Why the iPhone presages the end of the TV Remote Control

Headshotxsmall by James McQuivey, Ph.D.

I've spent some time using Verizon's new system for controlling my DVR using the PC. It's an immense time saver. It's being billed as a great way to schedule DVR recordings from the office -- which it can certainly do -- but it's really useful for doing things quickly that normally require tedious hours with the remote control. Things like picking your list of 20 favorite channels from the 599 available channels without scrolling through them all. Or setting your parental controls, or even deleting hours of HD DVR recordings to make room for American Idol, er, I mean, some show much more sophisticated than that.

It has worked so well that I've also played with the Boxee iPhone application that can control my Boxee-hacked Apple TV. This is different from Verizon's Web app in that it can control the box live, so you can use the virtual keyboard to search Hulu or the touch screen to pick what you want to watch next. Very nice.

Read my OmniVideo blog for some more detail, but all of this experience has led me to wonder just how long we'll need those funny infrared remote controls. Because once we have more and more mobile Web applications to manage our consumer devices, we won't mind if we lose that 50-button remote between the couch cushions. Right?

Sure, in my house, my teenagers may engage in a round of dueling mobile phones to control whether we're going to watch The Office or Battlestar Galactica (Still can't get over that finale, wow!), but etiquette for that sort of thing will eventually emerge. What I'm most interested in is how far beyond simple device control this can go. From my blog, for example, I envision:

Want to play Uno on the TV? Okay, you might prefer harder fare when you think of card games. Either way, we can’t play card games at our house until the little ones are in bed because they gnash and tear at the cards. In fact, we can’t play card games at our house after they go to bed because of aforementioned history of gnashing and tearing has depleted our card reserves. But in a mobile-controlled TV world, bent cards are a thing of the past. Imagine if each player could employ their own mobile phone as their hand. The TV can keep the draw pile, the tableau, or whatever else the game requires.

What ideas do you have for how far this could go? One reader on my blog suggests a family calendar app where we can add items or detail with our mobile phones. Go one step further -- what if we used our phones to upload pictures of the 5th grade string ensemble performance to the concert's entry on the calendar app, making the family calendar both a planning tool and a family history center. Your ideas?