Maksim Ioffe was sitting around his San Francisco living room watching TV one day in 2009 when he noted how ridiculous it was that on his coffee table were no less than five remote controls. He thought to himself, "This has got to go."
But instead of replacing them all with yet another remote, he looked to something he already owned: his smartphone.
Fast forward to 2011, and that germ of an idea two years ago has spawned the Dijit Universal Remote App, which turns an iPhone--or iPod Touch, iPad, or soon an Android phone--into a remote control.
Ioffe is not alone in looking for ways to substitute the smartphone for a remote control. There's actually a whole crop of companies that are trying to break into what some are calling the "smart-remote" business by taking advantage of the device that one-third of all U.S. cell phone owners already have on hand.
There's no agreed-on standard just yet for how best to replace the ubiquitous multibuttoned plastic living room staple. Different approaches are being offered, from free apps that control individual devices, like just your TV or just your set-top box, to a hardware accessory paired with an accompanying app that lets you control both "dumb" devices that only take infrared input and "smart" or Internet-connected devices in your home entertainment setup.
The cost can vary depending on the solution, from free to about $100. The appeal is the convenience: you probably already own a smartphone. And then there's the vast potential that the smartphone, really a minicomputer, brings to the coffee table: a bright screen with rich graphics, the ability to customize onscreen buttons as you wish, and the power of the Web to help you discover new programming or filter for just the stuff you like.
Of course there will be home theater devotees who insist they just can't give up their fancy 80-button universal remote, but there are plenty of advantages that could prove tempting for others looking for a simple and decidedly 21st century solution. … Read more