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Pressing Forward: The Future of Your Remote

3 minute read
Allie Townsend

Attention couch potatoes: you may want to take this opportunity to curl up with your stack of remotes and commit to memory that feeling of pressing a button under your thumb. According to Chris Brown, vice president of the International Digital Media Alliance, “The remote control as you know it is an endangered species.”

Companies are developing devices to keep up with our channel-surfing habits du jour, which means rethinking the structure of the remote. To cope with the abundance of channels now available, TiVo recently unveiled the Slide, a $90 device complete with a retractable QWERTY keyboard to eliminate the agonizing “typing” on your standard remote as you search for a particular movie or Jersey Shore marathon you would like to record.

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The Slide isn’t a universal remote, but it is certainly a step toward efficiency, using the kind of mini-keyboard popularized by Samsung and other mobile-phone makers. Vizio has released a similar remote for its line of HDTVs, and Boxee, a TV-to-Internet set-top connector, is set to ship with its own QWERTY remote this year.

As more consumers fall in love with the breezy usability of smart phones, some of us have stopped looking under couch cushions for dedicated remotes and instead are simply reaching into our pockets. Apps like RedEye (free for the iPhone and iPod Touch) and plug-ins like New Kinetix ($70) turn mobile devices into one-size-fits-all controlling devices–and yes, they will change the channel. Ident Technology already has a prototype in the works for a button-free gesture remote–controlled by slides and taps of the thumb on a touchscreen surface–that will feel very familiar to iPhone users.

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“The remotes you’ll buy in 10 years are all going to have a touchscreen,” says Brown. “There won’t be devices with buttons. You won’t get that tactile sensation.”

With any luck, you won’t get coffee-table pileups either. “I think we have four or five remotes for all of our devices,” says Brie Cubelic, 26, who works in theater in Birmingham, Ala. “One for the TV, one for cable, one for surround sound, one for the DVD player and one for–well, I’m not sure what it does.” The hope is that as remotes become more like smart phones, a simple download can make them control every new device you buy. Assuming, of course, you can figure out how to use them.

This article originally appeared in the October 4, 2010 issue of TIME.

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