The remote control – the natural launching point for new control technologies

In my previous post on the importance of the User Interface (UI), I discussed the different methods service providers should be looking at to present content. When exploring the need for a new UI, what we’re really talking about is differentiating services and increasing ARPU by intelligently and seamlessly providing access to content regardless of type, channel or application. In this post I will look at why the remote is the natural launching point for any new UI.

The remote and the GUI are the most immediate points of engagement between a service provider and its customers. They are also one and the same. Without the GUI the remote is limited in its functionality and vice versa. The current generation of remotes has remained largely unchanged for decades. As the saying goes: “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it”. But with the growth of internet-enabled Smart TVs, along with casual gaming and on-demand services, user interaction is moving beyond the capabilities of basic up, down, left, right navigation. It is clear there’s a requirement for a new control paradigm. This need isn’t going to go away – you either invest in designing, building and implementing a new UI for existing remotes, that will remain complicated or repetitive to navigate between services and content. Or you start with a new remote technology and build your UI around its specifications and functionality.

It’s a change we have seen with mobile devices. The UI used to be a numeric keypad and some form of D-pad or trackerball. Today we now interact directly through touch. This change has improved the mobile experience for billions of subscribers globally and revenue generated from mobile content has skyrocketed over the last five years. Strategy Analytics predicts that mobile app revenues alone will hit $26.1 billion this year, up 30.7% on 2011.

Direct touch is not practical on a TV however. So what other control technology options are available? Recently, we have seen much excitement around “natural” controls designed for simplicity – namely voice and hands-free gesture technology.  However, I would argue that, while elements of these technologies should exist, removing the remote control entirely would make TV UI navigation unnecessarily difficult and far less intuitive.

While Paul O’Donovan, Principal Research Analyst at Gartner, sees connected devices as an opportunity for manufactures, he agrees that the remote control will inevitably remain and be the launching pad for new control technologies. “The remote control is already adopting motion sensors to control functionality on TVs and indeed will also have some embedded form of voice control as well. No TV will ever be shipped to a consumer without some form of remote control to operate the basic controls of the TV when taken ‘out of the box’ and therefore the remote control is a natural launching point for any new UI.”


About Navin Natoewal, General Manager Philips uWand

Navin Natoewal is General Manager of the Philips uWand team. uWand is a direct pointing and gesture control technology for remote controls. uWand offers fluent 3D gesture control and direct pointing capabilities with the same intuitiveness as a multi-touch screen. uWand, a result of 80 man-years of research and development, can be implemented in remote controls and interact with multiple electronic devices such as PCs, TVs, set-top boxes, DVD players and game consoles. Users control the devices simply by pointing in the appropriate direction or making specific movements in all three dimensions. For more information please visit
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