increasingly ubiquitous, accessory-friendly, natively programmable multitouch device.

Yeah... I'm talking about the iPhone/iPod Touch. Question is, does said industry have the clout to surpress the innovations available in advancing technology, or are such solutions simple "niche" markets incapable of graduating into the mainstream?

Some background. Several years ago Griffin Technologies released a little gadget called Total Remote. It looked like a somewhat bulky headphone adapter. When plugged into the headphone jack on a PocketPC, the accompanying app would generate sounds that the handy adapter would handily convert into IR signals powerful enough to control your IR device (VCR, TV, etc) from up to 100 feet away.
This software update (free to current users) adds CCF support - that means Total Remote users can now use ANY of the thousands of free presets written for the Philips Pronto(tm) based remote controls. It also adds complete Macro editing and customizing capabilities. With the same capabilities as the far more expensive Pronto style remotes, Total Remote paired with a Pocket PC makes a very cost effective complete Universal Remote Control for even the most sophisticated of Home Theater systems. Total Remote comes with device profiles for thousands of devices such as TV, VCR, DVD and more. You can easily make your own device profiles by installing new ones or creating your own.
Problems of IR incompatibility with targeted gadgets, device incompatibility (frequent software crashes in some circumstances and with some PDAs), and issue with recessed headphone jacks bubbled up, but it remains unclear to me why this device went away. From some descriptions, it seemed that most of the issues stemmed from the multitude of hardware profiles running the PocketPC operating system and problems with the coding of the software.

Regardless, it didn't seem that the concept was flawed... only the execution. Fast-forward to 2009, where we live in a vastly more socially networked space and it beggars the question... Is this the most vastly unrealized development opportunity on the Internet?

Think about it. Let's look at two potential SKUs in a hypothetically revived Total Remote offering:

THE HARDWARE

A.) B001-IR ($29) - This device is essentially the original Total Remote hardware/software combo re-imagined with a shiney new coat of Cocoa-Touch goodness. If the offering did nothing more than let people layout buttons in a SpringBoard-esque paged grid format (per device profile)... there would be much rejoicing.

B.) B002-BT ($79) - This might be the game changer. Instead of a directly connected bobble converting sound to IR pulses... this would use iPhone 3.0's ability to write apps to control custom Bluetooth devices with auto-discovery and pairing. --Take the exact same gadget and make it free standing, battery/AC operated, and accessible via Bluetooth. Perhaps twice as big as the average Bluetooth headset, you can station it in an optimum place in any room, or even mount it on the wall with ease. You can purchase multiple devices and when you enter the room, they'd be ready to start beaming commands to components in the area according to the dictates of your iPhone OS device.

C.) B003-WF ($159) - This last device in this unholy triumvirate would not ONLY be the game changer, but could make some executives lose sleep at night. Take the last device... allow it to generate RF signals as well, then... connect to WiFi and support Bonjour discovery and secure pairing with your phone. Give it a more robust AC connector as well as a battery option for travelling. Like the previous device it has a light that let's you know it's active... but uses use the Bluetooth pairing to control it's interface (needs no LCD panel or buttons as the Bluetooth radio reports to the iPhone screen directly and is controlled by it as well when selecting it's WiFi network). Just supporting 802.11g would be fine. 802.11n would make people foam at the mouth but let's take this in baby steps.
THE SOFTWARE
This would be the lynchpin. A FREE App downloadable from the AppStore, that interacts with each of these gadgets. In fact, I'm surprised Apple doesn't already have a category for "Accessory Applications".

This would, of course, be free advertising as people download the app, it could contain a "test drive" section allowing people without the hardware to experience what the interface was like if they purchased one of the actual modules. The system would need to support "learning" remote codes, saving them into a profile for a particular device (VCR, TV, etc) and then uploading the profiles easily to a unified library of profiles (opt-in to supporting the community Device Profile Wiki). The "Wiki" could be pre-populated with data from existing technologies that have cataloged IR devices (eg. previous Total Remote profiles, open source profiles, etc).

Every user must create their own unique account at the manufacturer's website, in order to download new community device profiles and submit new profiles for others to use. This account can also be the basis for expanded subscription services (I'll mention later).

Pre-sales, people could see (for free) whether their favorite devices are already supported by the app/device. We'd quickly have Apple TV, PS3, XBox 360 profiles ready to go. I even have a wireless PS2 controller I wouldn't mind throwing in there for my DVD playback and remote game control.
This could be a staple of most iPhone/iPod Touch toting households. The first product would be a "starter" product, aimed at people who want to try it out inexpensively, and don't mind having to "point" their iPhone at their VCR, TV, etc. For $29, the manufacturer (Griffin, Belkin, or even... however unlikely... Phillips) could gather a wellspring of customers who want to get an inexpensive Universal Remote using their existing multitouch device. It is entry-level and expectations should be low. The second product, $79 upgrades people to a much nicer product that requires no pointing, has a farther range of usage, and keeps their headphone jack free so they can listen to music or talk on their phone while using the remote (not possible with the other format). $159 would be the ultimate solution, that uses its WiFi connection to let people control their devices from other rooms in the house. It adds RF controls for a wider range of gadgets, and completes a total solution that will have the entire landscape change. It will cause people to immediately want to access this device from outside of the house (not on the network), but this could easily be a yearly service upgrade offered by the manufacturer by subscription (maybe $19.99 per year to access unlimited remote devices from ANYWHERE in the world, an introductory rate of $9.99 would set the tech world abuzz if the solution works).

...

Is it just me, or wouldn't this be the sweetest solution on the planet?

I can't see a reason in the world why a.) It wouldn't be wildly popular. b.) it would involve technology that would be extremely hard to produce for a manufacturer like Griffin (maker of the iTrip, Total Remote) or Belkin (maker of many fine iPod accessories). c.) Wouldn't be the basis for a paradigm shift in the tech market.

The iPhone/iPod Touch IS THE platform to launch this on. Forget the PDA market. Forget other smart phones where your device wouldn't have half the installed user-base without 10x the tech support and device compatibility issues.

The single hardware profile makes support a much, much easier business proposition, and the "free" AppStore software offering would provide a pre-sales vehicle that would give the family of devices monumental traction and aggregate online user accounts and email subscriptions to help drive more sales.

What's up with this? Does anyone else see this opening?

I purchased a Harmony Remote for $139 sometime ago. It had a little LED screen, and hooked to my Mac over USB to download device profiles. I'm not using it now. Why? Because it was tedious. I learned to use it, but I'd have to admit it was a messy, geek device that took too many button presses to get mixed results.

The biggest roadblock to this roadmap, in my mind... is Apple & Existing 3rd Party Patents. NOT that Apple would want to stifle innovation, but that some unknown conflict arises. They may simply say "No" to the application... and that's the end of it. The application may be released, and a cease and desist might spring up from Phillips or someone else. However, if the manufacturer BEGINS with the $29 option... then advances to support the $79 option with an update... then opens up to the $159 option as a pattern of acceptance by Apple is established... I think it would be a worthwhile endeavor with minimal risk.

Total Remote already existed. I'd say its time for it to exist again for a platform with real traction.

/rant

~ CB
 

sinsin07

macrumors 68040
Mar 28, 2009
3,434
2,275
Wow! You were up early. So was I but I need another cup of coffee to read through that wall of text. Sounds interesting.
 

alFR

macrumors 68020
Aug 10, 2006
2,430
439
I'd really like to see iPhone integration with full home automation setups e.g. the ones that can be run via a controller plugged into your Mac as well. The IR dongle idea is a good stopgap for current TVs etc. though. I do think that eventually everything will either have a WiFi or Ethernet connection or use the same sort of tech that current home automation setups use (signals via the mains) for remote control though.
 

Cleverboy

macrumors 65816
Original poster
Allow me to bumper sticker it with three medium length questions...

#1. Would you buy a $29 gadget that let's you control every DVD, TV, IR gadget in your house by simply sticking it into your iPhone's headphone port, launching an App, pushing the virtual buttons and downloading its hardware profiles instantly from an online community (profiles that let you control your Phillips DVD, Sony Bravia, or Apple TV with zero setup)?

#2. Considering a similar device existed in 2003 (called Total Remote), why did it go away, and why hasn't its maker, Griffin Technology (maker of the iTrip and leading accessory maker for iPods) produced an app to support it?

#3. Taking it to the next level, would you be interested in a $79-$159 stationary device that let's you control devices all around your home from entirely different rooms over Bluetooth and WiFi respectively?

There, everything else is just detailed discussion points, strategy, and ranting.

~ CB
 

aphexacid

macrumors 6502a
Jul 31, 2007
915
18
Chicago
Doh. Well, allow me to bumper sticker it with three medium length questions...

#1. Would you buy a $29 gadget that let's you control every DVD, TV, IR gadget in your house by simply sticking it into your iPhone's headphone port, launching an App, pushing the virtual buttons and downloading its hardware profiles instantly from an online community (profiles that let you control your Phillips DVD, Sony Bravia, or Apple TV with zero setup)?

#2. Considering a similar device existed in 2003 (called Total Remote), why did it go away, and why hasn't its maker, Griffin Technology (maker of the iTrip and leading accessory maker for iPods) produced an app to support it?

#3. Taking it to the next level, would you be interested in a $79-$159 stationary device that let's you control devices all around your home from entirely different rooms over Bluetooth and WiFi respectively?

There, everything else is just detailed discussion points, strategy, and ranting.

~ CB
1: Nope

2: conspiracy?

3: Maybe, depends on what it does.

No wired anything!
 

Cleverboy

macrumors 65816
Original poster
And for others who need a clearer picture... first, read my shorter summary by clicking here. Then, check out this picture, and this article on Engadget.

http://www.engadget.com/2009/01/06/uiremote-is-like-a-remote-in-your-iphone/
Yeah, sure, name any IR-equipped phone in existence and odds good to excellent that you can find a universal remote app for it, but you probably can't think of many for the iPhone, now, can you? They exist, yes, but they tend to carry a home-automation slant since the lack of an infrared port leaves the thing relegated to WiFi duty. Enter UiRemote, an ambitious little project undertaken by a handful of scrappy University of Toronto students that uses a fingertip-sized IR blaster connected to the headphone jack paired with a totally customizable app to get the job done.
It's a shame these students have apparently vanished under their course load.

Video of Product In Action:
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=E-SlcjmqeYw&feature=player_embedded

I believe strongly that manufacturers should be "duking it out" in this space, giving us lots of low cost options and plenty of good UI selections to choose from. Maybe these students will get this launched at some point. Considering Griffin already had the product manufactured and hundreds of device profiles available... I'm not clear why we're not on 2nd generation hardware devices for this purpose, allowing WiFi access (inexpensive WiFi-access, unlike the hyper-expensive IR wifi modules used by awkward AppStore programs like IRedTouch -- $24 for the app, and ~$280 for the hardware).

An interesting side note... the UIREmote solution mentioned above has been tested and requires either an iPhone or a 2nd Gen iPod Touch to operate. The requirement is chiefly because only the 2nd Gen iPod touch supports "recording" from the same headphone jack, enabling the device to "record/learn" signals from any remote as well as sending them. It's an elegant solution.

A $79 and $159 solution with stand-alone Bluetooth and WiFi pairing would also be welcome additions, easily by-passing other unreasonably expensive solutions and allowing people to have various tiered options for different purchasing levels and needs.

~ CB
 

Attachments

iMerlin

macrumors 6502a
May 13, 2008
643
0
Ive been looking for something like this since I first got my iPhone. I have a Philips Pronto I barely use because of the same reasons you mentioned about your Harmony. I see no reason why this couldnt be doable. But I wouldnt want to spend anything on a dongle I plug into my iPhone. What I think would work even better is a little Wifi base station. The iPhone connects to the wifi base and the base has RF and IR capability. This would also allow control over home automation that relies on RF instead of IR.

EDIT: I guess this base station idea is already out there called Red Eye... DOH! There goes my million dollar idea!
 

bassjunky

macrumors regular
Jun 15, 2009
174
12
Texas
IR is a pain in the ass. It'd be cool if everything could be controlled over a lan, but obviously that's far from a reality. I'd love for my iphone to control my A/V setup, my lights, other home automation and whatever else. But having to probably setup multiple IR Rx/Tx boxes for multiple components sounds like a geek/niche setup.

Maybe I'm missing something.
 

Cleverboy

macrumors 65816
Original poster
EDIT: I guess this base station idea is already out there called Red Eye... DOH! There goes my million dollar idea!
Excellent! This hits the exact description I had for a third kind of device I was hoping to see! Woo-hoo! I guess they say the software is in BETA right now, and its one of the first accessories to market that interface a 30 pin connector accessory with an app.

http://www.ilounge.com/index.php/reviews/entry/thinkflood-redeye-wi-fi-to-infrared-bridge-for-ipod-iphone/
RedEye ($149) is one of the first actually available accessories capable of combining an App Store application and a Dock Connector accessory to expand the capabilities of an iPod touch or iPhone. The concept: RedEye has both Wi-Fi and Infrared capabilities, and lets you use your iPhone or iPod touch to connect via Wi-Fi and control Infrared devices such as a television, receiver, and DVD player found in the same room with a RedEye unit.
Seems the experience isn't very satisfying for set-up though...
Thus far, we've played with the "public beta" RedEye app enough to see that it's incredibly unstable and requires a lot of screwing around to set up the dock and the individual devices within a room -- it's nowhere near as straightforward as the Harmony universal remotes we've previously used and enjoyed.
This seems like a cruel joke to suggest that Harmony universal remotes are "straight forward". They're complicated, but they get the job done. I've downloaded the app, and it looks promising (though I'd need to get the hardware). Unfortunately, because the app is free, a bunch of idiots have downloaded it and disregarding all the notices that the FREE app needs hardware to emit IR signals, they've posted negative reviews claiming the software doesn't work for them and that they've been tricked. :mad: Yikes.

Anywho. Thanks iMerlin! I should visit iLounge more often. I'm curious though, why Jeremy seems so down on the product being in the BETA stage. These developers need to be encouraged, because while it puts some products/companies out of business... this is clearly the way forward.

After some thought, I think the IR transmitter should be $9.99-$19.99. $29 is too high given that it is, in essence, only part of a universal remote control (some of which sell for $10-$20).

~ CB
 

Michael CM1

macrumors 603
Feb 4, 2008
5,676
272
I think a nice move would be the A/V industry moving from IR remotes to Bluetooth. I know some televisions have Bluetooth, but I don't know whether they use it for a remote. If you start moving everything to BT, then you can start using smarter devices that people already have to control these gadgets. I don't know how many people own a touchscreen device (iPhone, iPod touch, Storm, Pre, Zune HD), but they keep increasing. Big corporations like Sony and Samsung would have no trouble writing remote control apps for all of these devices. It would be a HUGE improvement over the fustercluck of remotes most of us have to deal with. Even with both a Samsung TV and BD player in my bedroom, I still need THREE remotes (TV, BD, satellite) -- without a sound system. If I could set the sleep timer on my BD remote, I'd be down to two.
 

Aravintht

macrumors 6502a
Jun 7, 2007
626
1
London, UK
another possible solution that could work.


our house is all wired up for x10, from the outside lights to the front room tv, to the 24" Dells sitting in front of me.

a couple of years ago my dad got a webio unit to allow signals to be sent over wifi, to the x10 unit to the appliance.

i then made a very simple webapp to control it all from my iphone

so now while i am in a lecture i can switch off my bedroom light and open my curtains. or i can put my mac to sleep by switching off the lcds. Or while on holiday, if we've forgotten to put the x10 unit into holiday mode, we can open the front room curtains during the day, have the tv on for a few hours in the night and flick on a few lights. we can even switch on/off the alarm to let the neighbour in to drop mail/packages.

back to the point, ir senders can also be connected to x10 units. most people only use ir in their tv room. stick a unit in their. then u could be upstairs, power the tv on using x10 and then send the codes to change the channel.

the cool thing about creating a web app is you have control. Since x10 modules can give feedback - you could potentially write it so that if you press channel 1 on your iphone, it checks the x10 module to see if the tv is on, then changes the channel. or it could check and then tell you the tv is on, meaning someone else is watching and ask you to confirm to change the channel to channel 1.

just my 2 cents...
 

zhenya

macrumors 603
Jan 6, 2005
6,360
2,828
The Red Eye product looks promising, although rather expensive all things considered (especially if the $188 was 'cost' for beta users). That said, if their final product works as well as it should, I may be buying one. I purchased a Harmony remote a couple of years ago that was a disaster. It was a nightmare to set up, could never really turn all of the devices on reliably for any given activity (it was unable to overcome knowing if a given device was in the off or on state) and it lasted about 18 months before it started locking up every 15 minutes. Now it's a $300 paper weight quickly becoming a relic.

Every time I use my iphone in the living room it is blatantly clear that it has the ability to be the perfect universal remote. While the wifi to infrared bridge adds flexibility, I'd be content if Apple added infrared directly to the phone. It'd open up a world of opportunity for app developers.
 

Tilpots

macrumors 601
Apr 19, 2006
4,191
71
Carolina Beach, NC
What would prevent a company like Logitech creating a 30 pin add on for the iPhone and a corresponding app? If they're trying to stay ahead of the curve and in the remote game, they will probably try something soon. The Harmony line probably brings in a fair share of cash for them and since they're a peripheral company at heart, I can see them making all kinds of add-ons for the iPhone/Touch line...

Do they have anything in the works now? I don't know, but they'd should...
 

zhenya

macrumors 603
Jan 6, 2005
6,360
2,828
I'm a little surprised that nobody has made something like that either. I mean an infrared transmitter that connects to the docking port would be cheap and easy to manufacture. After my Harmony experience though, I'd like to see someone other than Logitech enter the game!
 

TMar

macrumors 68000
Jul 20, 2008
1,678
1
Ky
Being as how Apple has opened up the dock connector to third parties, would it not be easier to use it opposed to the headphone jack?
 

ViViDboarder

macrumors 68040
Jun 25, 2008
3,447
0
USA
Being as how Apple has opened up the dock connector to third parties, would it not be easier to use it opposed to the headphone jack?
Probably not. The headphone IR is relatively simple to implement and you'd have to hold the iPhone upside down to use the dock. :p

Now that Bluetooth is opened though, you could just have a stationary IR emitter in front of your devices and then send them signals through IR over bluetooth.

OR using a computer you'd buy a USB IR Blaster device and plug it into your desktop and run a server program. Then you can use wifi and an app to send the server a message to signal the IR Blaster.

All in all, not terribly convoluted and doesn't require too much extra hardware. Only about $70 if I remember correctly.
 

zhenya

macrumors 603
Jan 6, 2005
6,360
2,828
Most modern IR remotes I've used work fine even when pointed 180 degrees out, FWIW. Using the dock connector would likely provide for much more flexibility and more complex commands than relying on a device that turns sounds into infrared commands. Furthermore, they could have the option in the app to turn the app right-side up when the phone is held upside-down with the IR pointed straight ahead.

Personally, I don't care for the Bluetooth option because a) setting up bluetooth is almost always a hassle, b) range is only 30' or so, c) I don't like to have to leave bluetooth on 24/7 as it's a battery drainer.

Someone can surely produce a dock to IR transmitter for less than $70 retail!
 

Cleverboy

macrumors 65816
Original poster
Someone can surely produce a dock to IR transmitter for less than $70 retail!
...Haaang on. Apple's Universal Dock. You know... THIS ONE. This device is already in mass production for $49. It has an IR receiver right on the front of it, so that you can control your docked iPod remotely with the included Apple Remote (its line-out allowing it to connect to speakers).

If Apple just put a transmitter on this device, with a decent signal range... it could be plugged in ANYWHERE (with a USB-to-AC adapter), and... Ah. Well, I guess it would need Bluetooth or WiFi to communicate with your phone as well.

Ok, so... Bluetooth and an IR transmitter. They could update this device pretty easily and give away a Free "Universal Remote" application, and completely knock this out of the park. Ah. Scratch that... they could update "Remote" to be compatible with the new Apple Universal Dock /w Bluetooth.

Alright, I'm hitting their feedback page. They should put this out for Christmas. Seriously.

SUBJECT:
Please Update the Universal Dock to be a Universal Remote!

MESSAGE:

Hi,

It recently occurred to me that Apple's Universal Dock ( http://store.apple.com/us/product/MB125G/B ) is the PERFECT candidate for a Bluetooth upgrade so that it could communicate wirelessly with the iPhone and iPod Touch. Why? Well, if you kept the price the same (a perfect $49) and added Bluetooth support... with the addition of an IR transmitter (to the existing receiver present in the device), you have the perfect "learning" Universal Remote!

Anyone could position the dock to point at their entertainment center, and using Bluetooth, they could use their iPhone or iPod Touch to interact with the dock to send signals to any IR device in its line of sight. Apple's free "Remote" application could be used not ONLY with the Apple TV and iTunes, but could be redesigned to also support a HOST of other user-configureable device profiles. By Apple popularizing this upgrade, they would with this one strategic coup, sell a mountain of iPod Touches.

If you would do this one "solid" for your customers, you would absolutely turn the tech world on its head and expand the utility of the iPhone platform by leaps and bounds. Think of all the sales, huh? Aw, yeah.

Please?

Thank You.
See. I know their language. iPod sales-ese. They can't ignore the writing on this wall.

~ CB
 

Attachments

ViViDboarder

macrumors 68040
Jun 25, 2008
3,447
0
USA
...Haaang on. Apple's Universal Dock. You know... THIS ONE. This device is already in mass production for $49. It has an IR receiver right on the front of it, so that you can control your docked iPod remotely with the included Apple Remote (its line-out allowing it to connect to speakers).

If Apple just put a transmitter on this device, with a decent signal range... it could be plugged in ANYWHERE (with a USB-to-AC adapter), and... Ah. Well, I guess it would need Bluetooth or WiFi to communicate with your phone as well.

Ok, so... Bluetooth and an IR transmitter. They could update this device pretty easily and give away a Free "Universal Remote" application, and completely knock this out of the park. Ah. Scratch that... they could update "Remote" to be compatible with the new Apple Universal Dock /w Bluetooth.

Alright, I'm hitting their feedback page. They should put this out for Christmas. Seriously.

See. I know their language. iPod sales-ese. They can't ignore the writing on this wall.

~ CB
The base thing that plugs into the iPhone is a receiver...

The remote is the same little one that comes with your mac. I don't think it does what you're expecting.
 

TMar

macrumors 68000
Jul 20, 2008
1,678
1
Ky
Probably not. The headphone IR is relatively simple to implement and you'd have to hold the iPhone upside down to use the dock. :p

Now that Bluetooth is opened though, you could just have a stationary IR emitter in front of your devices and then send them signals through IR over bluetooth.

OR using a computer you'd buy a USB IR Blaster device and plug it into your desktop and run a server program. Then you can use wifi and an app to send the server a message to signal the IR Blaster.

All in all, not terribly convoluted and doesn't require too much extra hardware. Only about $70 if I remember correctly.
Yeah holding an iphone upside down is a big problem with all the keys it has. The dock connector is bi-directional and is a better option.

I'm not real keen on anything that requires line of sight to work. If you couldn't use wifi the an RF transmitting dongle for the dock that controls a stationary unit would be the way to go.
 

Cleverboy

macrumors 65816
Original poster
The base thing that plugs into the iPhone is a receiver...

The remote is the same little one that comes with your mac. I don't think it does what you're expecting.
I can't see any way that you actually read the post you're quoting. ;) --You know the post where I'm requesting a NEW feature from Apple and describing the functional limitations of the existing device quite clearly...

~ CB
 

Cleverboy

macrumors 65816
Original poster
Apple... if any of your employees are reading this text... they will become hypnotized and will badger their managers until this product is in the pipeline (or they are fired). I have laced this text with subliminal commands, and have included screenshots to insure that my wishes are carried out in explicit detail. This... I command! :D

~ CB
 

Attachments