Thursday, September 21, 2023

Logitech Harmony is dead. Here’s how the smart remote got lost

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“If we think of a company that has tried to make a dent in this area, what comes to mind is Harmony,” says Paul Erickson, senior analyst at Parks Associates. “It wasn’t just that they let you condense multiple remotes into one; there had been universal remotes for quite a long time. But a lot of them only had 80% of the controls you needed for that Blu-ray player, A / V receiver, or soundbar. “

Harmony could do anything. Sometimes his software was clunky or convoluted, but it was ultimately more convenient than juggling several bars of hard molded plastic just to watch a dang episode of IS.

Yet even in the early ’10s, there were signs that Logitech was not fully invested in the product line, Werthauer says. A former computer software developer for the New York City Department of Education, he started his business in 2010 after finding out that Logitech didn’t offer repairs. “People’s remotes were breaking left and right and they were complaining about the same,” he says. “Logitech sometimes offered a 30% discount if you bought a new one, but it didn’t interest them. They just wanted to have their good ol ‘side arm.

The first controller Werthauer set was his. But it would end up bringing in four or five units every day, from all over the world: remotes with cracked LCD screens, broken USB ports, non-functioning IR emitters, broken touch dome buttons, all requiring care. “I was very convinced of the right to repair and I thought Logitech had really dropped the ball on it,” he says. “I started selling parts and writing support guides and whatever else I could do to help DIY enthusiasts have resources that were specific and detailed enough that they might even be able to fix them on their own.”

Yet Harmony thrived, slashing two digits Logitech’s sales growth in 2010. It wasn’t prepared for the kind of advancement the next decade would bring, however.

How standards work

Get rid of the obvious part first: The number of devices in the living room has gone down, especially as streaming has bypassed DVD and Blu-ray players for many. It’s a remote down. But a behind-the-scenes development had an even more substantial impact: the rise of HDMI-CEC and HDMI-ARC.

Yes, the standards! Sorry. But before your eyes completely freeze, know that this part will be quick. The very short version is that HDMI-CEC and HDMI-ARC allow your different devices to communicate with each other for control and audio purposes, respectively. This means that a single remote can do a lot more. “The state of HDMI, which was gradually entering all of our audio and video devices, in itself eliminated many instances of friction or frustration that would lead people to find a solution to the clutter remotely,” says Erickson. “These situations did not arise.”

Consider using a high-end Roku remote, for example, to turn your TV on and off, or to control its volume. The same kind of streamlined experience that Harmony has spent so many years providing now has just been incorporated. That same Roku remote can’t give you all the bells and whistles a Harmony Hub can, but most people don’t need it. And while Logitech has tried to diversify its Harmony line by adding controls for smart home devices like smart bulbs and speakers, it’s still decidedly a domain of voices, not buttons. (Harmony attempted to create Alexa directly in a remote; it went wrong.)

“Harmony has a great device that just isn’t right for the times,” Erickson says.


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