The iPhone has always been a great platform for developers to innovate and invent new uses for the device. Recently L5 Technology did just that with their L5 Remote hardware dongle + iPhone app [iTunes App Store link]. The L5 Remote is an universal remote control. It comes in two parts: a hardware IR dongle attached to the iPhone (3G/3GS)/iPod Touch Dock Connector, and an iPhone app. The hardware dongle cost USD49.95 + shipping and the L5 Remote iPhone app is free from the iPhone App Store.
When you first starts the app you are presented with a blank slate and a row of controls at the bottom of the screen. You can either drag preset controls to the workspace or drag one control at a time to the workspace to design your remote.
One of the controls is the macro control, it can be programed to invoke a series of existing controls to produce a sequence of events upon pressing just one key. For example, turning on the TV, AV receiver and cable box with just a click of one button on the L5 Remote app.
Each set of controls can be grouped into individual panels. These panels can be labeled whatever the user wants. The user can add an unlimited number of controls to each remote workspaces. The remote workspaces can also be labeled by the user.
Most of the controls can be label and these labels are resized to fit the controls by automatically reducing the font size of the label; with a minimum font size of approximately 8 point. The height and width of these controls can also be adjusted as necessary.
After the remote is designed, the user can click on the Assign button in the toolbar to switch the app into learning mode. Of course this learning mode is only functional when the hardware IR dongle is connected. When the hardware dongle is connected the app will automatically rotates 180 degrees; making the bottom of the iPhone/iPod Touch the top so the hardware dongle is oriented upwards.
The controls are assigned by pointing the original device remote to the front of hardware dongle, select the control on the L5 Remote to assign, then pressing the button on the original device remote to copy from. Releasing and repressing the button at appropriate times by following the on screen instructions on the L5 Remote app.
The assignment (learning) process is fairly fast and accurate. The speed in which a control is assigned depends on the original device remote. It works best for remotes which emit IR signal continuously when a button is pressed, rather than those which only emit a signal burst each time a button is pressed no matter how long the button is held.
List of remotes can be chosen either by using the swipe left-right gesture on the screen or by clicking on the Remotes button in the middle of the toolbar at the bottom of the screen.
Using the remote is self explanatory, especially if you have reproduced the labels for each controls from the original device remote. Each time a control on the L5 Remote is clicked a sound will emit and the Remotes button in the toolbar will light up for a fraction of a second. Both of these serve as a UI feedback for correctly pressing on a control.
After using it for a week I found the IR signal from the hardware dongle to be quite directional, and it comes out at a very narrow angle from the end of the dongle. Therefore to use the L5 Remote effectively, one must aim the hardware dongle directly at the device's IR receiver for the signal to be received. This makes the use a bit cumbersome especially when.
The company tells me that in an upcoming release designed remotes can be backed up and/or transferred to other iPhone or iPod Touch. This features is very important especially a number of original device remotes was reproduced on the L5 Remote. I hope in the future L5 Technology will publish predefined remotes with learnt controls like Logitech does for its Harmony Remotes.
If you are in the market for an universal remote, I think the USD49.95 that L5 Technology is asking for is quite worth the money.