Sam Asano's Let's Invent: We need a TV remote that is easy to use
WHILE WE are discussing the deplorable state of the user experience with today's websites — especially those of online catalog vendors, cellphone apps, new digital device user manuals and thousand other devices and booklets — I would like to show you the top of my coffee table being taken over by 10 (yes 10!) remote controls just to watch a few TV programs.
It is my humble opinion that the state of user interface designs of all consumer electronic and electrical devices have declined significantly in their quality in the past decades. I suspect that one of the real reasons for this sorry state might have been caused by the fact we (USA) no longer manufacture consumer products, and the hegemony of the product design has been taken over by the people where the product is manufactured.
The second reason is that programmers in those countries, be of hardware or software, are very young with little experience in actually using their own product and have little knowledge of American language, culture and the way we use these devices.
Thus our houses get filled with an enormous pile of user-hostile (yes, I said "hostile") control devices, each one of which is unique and has its own idiosyncrasy to operate, and of course we have to remember it. The two photos show my coffee table top. The TV display gets fed from various video sources, DVD player, direct feed from the Internet such as Netflix, some private channels and a feed from my own video camera.
Frustrated with so many remotes, I went looking for a solution to reduce their number — ideally to only one. I had thought there might be a remote to cover all the remotes in this world. There are some remote controls that says "universal." I bought one, and the problem simply became more confounding. Back to the store to return the gadget.
My cable company sent me an ominous looking package, which they said I must install in order to continue the subscription. It turned out that the remote control they provided is a gateway to the cable channels, and it needed to communicate with my TV set. A large multi-folded sheet of paper printed in many languages, which they call the instruction manual, had a long list of TV set models and manufacturers listed.
I had to find the ID number of my TV set in the multiple language list printed in the tiniest print font, enter it to the remote and wait till the hand-shake process is done. I regretted that I didn't have a powerful magnifying glass to read the chart.
You may call me stupid, but the whole process took at least 30 minutes if not more, and during that time I was anxious, confused and probably sweating. There are two questions. Why should I, the customer, go through this process while it should have been done by either the manufacturer or the cable provider? And why can't the whole process be automated? Meaning, the TV set and the remote would communicate with each other and establish a reliable link automatically.
The amount of electronic parts and labor required to automate the process both in the TV set as well as in the remote control may amount to less than $1 in the large production. The way the TV set and the remote control operate to communicate first to establish the link is so senselessly bureaucratic.
This is what happens when we Americans at the pinnacle of the world-class engineering level cannot influence the group of TV set and remote control engineers in the lower-labor nations. I fully know our American engineers can do the automatic "mating" solution. But we have little influence over the engineers in the country where products are manufactured. The result is that American consumers (customers) are now burdened to work on their home TV systems so they can see the picture.
I predict the ultimate solution is in the form of a sophisticated app for smartphones. This is a problem that an amateur inventor could tackle easily, and could develop solutions. The end result will eliminate the 10 remotes from my coffee table, and my smartphone will replace them neatly. Anyone, challenged? Contact me with your solution.
In this installment I tried to indicate the hidden peril of our giving up manufacturing to the lower labor cost countries. What we would end up buying from them is probably less expensive for a short term, but the products are totally designed by them. Thus we will end up paying substantial cost in being inconvenienced in different methodology as well as sloppy and bureaucratic user experience.
Shintaro "Sam" Asano of New Castle, who speaks and writes English as a second language, was named by MIT in 2011 as one of the 10 most influential inventors of the 20th century who improved our life. He is a businessman and an inventor in the field of electronics and mechanical systems, who is credited as the original inventor of today's portable fax machine. He also developed a data tablet used in the retail point of sale to capture customer signatures when credit cards are used. Write to him at firstname.lastname@example.org.