Thursday, July 07, 2005

A truly universal remote?

This article from Engadget ( sparked the idea: instead of the remote having buttons which tell the device what to do (which can be combersome when you have complicated devices which all use the same remote), have each individual device tell the remote what buttons to display.

The remote itself would be similar to a PDA screen in size, and the OS similar to Palm's where you can view applications by category, or all at once. The screen defaults to a simple screen with the names of the devices it can pick up using Bluetooth (or IR if you're old school): VCR, DVD, receiver, TV, etc. When you want to turn on the TV, you select TV and the rest of the components disappear (or at least minimize) and your basic options for TV come up: power, volume, channel, mute, etc. If you want advanced features, select "advanced" from a drop-down menu and your current list expands to include picture in picture, color/brightness controls, and any other fancy things remotes and TVs can do nowadays.

Each component sends the remote the information it should display to the user. If your new DVD player burns DVDs, it would tell the remote to display a "burn DVD" button under its "advanced" tab. No need for a new remote.

Also, it keeps the controls that many people don't use out of the way offering a very clean-looking, simple remote which still operates all your equipment.

Saturday, July 02, 2005

An 80 gig hard drive on your cell phone?

So here's a brilliant idea (which has probably been thought of by at least a dozen really smart engineers in Asia): instead of packing a phone with a hard drive for media storage (making the phone bigger, using more battery life and having to pay for the hardware), use 3G downloading speeds to browse the music collection on your computer. Stream songs and playlists to your handset.

Basically, your phone would work as iTunes does... it has the locations of the files, not the files themselves, in the phone. Your phone will have your computer's IP address and neccessary access info (an encrypted username and password) to listen to the music on your home computer, from your phone. Voila: each phone has access to 60, 80, 100 (etc.) gigs of music.

If you had a .Mac account, or something similar, you could backup your music to a server, so you wouldn't have to leave your computer on all the time. Perhaps sync all of this with your iTunes music store account. Your phone logs into the iTunes music store under your account, and can have streaming access to the songs you've already paid for. An iPod killer? I don't know about that, but Apple could be in a pretty good position to make some money off this in a world-wide market where iTunes music stores are popping up left and right in other countries that have much faster download speeds than the U.S.

With your friends' IP address (or as a guest on ther .Mac account/iTunes store account) you could listen to their music, assuming they'd give you access. Imagine having a list of friends on your phone and being able to access all their music all the time. To keep this under control, limit the number of people who can access any given library.

Multiple family members could listen to the same library from different phones. You would be able to access your entire library, or if 14 year-old Timmy doesn't want to bother hearing Dad's seven Luciano Pavoratti albums, he can filter them from being played. Essentially, user-specific, layered playlists.

Let me illustrate. You have an entire family's music on a computer. Timmy CAN access all the songs, but he doesn't want to. So he has "Timmy's Songs" which is essentially a filtered playlist of all his music. Within Timmy's Songs are his playlists, as you would normally have in iTunes. This enables access to all songs if desired, but keeps the stuff you know you don't want to hear out while still being able to create and use playlists. It's also a nice feature for the parents who can listen to what Timmy's been rocking out to when his earbuds are in.

Expanding that idea, is there a way to do exactly what iTunes now does in showing nearby strangers' playlists and listening to their music? Obviously, this can be done using Wi-Fi... how about by wireless carrier? If so, you could turn this into a social thing. You'd have access to others' lists around you and you could chat with/text the person whose list you are listening to and meet up to discuss music or whatever. Of course, people would have the option of not making messaging/their music available because of the cost involved, or if they're feeling anti-social.

In summary, you could have access to your music, and friends' music all the time on a cell phone with no hard drive. Access to strangers' music would be based on a) whether or not they're sharing it and b) the proximity of the person (the same thing iTunes does now, but using a wireless signal instead).

One possible money maker (aside from promoting text messaging) would be being able to purchase other people's playlists. So, if you're loving someone's smooth jazz playlist you could buy all those songs from iTunes. The songs would automatically download to your computer at home, as a playlist, making them instantly accessable to your device.

So a carrier sponsors a night at some local club (or perhaps somewhere more mellow... local coffee shop or park, or perhaps an entire area of a city where there are lots of little shops/cafes). Everyone with this service shows up and can listen to each other's music, send text messages, buy beverages containing legal stimulants and people's playlists.

People who are under Indie labels can go to areas where the target market for their album would hang out. Ta-da. You've instantly made your music accessable to everyone you think would be interested in buying it.

Word of mouth is probably one of the best ways to promote music. This is, I dunno... passive word of mouth? You're promoting music without saying anything... unless you want to.

POTENTIAL PROBLEMS (and sometimes solutions)

• What is the best way for this to be integrated in a car? Would there be a physical cable (USB/firewire) you would plug your phone into to have access to your music while driving? Bluetooth?

• What happens when you want to get to your music in an area where you don't get a signal for your phone? Keep some flash memory on there for your ring tones and favorite songs? With coverage areas being what they are nowadays, I don't think that would be much of a problem. (However, things like subways...)

SOLUTION: People with cell phones sometimes can't get signals when they're in buildings. Plug your phone into your computer and have the same access to music through iTunes/internet connection as you do when you have a wireless signal. (Plus this recharges the battery.)

• Constantly streaming music will require mammoth battery life. But, they're streaming video to phones now, and if you don't have to carry around your iPod, will people be willing to have bigger phones (due to the need for a larger battery)?

What would you name such a device?

What think ye?