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Wand-style Remote Manufacturers Embrace the App Culture

What do you get when old-school meets new?

What do you get when old-school meets new? In the world of AV remote controls, where convenience is imperative, and “too many buttons!” remains a clichéd but real complaint, the best features from the past and present join forces. The goal is to create the ultimate combination of efficient control features through a harmonious blend of touchscreens and dedicated buttons that make programming, and end-user experience, more intuitive. 

URC’s MX-5000 remote.

“We’ve really embraced the app culture, as evidenced by our RTiPanel app,” said Pete Baker, vice president of sales and marketing for RTI. “That being said, there are still limitations in using a tablet or smartphone as the primary controller for an electronics system–most notably the lack of tactile control and the numerous screen swipes required for control tasks.”

To address these issues, RTI’s SURFiR remote control was designed as a companion to an iPad, iPhone, iPod Touch, or Android device running the company’s RTiPanel app. Providing what Baker said is an “affordable alternative” to dedicated touchpanel controllers, the SURFiR allows users to incorporate the touchscreen devices they already own as the graphical interface for their control system, while adding the convenience of “instant on” tactile control with hard buttons, and eliminating the need for constant screen swipes. When paired with an RTI control processor, these handheld remotes offer additional capabilities, including bi-directional control, time-based events, relay control, and IP control.

“Our Integration Designer programming software has been evolving for 20 years as we have continued to add enhancements to meet the needs of professional integrators,” Baker added. “Dealers also appreciate the need for only one software to program any RTI controller, even the RTiPanel app. This evolution is reaching new heights with our APEX control platform, with features such as auto-programming, cloud storage, remote updating, and more.”

Marrying the App and Remote

URC has responded to the emergence of the current app culture with solutions that marry apps and remotes together in a way that is intuitive for end-customers and enables integrators to start new conversations with potential customers.

To make installation simpler for dealers, ELAN’s HR2 remote requires zero additional programming, as it is set up as part of the system controller programming.

“Successful, customer-centric companies must anticipate future requirements and must perceive unspoken needs,” said Cat Toomey, director of marketing for URC. “With this in mind, URC has released two separate iDevice apps, one for Total Control IP-based systems and one for Complete Control. Our CC Control Mobile app can be implemented to work harmoniously and easily with our legacy MX-series remotes that were installed several years ago.”

Todd Anthony Puma, president of The Source Home Theater Installation in New York City, has found URC’s app to be an effective selling tool.

“That app has given us an ‘in’ to get back into a customer’s home and talk about the new products being offered,” he explained. “I look at re-entering a customers home as an opportunity to upsell them on equipment.”

Accelerator, the software and editor used to program URC Total Control systems, was conceived and created from the ground up to eliminate, or at least significantly reduce, the drudgery steps involved in programming a whole house or building, Toomey explained. To improve the efficiency of its designs across the board, URC aggressively studies user habits and implements ergonomic improvements on an ongoing basis, Toomey said.

“On the back of all of our wand-style remotes you’ll find finger grooves that are carefully located to provide a study-based, firm, and positive grip that is very comfortable,” she pointed out. “Button locations are mapped to provide ease-of-use and rapid access to most frequently used keys.”

The Savant Select remote combines traditional hard buttons with an Apple iPod Touch in a single wand-style remote device,whereas the RTR-1000, Savant’s traditional wand-style handheld remote, is designed for use with the company’s on-screennavigation interface, TrueCommand.

No Replacing the Dedicated Device

Robert Ridenour, brand manager for ELAN Home Systems, said that there’s just no replacement for dedicated channel, volume, and play/pause buttons on handheld remotes.

“Some users want to rely solely on their mobile devices for control because they think it is the most convenient interface, so we’ve designed the HR2 to be super simple to use, and we educate our dealers on how to convey the benefits of hard buttons for common functions,” Ridenour said. “Even the biggest Apple fan will come running for a more traditional always-on remote after a few days using an iPhone for TV control.”

ELAN’s HR2 features instant-on activated by an accelerometer, a combination of Wi-Fi and IR for never-fail functionality, and a design that is comfortable in smaller hands. To make installation simple for dealers, the HR2 requires zero additional programming, as it is set up as part of the system controller programming. The system controller is designed to configure the HR2 through the course of normal ELAN g! programming.

“Screens, buttons and codes are automatically generated, dramatically reducing the amount of time required to install ELAN g! and the HR2 remote in a home,” Ridenour said. “While the remote is also customizable, this auto-build functionality is a huge benefit to the dealer, and also lowers the total cost on installation for the consumer.”

Complementary Devices

Crestron has developed new touchscreen features, and introduced list-based programming tools and pre-defined common layouts/icons for technologies like lighting, thermostats, and source control. Byron Wendling, technology manager for touchscreens and user interfaces for Crestron, believes that his company’s Mobile Pro app is the “perfect complement” to a dedicated Crestron touchscreen, keypad, or handheld remote, but that there’s still no comparison for consumer comfort when watching TV.

RTI’s SURFiR remote control allows users to incorporate the touchscreen devices they already own as the graphical interface for their control system. “Our handheld remote offers the familiarity and reliability people are accustomed to in a remote,” he said. “They don’t always want to look down to change the channel; they want to be able to channel surf at their leisure without thinking about it.”

The MLX-3 handheld remote features Crestron’s infiNET EX wireless technology. A complete infiNET EX network uses the lighting dimmers and other devices throughout the structure as wireless relay stations, each receiving and passing on wireless commands to the central gateway.

“Every device that is added to the network effectively increases the range, strength, and reliability of the entire network by providing multiple redundant signal paths, ensuring that every button press is executed instantly and consistently,” Wendling explained.

Savant offers the RTR family of traditional wand-style hard button remotes and the Savant Select remote, which combines traditional hard buttons with an Apple iPod Touch in a single wand-style remote device. The Savant Select was specifically designed around the Apple iOS environment to leverage the explosion of apps in the marketplace, bringing added value and functionality to users,” said Jim Carroll, executive vice president of corporate strategy and business development at Savant.

URC maps button locations for ease-of-use and rapid access to most frequently used keys, while the MX-5000 remote also provides haptic feedback to confirm button presses. URC Accelerator, the software and editor used to program URC’s Total Control systems, was designed to reduce the steps involved in programming a whole house or building.

“A slightly modified version of Savant’s TrueControl app for the iPhone, iPod touch and iPad is used in the Savant Select, giving users the same feel–a seamless control experience across all iOS devices,” Carroll said. “The embedded iPod Touch in the Savant Select remote can run the user’s favorite apps in addition to providing control and automation functionality.”

Savant also has introduced the RTR-1000, a traditional wand-style handheld remote designed for use with the company’s on-screen navigation interface, called TrueCommand. Leveraging TrueCommand technology, the RTR-1000 remote gives users complete customizable home control via rotating icons on any HD display. Users can adjust lighting, temperature, AV systems, and view security cameras.

“Set-up is fast and efficient using Savant’s Blueprint configuration tool, already considered groundbreaking for streamlining the automation system design and programming process,” said Carroll.

Of course, as URC’s Toomey noted, training for installers remains a powerful tool, no matter how intuitive programming or end use becomes. URC offers live training, live webinars, and a comprehensive collection of learning modules that are available 24/7 on the password-protected, installer-only URC University.

“We feel that having superior software is not enough,” Toomey explained. “Software must be supported by superior and progressive training in order for its virtues and advantages to be realized by our customers.”

Derek Dellinger ([email protected]) is the web editor for and