Whether you call it a clicker, channel changer or remote control, there is no doubt that the idea of standing up to switch the programming on your TV is an inconvenience you would no longer consider acceptable. But as we add Tivos, DVD players, cable boxes and surround sound to our homes the remote control of the past is starting to become outdated and for many is starting to become a device of complexity and angst.
That's why Logitech will use this year's Consumer Electronics Show to try and bring serenity to the masses with the release of its new supercharged home entertainment remote called the Harmony One. It's a technology that Logitech scooped up just years ago at the same annual Las Vegas-based trade show that will see more than 140,000 attendees starting today.
Lloyd Klarke, Logitech's director of product marketing, reminisced about the roots of the product.
"Four years ago at CES there was a small company, really just two guys, called Intrigue Technologies that was demonstrating a universal remote far off the main show floor in one of the smaller booths. Legend has it that they showed up to Las Vegas with a concept, headed to Home Depot to design a booth and started selling their technology right there. They developed such an instant cult following that we knew over time this was going to be a product that people wanted and would love," Klarke said.
Logitech purchased the company and started on a mission to design the perfect remote control. As Intrigue morphed into Logitech's Harmony brand, several versions were released, but none as revolutionary as the Harmony One, which has been awarded a CES Innovations 2008 Design and Engineering Award.
Engineers spent more than 20,000 hours of research into the typical home setup and what they found was that the average household has 5.4 remotes on its coffee table to control everything from flat-screen TVs to the satellite dish and that one in five households have a set of instructions next to their cluster of remotes written out by a child or installer to explain how exactly to turn on the TV.
Klarke explains that piece of paper illustrates the need for the remote. When asked whether his product is the answer for all users, he said, "We believe the real competition for this product is the cheat sheet laying in most people's living rooms. People want to enjoy using their electronics and One is the best expression for what this device does. This is one device that will operate your entire home system."
Design Was Paramount
The Harmony One retains the long shape of traditional remotes, but adds a very sharp 2.2-inch color touch screen at the top and a set of 40 buttons designed so that after a few weeks with the remote in your hands you will be able to operate it without even looking at the keys.
If you buy the Harmony One, the first thing you do is take the remote through a guided online setup process that takes about half an hour depending on the complexity of your setup. You tell the Web site what devices you have and your computer adds the information to the Harmony by searching its ever growing database of 5,000 brands of electronics. Favorite channel icons can be added to the color screen and other customizable features make the interface intuitive to use.
The Harmony One even comes with a nifty charging base where you can rest the device to eliminate the need to replace the batteries, but if it falls into the sofa cushions you still will have to search for it on your own.
Remotes Are Big Business
The Harmony brand has found a comfortable niche in between the discounted replacement remote controls sold for tens of dollars and the super high-end luxury remotes available for thousands. No remote can be found at this in-between price point that has a color screen and such advances features.
Logitech wants consumers to look at the device as a component to their home system that will make their lives a lot easier rather than just another accessory. And that may because the price tag for this universal Harmony is $249.
Logitech's CEO, Gerry Quindlen, understands that the piece of mind isn't cheap, but believes once consumers get one into their house the benefits will be apparent. "I like to say that our company provides affordable luxuries. We are able to provide high-end quality products at reasonable prices," Quindlen said.
Logitech is a 26-year-old company that was started in Switzerland and today is the premiere after market mouse and PC accessory leader and its entry into the remote control business wasn't just to add peace to the household. Logitech estimates that the universal remote market is a $1 billion business today that will grow to double that volume in the next five years.
Quindlen plans to spend the first two days of CES meeting with vendors like Best Buy and Circuit City, but looks forward to getting out onto the show floor by day three to see the latest gadgets.
"Towards the middle of the week I will get to see some of the smaller booths. Harmony began as a business we found out in the halls and we have been able to create a great business that is great for us and our partners."