Where’s the remote control?

One of the worst things about the TV in general is the remote control. The person who holds the control has power! And the person who masters all its functions has the absolute power! To a more serious tone now, the remote also presents a problem for older and disabled users. The remote is hard to use, especially if it has fallen and broken or if the battery does not fit in very well. Then what about the confusion caused by having one remote that works with the TV, another that works with the Blue-Ray device and a third that works with the video recorder?

There has been considerable work and efforts to standardize and simplify operations and also for several years’ research was undergoing in what was called “Universal remote control” i.e. a control that could be programmed to operate various brands of one or more types of TVs and other consumer electronics devices. The proliferation of smart phones and computer tablets gave also the opportunity that these devices would be used as universal remote controls too. The main advantages here are that smartphone and tablet universal remote software is usually highly customisable. However, looking to a horizon of 2020, these developments are already here and are not part of a forward-looking technology policy.

According to interviews and reports from technology magazines, Apple sees the future of the TV as a device that would respond to users’ voices and movements as it is already explored in the European Guide project. This seems to be inspired by Siri and may draw upon Siri technology and it would address problems that older people or people with disabilities generally experience with simply using the remote control. But what if there are several people in the room, whose voice does it obey? What happens if people don’t agree or if 10 people who are watching together, all wanting something else?

Apple sees its iTV as something where the remote control can be replaced with the iPhone or the iPad. It sees it integrating smoothly with the iPhone, the iPad, iTunes, the iPod, the whole Apple product universe. That is great but what happens when 5 people are watching at the same time, all with their own iPad, iPod and iPhone?

Apple has been very successful with devices for individuals. However both Apple and its competitors may be entering into a whole new area that they do not yet fully understand. It’s devices that are intended for use in groups.

There seems as though we are entering into unknown territory here and that the needs of people with disabilities should be integrated from the start, at least they should be involved in research at this stage as to how group dynamics will evolve and how people will want to use the TV to start with.

Main input modalities will be voice and gestures for controlling TV in the future. However, simplification of the remote control operations and use of smartphone and tablet as remotes with a simple and intuitive interface, customized to each user’s preferences and capabilities will continue to attract interest from research and industry. These advances can promise better control for TV from persons with disabilities especially if they are all combined together and work complementary to each other.

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