iRemote - Not Necessarily A "Bag of Hurt".

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Steve Jobs once famously called Blu-Ray a "bag of hurt" when explaining why Apple never built a Blu-Ray drive. 

I'm sure Steve believed that, too - Blu-Ray likely seemed like more trouble than it was worth for Apple, especially given Apple's decision to move away from physical media. 

At the time of that statement, the HD-DVD v. Blu-Ray war was recently ended, and it was unclear whether or how long Blu-Ray would be a dominant format. Basically, there were too many variables in play for Apple to jump in and deliver their trademark seamless user experience. 

But won't an Apple remote control face the same obstacles? Sure, at first. But given Apple's power to shape an ecosystem, not necessarily for very long.


In order to be useful, a theoretical "iRemote"* will have to control a wide range of non-Apple devices, by a multitude of manufacturers -- and do so seamlessly, and simultaneously.

(*I doubt such a device would actually be called "iRemote", as there are currently about a dozen companies/apps using that name in some form - but it works as a placeholder here.) 

We'll expect one button push to turn on our TV and set-top box, and to set the TV and stereo to the correct input. We'll then expect the CHAN buttons to control the set-top box, and the volume buttons to control the TV or stereo, depending on how we're handling audio. There are a TON of variables, and every one of those products may be made by a different manufacturer.

I was discussing a potential Apple remote at AVSForum yesterday, and several posters opined that Apple would have nothing to do with the universal remote market, given that macros are so prone to user error and failure. For example, we hit "power on", and the TV turns on - but the set-top box was already on, so it turns off. Or vice versa. 

There's no question that this presents a problem. But it's a problem that can be fixed in 2 ways. 

The first factor working in Apple's favor has nothing to do with Apple or iRemote - consumer electronics makers are constantly developing smarter, more directly controllable devices.  For instance, my Sony Bravia TV-BluRay-Stereo are constantly working together behind the scenes - if I put a BluRay disc in the player, the "Bravia Link" system will automatically change the inputs on the TV and stereo. If I point the remote at the TV to adjust the volume, the TV will pass those volume commands onto the stereo. 

And more and more often, components have directly selectable inputs - you don't have to hit "input" 5 times to get to HDMI1 - there's actually an "HDMI1" button, which allows universal remotes to directly and accurately adjust inputs.

The second factor working in Apple's favor is more important - it's their own ubiquity, and their proven ability to shape a market

We can't expect everyone to buy a matched set of components. We CAN expect that if Apple establishes a standard, then consumer electronics companies will make devices that work with that standard. It happened with the iPod, it happened with AirPlay, it happened with AirPrint, and it will happen with iRemote. 

Is it so farfetched to assume that, if Apple sells tens of millions of iRemotes, that Sony, Samsung, Sharp, Pioneer, Vizio, and LG will start marketing devices that are "optimized for iRemote"? Of course not. If Apple established a standard, and puts a remote control in a meaningful number of homes, device makers WILL produce devices that adhere to the new Apple standard. 

Then, consider the two "kickers" to this story - 

1. Apple has already sold millions of potential iRemotes! If Apple chooses to move into the universal remote control market, it will almost certainly make an iRemote app platform that runs on the existing iPad and iPad mini. 

Granted, existing iPads don't have any IR/RF capability, and therefore wouldn't be able to control older components without an add-on IR/RF adapter. Existing iPads could control the new "optimized for iRemote" devices we're anticipating, as they would be controlled via wifi. Which leads to the second point....

2. If an existing device is currently controllable via wifi, it can retroactively be "optimized for iRemote"! My BluRay player can be controlled via an iOS app. So can my DirecTV box. It's exceedingly common at this point for consumer electronics to be controllable by tablets through an app. And all of these devices can be deemed "optimized for iRemote" with a simple software update. 

This is all theoretical - its not even to the point of "Apple Rumor" yet. But it's something Apple should be doing. There's a whole market out there to create and dominate, and it would give Apple an additional push into the living room. 

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