Behind the Business: UEI

Why Universal Electronics Inc. Wants to Become the Switzerland of the Home
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UEI's Ammari Universal Electronics Inc. (UEI) sells remote controls in all categoriesOEM remotes for television and consumer electronics manufacturers, cable and subscription broadcast remotes, and very high-end custom installed remotes, such as its award-winning Nevo product line. On the heels of Residential Systems May Issue Focus on control interfaces, we decided to learn a little more about the handheld remote category from UEIs VP of product development, Ramzi Ammari.

What has been your biggest challenge in the past year?
The most challenging aspect of UEIs business is staying ahead of the digital home curve and developing technologies that are future proof, meaning they will work with technologies developed in the future. We consider ourselves the Switzerland of the homethere are many different standards being introduced everyday from RF mesh network technologies to home control to metadata exchange to wireless IP networks, so we are constantly challenged to stay ahead of the curve by developing a single device that consumers can use to control everything in their home, no matter what the standard is.

What would you say is the biggest trend driving your handheld remote control business right now?
Today, a majority of consumer electronics devices offer advanced functionality that wasnt available a few years agocell phones give you access to e-mail and the Internet and some MP3 players are seen as mini computers. Remote controls are starting to offer similar capabilities. Manufacturers are combining different technologies into remotes such as two-way control because its the natural evolution of what consumers want to see and use in the future.

How is this trend reflected in your recent product designs?
UEI is now shipping what we believe is the first product of its kind, a remote that has Dual RF. This provides users with best-of-breed technology utilizing Z-Wave for command and control functionality, leveraging always-on capabilities and low power consumption, and WiFi to connect to home networks and deliver services and information that complement the home theater experience.

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UEI's Nevo S70What have you done to make programming and integration inherently easier for your dealers, and what is the end benefit to the homeowner customer?
Simply put, listening to our dealers is the absolute best way we can make our products easier to program and integrate. This goes for everything from industrial design to the intuitiveness of our programming software. One specific way we make it easier for dealers to program is through our professionally managed IR library each function in our database has identifiers other than just name. This allows dealers to swap out commands for one device with another with just a few button clicks allowing dealers to reuse configurations they already created in a matter of minutes, not hours.
When our dealers find it easy to program our remotes, more advanced features make their way to the end consumer and thus the true potential of our products are realized and utilized. And dealers interact with our customers every day, so they have the best pulse on what is needed and demanded in the market.

What have you learned about ergonomics issues and industrial design as your handheld remote control product designs have evolved?
Ergonomics and industrial design are major differentiators for remote controls in particular. No matter how expensive or inexpensive an AV system is, if its not easy to control then it wont get much use and the user experience has been ruined.

What is important is to extend familiar functionality from standard remotes onto more advanced remotes, so users dont have to change their habits. Two key ergonomic differentiators are key selection and natural fit. Key selection (whats on the remote) ensures that the main functions needed are easy to access and thus the entire system is easy to use; natural fit ensures one-handed remotes have a logical button layout that feels natural for consumers to cradle in their hands.

When we launched NevoSL in 2003, we set out to design a remote control with a touch screen rather than focus our efforts on adding buttons to a display device. This design broke the mold from the traditional two-handed, large display remote control products that were standard offerings at the time. Since then, the one-handed touchscreen remote control design has become much more popular and is clearly what installers and consumers prefer.

Where do you think the industry will be in 10 years, and what will the most coveted item be?
In 10 years the digital home will be mainstream. Every household will have broadband, all devices will be wirelessly connected to one another, and the remote will no longer be just about control. Information and services, such as the channel guide and the ability to buy movie tickets, will be available using your handheld device along with the ability to manage household systems such as climate and lighting control. We believe the remote will be the second screen in the homeall the content available on the TV will now be accessible in the palm of your handand in 10 years it will be available and affordable to all mainstream consumers.

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