Wednesday 6 October 2010

[CONCEPT] Remember Tomorrow's World? They could have this one right!

I remember as a kid, sitting down with the rest of the family in front of the TV and watching the likes of Judith Hann, Howard Stableford and Maggie Philbin give us a glimpse into the future on BBC's Tomorrow's World.  I am pretty sure that I'm not the only one.  As a young boy, I was often fascinated by some of the far-fetched and, in some cases, downright loony concepts and prototypes that they showed.  However, even then, I was able to take much of what they said with a pinch of salt - I mean, just how many of the things that they showed us have actually made it into the mainstream?

And believe it or not, as I have aged, I have actually got more cynical and pay even less heed to predictions about our future world.

Well, I am pretty sure that one of the ideas that I saw on Tomorrow's World, and certainly have done since then, is the concept of a single device that allows you to control everything in your home - from the lights and heating, to the TV and video (let's say DVD player to keep it contemporary).

<< Cut to shot of immaculately coiffured man, wearing a shirt open to the belly-button displaying a dinner plate sized medallion, sat on a cream leather sofa next to an equally impressively coiffured woman in a Laura Ashley print dress - each holding a Champagne flute filled to the brim with Babycham.  The gentleman is holding a black box, on which he twiddles one knob turning up the volume of Hot Chocolate on his stereo.  He turns confidently to his lady who smiles back, appreciatively.  Encouraged, he gives another button a twist and the lights dim.  Again he looks to his lady and sees that she has relaxed back into the sofa and has closed her eyes, listening to the smooth voice of Errol Brown.  He makes his move, presses the button to recline the chair and leans towards her - right onto a slap in the face... >>

I just didn't see it.  In a world where the remote control is King (i.e. the living room), one remote to control them all seemed too far fetched even for JRR Tolkien let alone little old me.  But then something happened.  And as often seems to be the case in the world of digital, it was those chaps over at Cupertino, California who changed the rules of the game once again.  I have already blogged about the impact of the iPad and how Apple have managed to both create and (partially) fill a whole new paradigm in terms of how people consume content.

Tablet computers, whilst having existed prior to the release of the iPad, were an irrelevance.  Now they are hot property.  With Blackberry releasing their PlayBook and a likely plethora of manufacturers releasing Android-based versions it is a fairly safe bet that this Christmas and the first half of 2011 will see the penetration of tablets in the consumer market grow at a significant pace.  Whilst there is no little debate about whether a Tablet is a mobile device or not, a recent survey indicated that only 16% of iPad owners took their device out with them "most of the time" or "always".  As I discussed in my post, it is a consumption and entertainment device.  The implication of this is that it'll more than likely be sat at home on the coffee table, bedside table or on the arm of the sofa.  In fact, precisely where your remote controls will be...!

And so it was that I was sat on a wall, outside a client's office with an insanely tall Dutchman, that I hit on my killer idea - why can't we control all the gadgets in our home using a tablet?

We know that pretty much every controller out there uses infra-red (IR).  And we also know that you can pick up a universal remote and program it to your make and model of TV (for example).  So, there's no reason that you couldn't develop a piece of hardware (I'll call it an "IR Hub") that operates as a universal remote for a number of productions - your TV, digital box, DVD player, iPod dock, lights, ceiling fan or digital photo frame.  Hell, anything that takes an IR input from it's control!

And then once you have the IR Hub, you can develop an application (supported on iOS, Android etc.) that connects to the IR Hub using WiFi (it's a fairly safe bet that if you've got a Tablet, you're going to have WiFi at home) and interfaces with the gadget through it.  You can even have multiple IR Hubs in different rooms such as your kitchen and bedroom.  The app would allow you to select the relevant IR Hub and then the gadget and then show you an appropriate set of controls - be that to turn the volume up, dim the lights or recline the chair.

And "immaculately coiffured man" would no doubt avoid a slap in the face.

But why would you need an IR Hub?  Surely WiFi or Bluetooth enabled TVs would render this product obsolete.  Maybe, but how often do people change their TVs?  How quickly will they penetrate the market?  What are the chances of TV manufacturers agreeing an open standard for such an app?  And what about all the other products that use an IR remote?

It may be my idea but I think that it's a pretty killer one - the only issue being the cost that it would take to firstly prototype it and then take it to market.  So if you know anyone who has 50-grand or so knocking around, send them my way - and remember, you heard it here first!

NB: After having my brainwave, although I had never heard of such a product, I did some digging around and did find a couple of similar concepts - Control UI and Total Control - although, to be honest, I'm not sure that either of them are the complete package...


  1. You need to have me explain what EchoStar and Sling Media are all about....

    We should talk (if youre interested) about our use of ZigBee and the industry moves from IR to RF...


  2. Sad times

  3. Richard!!! Hello stranger! I know, I know... but my thought is aimed more at legacy devices. There will be an awfully long tail of IR devices as initially only the tech-leaders adopt newer technology that are available in more expensive models.

    Murat - I thought about having the hardware connect to the device (as in this example) but then this becomes a barrier. In addition to needing different versions for each device (as if standard connection ports will be coming along anytime soon...), using WiFi to connect to a hub that is mounted somewhere prevents you loosing the 'dongle' down the back of the sofa and also allows multiple devices to connect at the same time.