CES: iPhone Trend - iPhone as a Universal Remote Control

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The iPhone has many advanced features, but it is missing one item that was prevalent on PDA's in the past, and that is an Infrared interface. Older devices like an iPaq had this standard and it allowed you to use the device as a remote control.

Several firms have stepped up to fill in this gap, with a combination IR transmitter that plugs into the iPhone or iPod touch dock connector, and a corresponding app to control the transmitter. The vendors we looked at, at CES, are in varying stages with varying approaches.

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The iWavit from thinkoptics (http://www.thinkoptics.com) has a nice customizable interface, sleek hardware, and solid marketing.  The unit can even act as a 3D mouse, incorporating vertical and horizontal gestures.  You can even use the microphone for voice control of a PC, to make VoIP/Skype calls for example!  The iWavit solution incorporates a USB dongle and a tracker similar to the Nintendo Wii, making it more than just a universal remote.  You can control your Mac or PC over radio frequency, so you do not need to point it at the computer.

The Re from NewKinetix (http://www.NewKinetix.com) is promising, but needs work on the remote control interface and their transmitter is bulkier.  An advantage is it has a built-in IR database, streamlining setup, compared to the learning process required for other solutions.

The L5 Remote from L5 Technologies (http://www.L5Technologies.com) is worth a look, too, as they allow drag-and-drop user interface creation.

All of these solutions occupy the dock connector which means you cannot charge your iPhone or iPod touch without removing it (a mini USB adapter or might be a nice future enhancement)  I would like to be able to "dock" my remote control as I do with my Logitech Harmony remote. Ironically, my Logitech remote is more expensive than a dedicated iPod touch would be, with one of these solutions, and clearly an iPod touch can do much more! A head-to-head comparison would be the next step, once all of these devices are commercially available.

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Todd Bernhard's picture

Todd Bernhard is a bestselling (6+ million downloads) award-winning (AARP, About.com, BestAppEver.com, Digital Hollywood, and Verizon) developer and founder of NoTie.NET, an app developer specializing in Talking Ringtone apps including AutoRingtone. And his profile photo is of the last known sighting of Mr. Bernhard wearing a tie, circa 2007!

An iPhone is almost always attached to his hip or in his pocket, but over the years, Mr. Bernhard has owned an Apple Newton, a Motorola Marco, an HP 95LX, a Compaq iPaq, a Palm Treo, and a Nokia e62. In addition to writing for iPhone Life, Mr. Bernhard has written for its sister publications, PocketPC Magazine and The HP Palmtop Paper.