Anyone who has played with a capacitive touch screen has probably dreamed about using it as a universal remote, which is why we've been quick to try out just about every iPhone/iPod Touch remote software out there. The latest one to make its way into our setup is the Bobby Universal Remote from Cremote. The app runs $20 at the App Store and leverages one of our favorite pieces of home theater gear, the Global Cache´ GC100-6 -- which unfortunately sells for over $100. So basically Bobby is the software and the GC-100 is the IR emitter, but the real question is, how well does it work?
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Bobby Universal Remote
The real advantage of a touch screen remote is the flexibility to control just about anything by displaying whatever you want on the screen. But the success is also the weakness when controlling an HDTV because you have to look at the screen instead of the TV to see what you're pressing. Now while we've seen other iPhone remote apps overcome this by using both gestures and the built in motion sensors, Bobby does not. In fact all it does is reproduce the look of a physical remote on the screen of the iPhone. We have to say that this just doesn't work and that's because without the tactile feel of a button, trying to navigate an on screen guide with the Bobby remote will make you sick and frustrated as you're forced to look up and down almost continuously. Now obviously a little of this is going to be required on any touch screen, but the Bobby software doesn't even try to leverage any gestures or motion controls.
The other big miss here is that although the Bobby obviously has internet access via your local WiFi access point (that is required), it doesn't leverage it for programming. What we mean is that all the configuring has to be done on the iPhone. What would've been a much better idea is to build a web configuration utility and give people the choice to configure it from their computer. In addition, there doesn't seem to be a way to backup or restore your configuration. All that being said though, you can download preconfigured devices automatically which makes the initial configuration very simple if all your gear is already in the database. The database is pretty slim right now, but you can check it for all your equipment in advanced before purchasing anything.
- Built in devices that can be downloaded automatically are listed on the website so you can see if all your equipment is supported out of the box.
- $20 for the software is reasonable.
- All programming has to be done on iPhone.
- No RS-232 control or sensors.
- Website support and remote account aren't the same.
- Requires network connection or access point behind the TV.
- GC-100-6 only accepts one connection at a time so it won't work with two iPhones.
- Limited basic grid button layout.
- Adding a remotely manually is tedious, but you can copy another remote and learn IR codes if you have the GC-IRL.
- The required GC-100-6 is $130, learner is $75, blaster is $45.
- Basically just displays a traditional remote on the screen, no gestures control etc.
The Global Cache´
We have to admit that we've had a GC-100-6 for years and love it. It is simply what you'd want out of a piece of gear like this. It is rock solid, easy to configure and very versatile. But we suppose a little background on the Global Cache´ is in order first. The GC-100-6 connects to a network switch (no Wifi built-in) and can do a few very useful things. It can emit IR via an emitter or blaster. It has an RS-232 port which can offer two way control over all kinds of devices. And finally, it supports various sensors for things like contact closures or video output so you can keep track of whether or not a piece of equipment is turned on or off. There is even the optional IR learner (GC-IRL $80) that can plug into the an RS-232 port (on your PC or on the GC-100) and learn codes from your existing remotes.
The problem with the GC-100-6, as it relates to Bobby, is that it can only accept a connection from a single device at a time. So if you had two iPhones, only one could connect. Of course you could argue that this is a good thing, and who knows you might be right. The other big miss that we're told will be addressed eventually is that Bobby doesn't support RS-232 control or the sensor functions of the GC-100-6. But the real problem with the GC-100-6 is the price. Although the price has come down it still costs $130, which includes three emitters, but the blaster and the learner go for $45 and $75. So in other words, the hardware alone could cost you $250 and you still haven't bought the $20 software.
You probably didn't have to read this far down to discover that we won't be replacing our current home theater control for the Bobby Universal remote. While most will be put off by the high cost of the hardware, more advanced users will skip it because of the lack of flexibility. Personally we'll be skipping it because we hate touch screen remotes that require us to look up and down while navigating menus. But whatever the reason, we still stand by with the belief that the iPhone can make a great remote. Who knows, maybe Bobby 2.0 will be that great remote, but for now, the search for the best remote continues.