Smartphones aren’t just phones. They’re Internet browsers, flashlights, watches, alarm clocks, cameras and more for millions of users. So, along with all the other gadgets smartphones have so deftly deposed, it stands to reason that they’d finally dethrone remote controls too. It’s a long time coming. After all, most remote controls don’t do the job that well anyway. As a rule, they’re oversized, over complicated and not at all user friendly. Several app developers have come to the same conclusion, perhaps as a result of wrestling with their own remotes. As a result, there’s now a variety of apps that allow users to program, schedule and operate other gadgets with a smartphone, which means no more struggling with multiple remotes – or hunting around in the couch to find them.
So how can your smartphone get you closer to that cool, fully connected life that science fiction has promised was coming? Here are few a apps to make your smartphone even smarter.
For Your Computer
By syncing up your smartphone with your computer, you can grab some apps that will allow you to run things on your home computer system from across the room, anywhere in the house, and sometimes even anywhere at all. Here are a few examples:
On Android Devices
People increasingly use YouTube like a TV and this app helps to complete the experience by allowing you to play and pause YouTube videos on your PC with your phone. You can also preview videos on the smartphone screen, queue multiple videos and check your YouTube subscriptions.
Exclusively for Windows-based PCs, this app gives users remote control of general media, file exploring, PowerPoint, task switching and Spotify. You can also use Unified Remote for keyboard and mouse input.
A hybrid remote that supports VLC and Windows Media Player, this one also serves as a generic keyboard and a remote control for PowerPoint. Gmote includes play, pause and skip controls for most programs that you can usually control with your keyboard.
Remote for iTunes
This one works even if you’ve got an Android phone and a Windows-based PC. This app turns your phone into a remote control to manage songs, volume, playlists and the iTunes "DJ" feature in iTunes.
For iOS Devices:
iTunes Remote App
Naturally, you can use your iPhone for iTunes with this free app that includes the same capabilities as the Android version.
Use your iPhone as a wireless trackpad and keyboard. It’s also available for iPod devices.
This app is compatible with free virtual network computing (VNC) remote desktop software, and provides users with total anytime, anywhere remote control of their computers, as long as those computers are turned on and connected to the Internet.
Apps for Electronic Gadgets
Controlling other devices with smartphones is a small but rapidly expanding field. Here are a few examples of gadgets that can be controlled with your phone.
This inexpensive, no-frills box hooks up to a television and plays Netflix, Amazon Instant Videos, and other video content from the Internet. The Roku Remote is the Android version of the app you can use to turn your smartphone into a Roku control center. For iPhone users, it’s the more cleverly named Rokumote. (Get other options for cutting out cable in Cutting the Cord on Your Cable TV.)
An interesting alternative to the tripod, apps for digital cameras allow users to remotely adjust digital camera settings and snap photos, hands-free. There are a handful of these apps currently available, including the DLSR Controller app for Android, which controls Nikon DLSR cameras. For the iPhone, you could try DSLR Camera Control, which can be used with any Canon, Nikon, Sony or Pentax camera with a built-in IR remote sensor.
The Pocket BLU app for iPhone works as a remote for Blu-ray players, but only with disks that specifically support the application. It can be used to control playback, browse chapters, and change the soundtrack. There’s also a Blu-ray remote app for Sony’s PS3 systems.
There are several apps that let you program your DVR remotely. Most of them are distributed for free by phone and digital cable companies, including Verizon, AT&T, Comcast, DirecTV, and DISH Network. They’re available for both Android and iPhone platforms.
Other Remote Apps You Might Need
Viper Smart Start
If you have a Viper remote starter for your vehicle, you’ll never have to worry about changing the batteries in your key fob again. The Viper Smart Start app lets you start your engine, lock and unlock doors, open the trunk, or hit the panic button from your smartphone. You can also program this app, which is available for Android or iPhone, to control multiple vehicles. (Learn more about what the future’s cars might look like in Cloud Computing for Vehicles: Tomorrow’s High-Tech Car.)
Combined with "smart" light bulbs from Phillips, this app provides control over home lighting. You can turn lights on and off, change the color of your bulbs, and switch lights on remotely if you’re out late and want it to look like you’re home.
Nexia Home Intelligence Mobile
For those with Schlage keypad locks, this app allows homeowners to carry a portable system dashboard to remotely lock and unlock doors, turn lights on and off, and view feeds from home security cameras. Also available for iPhone.
The Future Is Remote Controlled
The possibilities for remote apps are virtually endless, and an increasing number of companies are releasing apps that’ll allow you to control everything in your home from your smartphone or tablet, no matter where you are. As for all those remote controls we used to rely on? Toss ’em. For the most part, they never did a great job of it anyway.