The New Universal Remote

The New Universal Remote

The New Universal Remote

Science, technology, and life.
March 21 2009 9:01 AM

The New Universal Remote

Two days ago, we were talking about how the physical and digital worlds are beginning to converge and blur .

William Saletan William Saletan

Will Saletan writes about politics, science, technology, and other stuff for Slate. He’s the author of Bearing Right.

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Step 2: the integration of physical perception with 3-D digital maps .

Step 3? I speculated that it might be a change in human perception through external devices, biotechnology, or acculturation. But maybe that's Step 4. Maybe Step 3 is the convergence of the phone with the universal remote .

There's nothing mind-blowing about this idea. But that's the point. In real life, cosmic revolutions unfold incrementally: a device here, a software upgrade there. The New York Times lays out some of the new options:

1. A free application (called Remote) and a gizmo (called Intelliphone) that enable iPhones to control computers.

2. A $100 hardware-software package (called Shadow) that "converts a BlackBerry's Bluetooth transmission into an infrared signal your TV can understand." A similar device lets the BlackBerry control a garage door.

3. A $10 app (called i-Clickr) that uses the iPhone screen to display buttons that will operate a PowerPoint presentation on a nearby PC.

The Times says this is "probably the beginning of the end" for the universal remote, since it relies on buttons, whereas a smartphone screen can provide as many options as you need. But my guess is that a more fundamental dynamic is at work: We want to centralize our power to manipulate the things around us. The universal remote was supposed to do that. But it doesn't, because it can't navigate the digital world the way the smartphone can.

We need to consolidate these two devices. And it's a lot easier to put the remote's abilities in the smartphone than vice versa.

Bye-bye, universal remote. You can't be universal when you don't reach the other universe.