Rhodri Marsden: Help! My universal remote has turned me into a control freak
Rhodri Marsden is the Technology Columnist for The Independent; he has also written about crumpets, Captain Beefheart, rude place names and string. He's also a musician who plays in the band Scritti Politti, and won the under-10 piano category at the 1980 Watford Music Festival by playing a piece called "Silver Trumpets" with verve and aplomb.
Wednesday 30 April 2014
A friend of mine has recently come to stay for a few weeks. I have no problem with many of the attendant consequences of this, from the sharing of semi-skimmed milk to the curtailing of semi-naked wandering to the bathroom, but one thing that I'm not looking forward to is having to explain the remote control in the living room.
Having spent a great deal of time and effort setting up that godforsaken universal remote to operate four pieces of electronic equipment, I'm familiar with the many secrets held within its sleek body and behind its multitude of buttons. But having to talk someone through it feels a bit embarrassing. It seems preposterous that it should be like this in the year 2014.
But it is. We're surrounded by a wealth of audio-visual technology whose main raison d'être, beyond supplying audio or visuals, seems to be the enforced accumulation of remotes. Logitech's efforts in producing a range of universal remote controls are to be gently applauded, but anyone who's ever tried to key in a search phrase on a TV screen using one – or even using the bunch of remotes that it replaces – will be familiar with the irritation of spending 30 seconds or more entering the word "the". Channel up, channel down and volume present no problem, but accessing iPlayer or iTunes or 4OD with a remote control feels as though you're landscape gardening with a cotton bud. Yes, smartphone apps can offer ways around this but, again, they don't work with everything.
The voice, though. We all have voices. Gadgets are getting better at recognising our voices. So surely we can't be too far away from a Her-esque scenario, where intelligent screens meekly obey our murmured commands? We've certainly moved on from JVC's memorable (and failed) innovation of clap control, where morse code-like sequences of claps were used to change the volume. Samsung, LG and Panasonic have offered some form of voice control in their smart TVs for a few years now, and many Xbox owners will have shouted "Xbox Mute!" to mute their Xboxes, and shouted it again when it didn't work the first time. But on-demand media requires something more sophisticated. Amazon's new Fire TV set-top box, launched a month ago in the US, comes with voice control, but voice searches currently only scan Amazon's library; Hulu, Netflix and the like will have to opt in and make their libraries available for voice searching.
Someone with eagle eyes recently noticed that Apple's iOS 7.1 development kit makes provision for a device – possibly a new Apple TV – to tap into the power of Siri, Apple's voice-recognition assistant. This would represent the TV revolution envisaged by Steve Jobs; he once claimed to his biographer that he had "cracked it" when the future of TV voice control was revealed to him in some kind of technological vision.
But even if a new Apple TV has that capability, we're still dependent on the remote for so many other functions. There seem to be barely any incentives for manufacturers to innovate; indeed, if your company makes FreeView, cable or satellite boxes, easy voice-command access to on-demand telly represents a bullet in the temple of the scheduled programming they provide. It seems that the television's profoundly irritating sidekick will only go to its grave with one heck of a struggle, flaunting its largely redundant yellow, green and blue buttons in a belligerent show of defiance.
Life & Style blogs
Alexander McQueen at auction: What makes a really great piece of fashion?
A bottle of wine a day is not bad for you and abstaining is worse than drinking, scientist claims
No female ejaculation, please, we’re British: a history of porn and censorship
Stressed nurses are 'forced to choose between health of patients and their own'
Pornhub: Kim Kardashian's sex tape is the most-watched porn video of all-time
Disgruntled RBS worker writes hilarious open letter to Russell Brand after anti-capitalist publicity stunt leaves him hungry
Nigel Farage defends Kerry Smith 'ch***y' comment: 'If you are going for a Chinese, what do you say you’re going for?'
Nigel Farage's approval rating hits 'record low' as popularity suffers in wake of Ukip sex scandal
Pakistan school attack live: Taliban kill at least 132 children in 'horrifying' massacre
Rozanne Duncan: Ukip expels councillor for 'jaw-dropping' comments made in BBC TV interview
Sony hack: Angelina Jolie branded 'seriously out of her mind' in further embarrassing leaked email saga
- 1 Nigel Farage: Me vs Russell Brand on Question Time – he's got the chest hair but where are his ideas?
- 2 Harry Potter fans can apply to the Hogwarts-inspired College of Wizardry
- 3 Jessica Chambers: 19-year-old woman 'doused with lighter fluid and burned alive' in the US
- 4 Russell Brand calls Nigel Farage 'poundshop Enoch Powell' in BBC Question Time debate
- 5 Orange Wednesdays are no more
iJobs Gadgets & Tech
£16000 - £19000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Our client is the UK's leading ...
£20000 - £30000 per annum + OTE £50k: SThree: SThree are a global FTSE 250 bus...
£20000 - £25000 per annum + OTE £40,000 + Car + Pension: SThree: SThree are a ...
£20000 - £25000 per annum + OTE £35K: SThree: We consistently strive to be the...