By Margaret Rhodes - Perhaps this is familiar: During my years as a teenage babysitter, the most consistently annoying moment came after the kids had gone to bed, when I could sit down to a night of TV. But between the fleet of unfamiliar remote controls and set top boxes, I'd have no idea how to turn the thing on.
That problem hasn't gone away. And you could argue it's grown even more complicated as we add more devices to our homes—Apple TV, Nest thermostats, Sonos speakers—that come with their own control devices or apps (which are just digital remote controls).
Ray is among the companies trying to solve that with a universal remote. (Neeo is another.) The New York company's first product is the Ray Super Remote. It's a 5.5-inch tall touchscreen remote that looks like a smartphone and can connect users to their television, music, and connected home gadgets.
The aluminum sides have sensors that tell the screen to light up and turn on as soon as you lift it, at which point a menu of apps for TV, DVR, Xbox, Kids, and so forth appears. Within each app the available shows are stacked, grid-like, beneath categories like “fashion" or “news." Through integration with providers, Ray can house every aspect of a television guide on its small screen, so it vanishes from the bigger screen.
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That said, Ray founder David Skokna didn't set out to redesign the remote so much as to redesign our relationship with television. Rather than pick up a remote control issued by a cable company and scroll through a spreadsheet of programming, it would make more sense if remote controls mimicked how we use our smartphones and the Internet. “What the product needed, what television needed, are the basics, the stuff we got used to having from the Internet," Skokna says. That means search, sharing, and a keyboard—stuff that exists with other remotes—but it also means algorithms that pay attention to your likes and habits, so your Ray Super Remote becomes a personal device.
To explain, Skokna turns on a television with the Ray and flips channels before settling on Groundhog Day. “Now Ray knows that I love two things: that I like comedy, and I like Bill Murray," he says. Skokna watches Italian soccer every Sunday. “Which means when I pick up Ray on Sunday mornings Italian soccer will rank very high up." What about music? Besides MTV and VH1, “you can imagine that Charlie Rose has a musician on the show, we would consider that to be music-connected." While users can add and delete favorites, behind the scenes Ray's processors are scanning data provided by networks to sleuth out patterns in what you like and don't like. Ultimately, this streamlines your channels and aids discovery, because Ray can make informed suggestions.
The goal for Skokna is to make Ray the home's control panel, so it also can sync with connected home gadgets, like Nest or Hue. This streamlines activity, but Skokna points out that it also democratizes those services for the entire house. If one person installs a Nest and its app on his phone, “you're becoming king of your own castle, while your family is being completely disconnected from these devices." Ray, which can be pre-ordered now for $199, centralizes all of that. Skokna won't get into specifics, but Ray plans to expand on that more in the coming year. “Our product is designed to be a window into entertainment. We're planning for this to be much broader than its initial offer."