April 17, 2013 at 12:41 pm

Remote Controls and Music Apps Are Making Friends At Last

Grandpa’s CD player was an awful piece of technology by many estimations.

Purists hated the idea of slicing precious analog sound waves into bits, on philosophical if not auditory grounds. Owners of cassettes and vinyl were justifiably bummed to have to buy everything all over again. And on the label side, that CDs didn’t include the copyright protection that still makes ripping a DVD a felony –while it remains perfectly legal to rip a CD — was an unconscionable error, in retrospect, leading to Napster and other perceived atrocities.

But at least, with a CD player, you could press a button on a remote control and make something happen, like, right away — none of this futzing around with closing whatever app you were using, finding the one that is playing music, tapping it to open the app, and then — only then — skipping to the next song, or doing whatever else you were going to do.

Finally, this situation is being remedied. When it is completely remedied, we will live in the internet of things. We don’t, yet. But as apps and remote controls become increasingly intermingled, we’re at least approaching the convenience/laziness/awesomeness level of the lowly CD player, with all the power, connectedness, and access that makes digital music trump the CD.

logitech_harmony_remoteLogitech Harmony Ultimate Remote Pairs with Apps

I worked with Bonnie Cha at CNET for years, and she knows what she is talking about. Now she’s at AllThingsD, writing about  remote controls and other stuff. On Tuesday, Cha posted an in-depth review of the Logitech Harmony Ultimate Remote, a device that controls not only the lighting in your home (internet of things alert!) but any of your home electronics that listen for IR or Bluetooth commands from their remotes.

The key to this is the Harmony Hub, a puck-looking WiFi remote control receiver that receives music (and other) commands via WiFi, from an Android/iOS app or the actual hardware remote, and then retransmits them via IR or Bluetooth to all manner of boxes.

This allows you to switch between the standard remote control and your smartphone to control the music playback on stereo systems, game consoles, and nearly anything else that can be controlled by remote. Because WiFi penetrates cabinetry, you can even tuck all of that stuff away, at long last.

We’re note quite sure the extent to which this remote system can control apps on televisions, game consoles, set-top boxes, tablets, smartphones, and so on, but all of those can accept commands from a remote or any iOS/Android phone. We’re getting warmer… once buttons like these start appearing on walls, we’ll be even better off.

You Can Already Control Spotify From Anything… Within Reason

We’re using Spotify as an example here, but really, the same should eventually hold for any high-quality music service with the funding and/or API to make it happen. If you are running Spotify on a Windows, Macintosh, iOS, or Android device, you can control that Spotify app remotely with iOS or Android.

Yes, you read that right — you can even go iOS to iOS or Android to Android, and it probably won’t be long until these remotes start crossing the Google/Apple divide, if only because: Why not? Even an iPhone owner might consider buying a super-cheap or used Android and installing it next to some powered speakers by the pool. After all, you can already…

Android Remote Controls iTunes

Everybody with iOS knows, or should, that Apple offers its own remote control app for making iTunes play specific music from your iPhone, iPod Touch, or iPad. However, we doubt that everyone with Android realizes there’s a whole slew of Android apps that purport to do the same.

Many of them are awful. Some don’t work. You might be pleased to find that we tested every single one we could find, to find the very best apps for this.

If you have access to an old computer (who doesn’t?), you can connect it to some speakers and play music there with Android or iOS. This doesn’t make you Bill Gates (he of the electronically-personalized domicile), but it lets you perform similar magic.

Your iPhone Can Jukebox a Party

Fine, “jukebox” isn’t a verb, but it should be one, meaning “to make a location jukebox-enabled, such that anyone in the area can perform certain actions in order to play the music of their choice for everyone else in that area.”

A free app called Jukebox Hero

Speaking of “jukeboxing,” Rockbot (formerly Roqbot) focuses on doing the same for bars, retail (like The Gap), music venues (like a Motley Crue show), and other commercial locations. PlayMySong does the same.

All apps like this take advantage of the fact that many remote controls can operate the same device, which is a trick grandpa’s CD player never learned.

Sony’s SmartWatch Remote Controls Android

Smart watches have been around for ages. I had one in the ’90s, but it was way, way too clunky. The latest crop of rumored and actual smart watches are decidedly more elegant creatures.

One thing we know, amidst the swirling rumors: Sony’s SmartWatch will be able to control music apps on your Android, in addition to running apps of its own. One clear opportunity here is to detect motion with a smartwatch and use that to select music that has the right tempo and energy level, but you can also use the watch as a straight-up remote, selecting what you want to hear with your own brain, just like grandpa used to do.