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The rise of the tablet as a companion device has raised question marks about the long-term future of the ‘traditional’ remote control, especially if tablets become cheap enough for mass market usage. But at ANGA Cable last week, Ruwido provided a compelling demonstration of why the remote control is here to stay, based on a number of factors including a dramatic improvement in the aesthetic appeal of these devices.
As Ferdinand Maier, Ruwido’s CEO, noted, top-of-the-range smartphones and tablets have raised consumer expectations for the look-and-feel of all CE devices and the response must be remote controls that can sit proudly alongside an Apple iPhone on a coffee table. He demonstrated a fantastic looking remote control that will launch shortly and which he says can be produced at prices that make it viable for any premium brand Pay TV operator to ship as standard kit.
Ruwido has always provided sleek looking remotes with a quality feel. Now the company has applied its skills to set-top box design as well and at ANGA you could see two STB concept designs, each of which matched the aesthetic appeal of an Apple iPhone 4, including the black glass outer. The company hopes to attract Pay TV operators who are looking to raise the bar for the looks of STBs they deploy and will then license the design to device manufacturers. A key design concept was to match the set-top box to the remote control and the company was awarded two Red Dot Design Awards 2012 for the quality and consistency of the designs.
The set-top boxes and remote controls certainly look premium and that prompts the suspicion that they are too expensive for the mass-market but Maier insists that thanks to investment in, and an intense focus on, manufacturing processes, the company can deliver premium quality devices within the budgets of a premium Pay TV operator.
There is no intention that these STBs or remote controls will be targeted to a high ARPU subset of the operator customer base. Maier says that is not a viable approach. The ambition is to use manufacturing economies to lift everyone to a higher level of product, something operators must do in order to maintain brand appeal in a world where consumers are surrounded by better and better looking gadgets Operators will have a choice of materials to provide a pricing range, however.
For Maier, a premium remote control is a great piece of branding. “When you are watching a movie, you are not watching Deutsche Telekom or Austria Telekom. But these kinds of devices and the mechanisms for navigation create brand awareness and loyalty,” he suggests. “With this kind of input device there is an emotional recognition of the brand. For the premium service providers it is becoming more and more important that their brand exists physically and that has been one of the reasons for Apple’s success.”
He adds that after investing so much on networks, content and marketing, the remote control is a small additional investment with a potentially big return. “It is the best way to communicate with the emotion of people,” he says. “When it comes to devices in the home, new benchmarks have been set and operators have to respond.”
To maintain the relevance of the remote control, the second part of the equation is advanced interaction and Ruwido is convinced that what you are looking at, when navigating and commanding the television, needs to be on the television screen itself. The company actually produced a screen-only, touch interface remote control, using ‘soft’ command keys, some years ago. It looks quite similar to the Apple iPhone 4 (but preceded that design). But Maier provided an animated demonstration of how you have to look down at the small screen and then look up to the television to see what you have achieved with the command, and then look back to the remote control again.
By contrast, the Ruwido ‘Aura’ remote interface technology is designed so that you never have to look at the remote control; everything is about touch-and-feel. During a demonstration, Maier produced a remote that is the shape and size of a pen presentation gift box. Once again, it looks great and on the top is a slider that you can slide forward and backwards with your thumb, and which scrolls you through screens or increases the volume or rewinds content as required, but the speed at which you move your thumb determines the speed at which these functions happen.
The device is motion sensitive so to scroll through pages, like in a VOD catalogue, you hold the remote control level and use the slider. “With this mechanism you can go through 300 or 400 VOD titles in seconds,” Maier points out. “You have to find a way to make the search for content an event, rather than a pain.”
To increase the volume, turn the remote to the right (like a capsizing ship) and glide the slider backwards or forwards. For trick-play, capsize to the left and slide: slide slightly for slow fast-forward and slide more for faster fast-forward. If you stand the remote on its end, like on the coffee table, the television pauses. This new device will be available from Q4 this year.
Ruwido is very research focused and Maier stresses the scientific nature of its research. It is this that gives the company such confidence that it has the answers to what consumers and therefore Pay TV operators are going to want in the years ahead, and why it remains steadfast in its belief that the remote control, and not the tablet, will be the primary television controller. Maier says tablets will be used as companions and will complement remote controls, but certainly not replace them.
“The tablet is not a competitor to us – it is an additional device with limitations,” he adds. “One of the limitations of the smartphone or tablet is that it is mostly a private device whereas television is a public device generally. So everyone has to have his own smartphone remote control because you don’t leave the smartphone or tablet on the living room table.”
Advanced remote-TV interaction can also include voice commands and voice recognition now. The company has integrated this technology into a remote control that was on display at ANGA and which included a microphone at its tip. When integrated with search, you can say ‘George Clooney’ and this will be referred to the operator backoffice, which will then present the different movie options that feature him as an actor. The key is that voice recognition is for instances where you know what you want to find, rather than when you need to search for something. “You need to use voice technology in the right context,” Maier notes. If you need to find your way through 20,000 VOD titles then a combination of what Ruwido calls ‘organic haptic’ interaction and recommendations are the answer.
The remote control can also be used for voice recognition as well as commands. This provides another way for operators to know exactly who is in front of the television at any given time, something that is important if you want to harness individual profiles to deliver personalised content displays or recommendation. The company is also using biometrics and fingerprint identification for the same purpose. All these solutions avoid the need to physically log-in or out of a TV profile.