A Remote Rant

The title doesn’t mean that I intend to phone it in today. No, instead I want to take a moment to complain — okay, maybe even whine — about remote controls. To quote Chef of South Park, most remotes have “more features than the Space Shuttle.” I’ve got one with 50 buttons. 50! And most of them have multiple functions depending on the context. It’s amazing that I can remember how to make it do anything.

Now look at the iPhone; no buttons. (Well, I don’t actually have one, but I think it has just four buttons.) And it will do way more things that my remote control can. Why? Because it has a touch screen that shows only the controls you need to consider for the task at hand. Smart! Sure there are some remotes that you can buy that are programmable and have an LCD screen with a few context-sensitive buttons, but they’re still covered with mechanical buttons. You can buy a touch screen remote control, but they appear to cost $350 or more. Why do these have to cost so much? (Yes, there are apparently apps for your iPhone that will let you control your TV, but they have some limitations and besides, you have to have an iPhone.)

I’ve been working with an Epson Artisan 810 all-in-one printer lately, and it’s great for a number of reasons, but the one I want to bring up here is that it has a seven-inch-diagonal touch control panel. About one third of this is 3.5-inch LCD touchscreen, and the rest has backlit touch regions (not buttons) that only light up when that function is available. The LCD touchscreen is big enough to have a number of buttons displayed at one time, and the end result is that your choices are always limited to the what makes sense in the current context. So why am I talking about a printer here? Because it costs $299 list. And in addition to this control panel, it also has WiFi, wired Ethernet, fax, scanner with automatic document feeder, and — oh yeah — a pretty fine full color duplex printing color printer. How much does that control panel represent out of the total cost? Even if it’s half (and that would be a lot), it still would be a lot cheaper than what’s on the market.

Maybe Epson should be making TV remote controls in addition to printers. All I know is that someone should make one that is as easy to use as an iPhone, and at a reasonable price.