The head of Philips' uWand project believes that existing remotes are unwieldy and need to be replaced – and that the pointer-based uWand is a better solution than Natal-type gesture interfaces.
"If you see all these new TVs that try to stick to their up, down, left, right remote controls, it's quite cumbersome in our opinion," said Navin Natoewal, General Manager of uWand at Philips. "It's not built for it. But still the industry tries to hold onto it."
"We think we can change that and make the navigation of TVs more intuitive… and at the same time make better UIs. At the moment UIs are quite limited… with better controls you can make better UIs.
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The uWand doesn't use an accelerometer like gesture based remote concepts, instead opting for a pointer using an infrared camera and RF transmitter.
That means you just point the uWand at the screen and the pointer appears – unlike gesture-based controllers, which Natoewal is not a fan of. "What we saw is that there's a drift in the sensors. You start out and it's like a mouse. Before you know it, your arm is round your back. People like direct pointing a lot more."
The other advantage of the pointer-based uWand is that, when you put it down, the cursor doesn't jump around on the screen.
"Nintendo really paved the way," says Natoewal when quizzed about the role of the Wii in getting people to accept gesture-type tech. "The technology is quite similar, so we've taken it to a CE experience.
"[Unlike the Wiimote] the sweep angle is the same [with uWand]. The other things is that Microsoft is coming up with Natal.
"Is the gaming experience the same as the TV experience? No, they're very different. You lean back when watching TV. The whole gesture control [idea isn't] well suited for a TV experience.
"It's totally different from an active gaming experience. You don't want to wave to a TV screen. There's this physiological barrier people have. We also tested voice control - when people are alone, they're not very comfortable talking to a machine."
Release in late 2010/early 20111
"What we have done is tested this technology. We gave 200 houses in Amsterdam interactive services and for the first month they had a traditional remote control. After a month we changed it and gave them all the uWand.
"Just by changing the controller, the service [rating improved]. Because people liked the service better, the revenue went up.
"That's what I tell TV manufacturers, usually they design a product and the service offering and then at the end of the project they think 'I need a remote control' and they buy the cheapest one out there, right? [They] should be thinking about UI and controllers up front."
The device runs on two AA batteries and has a simple three button layout - OK, Back and Home. In use, it becomes surprisingly intuitive, although it initially does take a bit of getting used to.
The battle for the living room
The uWand, although developed by Philips, is going to be licensed by the Dutch company and Natoewal expects some products at the "end of this year, beginning of next year".
"We have some licensees already. Two of the licensees already have a full Media Center remote control (which it will offer to PC manufacturers)."
How does Natoewal see the battle for the living room developing? "What we see is that there is a struggle for PC manufacturers to control the set-top box. Content providers want the same thing, TV manufacturers want the same thing and console manufacturers want the same thing. And we can debate who's going to win, but we're focusing on TV manufacturers and content providers.
"They collect revenue and… there's a strong relationship between the appreciation of the service and revenue collection. [As for] PC manufacturers… there's little incentive for them to include a premium remote control."