Nine reasons smartphones are dumb remotes

Smartphones as next-gen remotes seem cool. But scratch the surface, and you realize what a terrible and impractical idea an app-enabled smartphone remote really is.

As the Internet and TV converge in living rooms, lots of folks, including the New York Times, have been drooling over the idea of smartphones as next-gen remotes. On the surface, this seems like a cool idea. After all, smart mobile devices have touch screens, keyboards, and all sorts of other bells and whistles that should equal an enhanced, enjoyable smart-TV experience.

Once you scratch the surface, however, you soon realize what a terrible and impractical idea an app-enabled smartphone remote really is.

FLPR
The FLPR turns the iPhone into a remote control. FLPR

It's kind of like wanting to see Freddy Krueger and Jason Voorhees in the same film. At first it sounds great: two horror-movie icons in one great slasher epic. What's not to love about that? But once the movie shows up, you realize that Freddy and Jason are cool and all, but they probably shouldn't be forced into a shared (and regrettable) experience.

Here, then, are nine reasons your smart device is a lousy TV remote.

9. It's still a phone
A phone that changes the channel on my television. I admit, that is cool. But what happens if someone calls me during my smartphone-as-smart-remote-dress-up-party? A big bucket of terrible, that's what happens.

Do I miss the call? Do I pause the TV? Do I take the call and leave the program temporarily remote-less? As much as I hate my cable remote, it never interrupts my show with a call from a telemarketer.

8. Battery life
Using your phone as a remote eats up your battery faster than Homer Simpson can eat a doughnut. Mmmmmm, doughnuts. Even the New York Times points out "the toll [remote control apps] took on [a phone's] battery."

7. A phone is a personal device
The phone is first and foremost a device built for one person. Sure, in the bad old days, you had to call into a switchboard and have an operator connect your call, but these days the smartphone is a bicycle built for one.

old switchboard
In the bad old days, women could only get one haircut. VoipStore.com

The remote, however, is a shared device. Despite what some men might like to think, remotes are designed to be used by everyone. The personal nature of a smartphone makes it a bad choice for a remote control. How does my phone handle the steady stream of information coming in if it's acting as a remote?

Similar to the phone call issue raised above, remote/phones lack an elegant way to manage IM's, e-mail, status updates, calls, alarms, and calendar notifications. If the app mutes those signals then the user is "blacked out" from his mobi-social experience. Let these alerts into "remote mode" and you have a remote that wont stay quiet during the really cool parts of the movie.

6. It will still get lost in the couch
But at least you can call it to find it.

5. Talk dirty to me
Studies have shown that your phone is dirtier than a toilet seat . It makes sense, right? That thing has been everywhere (the phone, not the toilet). It's on the bus, on the table, at work, in your hand, in other people's hands. From a hygiene standpoint, phones make gross remotes.

While my remote is probably pretty dirty, I've never dropped it on a subway after a sniffly kid wet-sneezed all over it.

4. You will still need other remotes
Search your feelings, you know it to be true.

3. The jerk factor
Every jerk in the smartphone universe is going to abuse the remote application. From changing channels at the department store to turning off boring science videos, society has seen what happens when people gain increased control of television--and it ain't pretty.

2. Security! security!
Leaving a device loaded with personal data in a common area like a home theater poses an incredible security risk. With the amount of business and personal information on smart phones these days, leaving your entire life on someone's coffee table is a risk few people will want to take.

1. It's a bad second remote, too
Some people argue that smartphones aren't meant to be a primary remote for home theaters. Instead, they envision a crazy future inhabited by smart TVs, old-school remotes, and smartphones as auxiliary devices called in by users only at certain times to perform specialized functions like typing or entering personal information.

While I like the imagination behind this sentiment, smartphones are still terrible secondary remotes for all of the reasons on this list.

About the author

Crave contributor Jeremy Toeman, an expert in the convergence of digital media and consumer technology, has spent more than 10 years designing and marketing consumer electronics and Web services. A founding partner of Stage Two, a consumer product experience firm in San Francisco, he's seen more gadgets fail than most people have ever purchased. Jeremy is not an employee of CBS Interactive.

 

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