Technology Give Every Remote Control a Tracker

14:45  18 july  2021
14:45  18 july  2021 Source:   wired.com

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A lost remote control is the most minor of crises. Barely an annoyance really, typically resolved by flipping enough couch cushions. Which is perhaps why it’s taken so long for the disruptive types to get around to finding solutions. Those solutions are here now, though, and they’re delightful.

Credit to Roku first: It pioneered remote-finding years ago, albeit only for higher-end streaming player models. But the past several months has seen a small revolution in remote control tracking, with enhancements and improvements and options previously unexplored—including from Roku itself.

The clearest beneficiaries of the tiny transformation are Apple TV owners. The Siri Remote, a slim little number that seems intentionally designed to slide into unfindable spots, offers no cure for a disappearance beyond using the Apple TV Remote app on your phone. (This works in a pinch, but remotes with physical buttons are a far better experience than glass-tapping.) Even an updated version of the hardware, announced in April and on sale the following month, remained off the grid. That’s especially surprising, perhaps, given that Apple not long ago designed a so-called U1 chip whose main job is to help find things.

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Fortunately, Apple does use the U1 in AirTags, the company’s recently announced answer to Tile and other tracking widgets. Which is where Derrick Ensley, who runs 3D-printing shop PrintSpired Designs, saw an opportunity. Soon after the AirTags announcement, Ensley set to work designing a slim Siri Remote case that has room to smuggle an AirTag onboard. He sells both the case itself and the schematics for anyone who wants to print it, for both the previous and current generations of hardware.

“Due to the thinness of the remote and its slick materials, it is very easy to slide between couch cushions,” Ensley says of Apple’s remote. “Of course, there are plenty of folks who can't fathom how people lose their remotes, but as the father of a 2-year-old, it's quite easy to misplace.”

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Ensley says that after an initial rush of orders after coverage from some tech news sites, he still sells several dozen cases each week. And while his business has benefited from Apple’s design decisions, he finds it puzzling that the company didn’t offer any kind of lifeline for owners of missing remotes, even without incorporating the U1 chip.

“It would've been trivial for Apple to at least incorporate a small speaker in their second-generation Siri Remote to help people find it,” he says. “The U1 capabilities of the AirTag are probably overkill for a remote, but I've found asking Siri to play a sound on my remote's AirTag is more than enough to find it quickly.”

Absent those measures, though, the AirTag case solution is picking up steam. This week, accessory company Elago announced its Apple TV Siri Remote R5 case, a thick silicon shell that includes an AirTag slot. Elago had addressed the mischievous remote problem before, with a magnet-laden R1 case that let you plunk it safely on any metal surface. “With the introduction of Apple’s new AirTags, we saw a natural segue for a new remote case,” says Elago general manager Michael Limm. “We knew the demand for these kinds of functional cases was important to our customers by how well our R1 case sold.”

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Ensley says he has received requests to branch out to other remotes, particularly Roku, given its ubiquity. But for some Roku owners, a case is moot; the remote already does the work for you.

The streaming grande dame’s rules for hide-and-seek have always been limited to a handful of top-end models but provide a nice reprieve for those who pony up. The Roku Ultra and Roku 4 streaming boxes have long had buttons on them that, when pressed, cause their associated remotes to emit noise for one minute or until you find it, whichever comes first. You can even pick from a variety of sounds for it to make, if you dig into your Roku settings.

Roku built some of that functionality into its “enhanced voice remote” several years ago, but that too only worked with the company’s high-end streaming pucks, along with Roku TVs and the Roku soundbar. Which is all well and good if you felt like paying top dollar. The majority of Roku owners, though, have lived without.

a close up of a knife © Photograph: Roku

That changed in April, when Roku announced its Voice Remote Pro, an upgrade that enables voice-based tracking that’s compatible with pretty much any Roku hardware. If you say “Hey Roku, where’s my remote?”—or fiddle around in your Roku app settings until you get to “find remote”—it’ll beep at you. Nice!

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What most of these solutions have in common, unfortunately, is that they’re all upgrades or add-ons. Similarly, for remotes that aren’t Roku or Apple TV, your best bet is probably going to be tacking on a Tile sticker, which should work just fine but also renders your remote lumpy and off-balance.

The good news is that we have, as they say, the technology. The world in which remote controls have some sort of finding apparatus as a matter of course seems tantalizingly close. (While it’s healthy to be wary of tracking generally, it feels less alarming with remotes; you tend to know what room it’s in already. The question is, under which pillow?)

Getting there wouldn’t solve any of the world’s big problems, but it would take care of a little one that compounds. It’s one less frustration to dampen the day—always within reach, even when out of sight.

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