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Using Your Smartphone as a Remote Control


There are too many old jokes about the number of remote controls most of us have in our living rooms – the funny part being that they’re shockingly accurate.

The idea of having one single control for everything is a dream for many people and it seems that the answer is very nearly here. The smartphone that you already carry around with you everywhere you go could be the ultimate controller, capable of controlling almost every aspect of your home environment … if only you knew how…

Using Your Smartphone as a Remote Control

Using a dongle

The traditional way for smartphones to be transformed into universal remotes is through the use of a dongle. These are little devices that clip onto your smartphone to turn it into the ultimate control tool. They interact with other devices much in the way that a traditional universal remote can operate numerous TVs and electrical items which is by using pre-stored IR codes. IR codes (or InfraRed codes) are a complete set of infrared signals which are assigned to a specific model of AV equipment (TVs, DVD players, set-top boxes etc).

While some are made specifically to fit certain smartphone models (such as the Re which is made bespoke for iPhones) there are others that are compatible with a range of devices. The Zmart, for example, plugs into the audio jack of a smartphone which means it is compatible with a vast selection of devices. It also comes with 200,000 IR codes built in so that it can start controlling your home as soon as you unpack it.

Using an IR blaster

Taking the dongle idea a little further, the next step in turning your smartphone into a remote control is an IR blaster. This works on the same principle as a dongle in the sense that it uses IR codes to control various pieces of equipment but the set-up is designed to be much smoother.

A few years ago, Peel (a firm which consists of a number of former Apple employees) made headlines by generating an IR blaster that allowed users to control their gadgets without plugging anything into their phones.

Instead, an IR blaster was used and designed to fit seamlessly into the home. The blaster connected to a tiny network adapter that attached to the Ethernet port of a Wi-Fi router. This meant there was no fussy software installation when using a smartphone as a remote control and no need to constantly have something attached to your mobile.

According to this report on the blaster, it was capable of running for nine months on a single battery (C size) which made it an efficient option too. Of course, the system is reliant on home internet services and as well as having a suitable router, users would benefit from a superfast connection – such as that offered with Infinity – to cope with the extra demands of the device.

Using apps

Finally, it is unsurprising that the latest way to turn your smartphone into a remote control is with an app. There are many different examples on the market but most follow the same pattern as Harmony® (available on Apple App Store and Google Play) which allows users to control compatible products.

The app is designed to work with other Harmony products including their smart control products – such as their smart keyboard – but this is where the limitations of the system are apparent. Rather than offering universal control of multiple devices from multiple manufacturers, apps typically only control multiple devices made by the same firm.

It’s a clever branding gimmick but it doesn’t quite offer the same level of functionality as some of the other options mentioned above.

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