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The Smartphone Is the New Universal Remote Control

Learn how to control your car, TV and more

En español | Article Highlights:

  • The smartphone is quickly replacing the traditional remote control.
  • Most remote apps are available for free.
  • Products the apps control can be costly.


As a kid in the mid-1950s, I remember a great transformation in the living room.

The DuMont TV set with its small screen and big cabinet was being moved into the spare bedroom. In its place was a new Zenith with a breakthrough technology called "Space Command." It was the first widespread introduction of the remote control. It had four buttons that hit four ultrasonic tuning forks to change volume and channels.

Every time you pushed the button, the hammer came down making the noise that gave remotes their nickname, "the clicker."

iphone and Android apps

The Clicker Got Slicker

The smartphone has become today's "clicker" and, oh, what it can do:

  • Click. Change the channel.
  • Click. Open your car doors.
  • Click. Check your blood pressure.
  • Click. Change the temperature in your house.
  • Click. Check the temperature of your roast.
  • Click. Check your home security cameras.
  • Click. Fly a radio-controlled helicopter.


And that's just the beginning of the list. Here's a snapshot of some of the things you can control with your smartphone. Some of these are available just for the iPhone; others run on Android and Blackberry. In most cases the app is free. The accessory or device isn't.

The TV Remote

For between $40 and $60, you can find a host of devices that plug into either the 30 pin plug on an iPhone/iPad or in some cases the headphone jack. Basically, the add-on gadget referred to as a "dongle" can be taught your remote's commands. Many can duplicate most of the functions on your complex TV and cable remotes. You know, the ones with the almost unreadable buttons. The L5 remote for iPhone can be customized so you can have only a few big buttons visible that you really need.

Comcast cable has a free iPhone and Android app for its Xfinity subscribers that will even allow you to program your digital video recorder (DVR) from wherever you are. Great idea. But if you read the small print, it turns out the app only runs on a small subset of its cable boxes.

Coming and Going

There are a few apps that will allow you to hook your home garage door opener to your smartphone through the Internet and your home router. But you need to be able to delve into the wiring of the garage door opener, not recommended for the novice. Using your smartphone to unlock the car doors when you've locked the other remote control inside is a little simpler. But only if you have a car that's set up for it, either with something like myGMC from General Motors or a variety of third-party auto security systems.

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