Clover’s Week: All buttoned up

As broadcasters introduce their own smart phone apps, Julian Clover asks if the days of the remote control are numbered?

Over the years my coffee table has steadily groaned under the weight of the various remote controls that have been used to control my entertainment. This has ranged from those supplied with assorted televisions and set-top boxes to the fancy units designed to make my life easier, taking control of multiple devices, but invariably not being able to action all of the functions.

After more than a dozen years the original Sky Digibox remote, which allows you to control both box and TV, remains the gold standard. The design has been rolled out on News Corp platforms across the globe.

This week Sky released a new version of its iPhone app that has previously been used to remotely set recordings on the Sky+ box. Customers that have connected their box to the internet can now also use their iPhone to change channels and view what has been stored on the PVR.

Similar functionality was recently added to the iPad.

We often talk about the death of the set-top box, which still seems to resolutely want to stay alive, but is it the remote control that is toast?

The Sky app will let you browse through the channel line-up, change channels, pause, rewind and fast-forward, but not use red button functionality. For the broadcaster there is an extra opportunity to promote individual shows.

We talk about wanting to own the home, this is extending the concept to the pocket.

It seems a no brainer that the majority of iPhone users – and in time those on the Android system – will have this app open while they are watching. But how much space will there be for rival apps, from individual broadcasters, or even specific shows.

More to the point, once downloaded will we actually use them.

Within Apple’s iOS there are prompters. The same messaging system that tells us we have a message on Facebook can also be used to tell us that the next edition of X-Factor is about to start.

Here then comes the responsibility of the broadcaster to make sure we are not bombarded with messages that we head to the settings and turn the app off.

Worse, if the app isn’t engaging enough there is the danger that we delete the app the moment the credits roll.