I was very interested to learn that a company right here in Austin, TX has invented a transceiver and an app that allows anyone to use iOS devices running iOS 4.3 or later to turn the touch screens into remote controls. The free app is Control It All Remote. It works with a transceiver that is available from the company, MiCommand, Inc., for US$99.
I will be the first to admit that I am remote control challenged. I have four of the things on my coffee table, and I can never remember which one goes with which piece of equipment. And even when I finally get everything set up, my kids will come over to watch a movie on Blu-ray, and the next day it takes me 30+ minutes to get the cable box and the TV back in sync so I can watch reruns of NCIS.
I figured I was the perfect candidate to evaluate this new product.
I met with CEO of MiCommand, Inc., Jeffrey Roane, who told me about his company and gave me a demonstration of his products. He also provided a test unit for me to try out at home. Although his company is small one thing was apparent from the get-go. Mr. Roane and his partners run their business using the same model that Apple uses. They work with a number of suppliers, but maintain complete control of both the software and the transceiver to assure perfect harmony between the two.
The transceiver receives commands from, say, an iPhone via Bluetooth, then translates them into infrared signal commands which are then sent to the component, for example, a Blu-ray player or TV. You don’t have to be in the same room for it to work, but you do have to be in Bluetooth range and also have a transceiver in any room that you want to control. For instance, if the kids are upstairs playing the music too loud, you can adjust it from downstairs, but only if there is a transceiver upstairs and you have programmed your “i” device for that room.
I had a question for Mr. Roane about privacy issues. I asked how the MiCommand transceiver could identify our devices without storing our device information on their web site, as some other remote options require. He explained “We have an integrated dataBase built into the app. The same rich database used in the Philips Pronto line of Universal remotes. The user simply enters their device type, brand, then selects the code from a list and that’s it. No connecting to a website, to plugging into a USB—it’s all in the app.”
Using the product
For convenience, I will refer to an iPhone while discussing operations, although the same information applies to iOS devices running iOS 4.3 or later.
The app contains a user guide that I found to be a big help while setting the system. The guide starts with an Operation Summary and moves on to Room and AV Device Setup, and on through steps and most questions that a first time user might have. There is also live help online available through the web site.
For basic set up. users must pair their different devices with the app by identifying a room and then setting up each device in that room (TV, cable, CD/DVD Player, etc.). There is a three step process for each item, but much of it is just pick your particular device from a predetermined list. If the user has devices not covered in the lists, there is a Learning feature that allows the user to capture codes from their existing remotes. The lists of available codes include codes for DirectTV as well as standard cable.
If you have transceivers in more than one room, you repeat the process for each room.
Setting up rooms
Once the initial set-up is complete, you can program the app to recognize your favorite stations as well as a number of other personal choices.
Setting personal choices
Additional personal settings are available for each device. The following images show the setting options available for my Blu-ray player. Every option available on the Blu-ray remote is also available through the Control It All Remote.
Examples of personal setting options
While watching TV or a video, you can shake your iPhone and get what’s called Eyes Free options. These let you control your equipment using touchscreen gestures.
Using Eyes Free option
Other members of your household with the appropriate iOS devices can download the free app and program their own favorite shows or settings.
Although I can not personally test it, I was curious about how the system would work with satellite and cable providers who offer boxes with DVR capabilities, the kind that allow users to record shows for later playback like old style VCRs as well as the ability to pause live TV or fast forward through commercials. I asked Mr. Roane to comment on this subject for the purposes of this review. He responded:
“These are all important and capabilities that customers love and we support them today with our Activity Views and Device views.
1) Activity views are “activity oriented” and present only buttons necessary for doing the activity. In the Watch TV activity view you have a blue button group that contains the transport buttons (play, rewind, pause, resume) used for the DVR capabilities.
2) Device views are views that control a single device. Device views for the satellite and cable boxes also have a blue button group that contains the transport buttons (play, rewind, pause, resume) used for the DVR capabilities.
Net net, we support this capability today in a way that doesn’t saturate the user with buttons. Buttons are presented only as needed by the user.”
Here’s what the transport button group looks like: The bottom Transport Keypad scrolls up as an overlay when hitting the Blue Transport group. You access the DVR functions using the keypad.
Sample transport button
Do I recommend it?
I do. There is a short learning curve, but the user guide is helpful and easy to follow and as long as set-up is done in the proper order everything should work fine. People who like to have all the latest toys will love this. It is totally cool. I like the fact that I don’t lose all the remote control programming every time my cable goes down or my electricity goes off. I also like the Eyes Free options very much. I don’t have to put on my glasses to use it and perhaps best of all, my iPhone is back lit, unlike any remote control I have ever seen.
The app does not yet work with the Apple TV which is a disadvantage, but the company is actively working with Apple to add that capability.