It was the time of the year and the obligatory visit to the largest trade show for consumer electronics was on schedule. Since many years I pay a visit to this temple of electronic gadgets, and along with me many colleagues and former colleagues in design. And every year the leaders in the industry, and those who want to push the big ones from their throne, meet up to showcase the world what they are capable of, and in how far they are better than the competition.

Across all those years there is one product that takes the centre stage at the show: the television!

For us designers, there is always something we can improve, even on televisions: though they have become essentially flat. In the past, when they were still bulky and heavy, the main job of the designer was to make the product look competent, technical jet dynamic, but anything like a blob of plastic. Up to you to decide if we achieved anything good.

But with the arrival of the flat panel, this effort was reduced to the mere nothing: flat, slim, light, invisible is what characterizes the new design-lines that are put on show. Panels, with which the consumer is lesser and lesser just watching television, but is being entertained, cab browse through the internet and is being provided with “apps”! The product itself is dematerializing more and more and focusses on the screen only…

And then I discovered it (or her, or him?), by chance and totally unexpected, because it was carefully tucked away, or it was just left out everywhere – the remote control!

The remote has become a rare guest on the booth: it seems that no manufacturer really cares to give the part of television, on which truly everything is focussed, a prominent place. Specifically now, where flat and slim televisions hardly can provide the space to place a decent button, the remote is more important than ever! And now, where we are not zapping up and down the channels any longer, but are connected to the worldwide web, we need the remote more than ever. But why were there no remotes on display?

Maybe there is a simple reason because show visitors with plastic bags tend to have sticky fingers and nick them, or they start to fiddle around with the fine-tuning of the sets, and therefor the exhibitors leave them out? Or maybe brands are ashamed of the fact that with all the minimization effort, which was put in the set, they ran out of money when it came to minimizing the effort of the interaction between user and set? Or might it even be that they used the budget left to purchase one cheap remote ‘oversees’, in order to toss it into the box just in time before the television was packed up for shipment? “Honi soit qui mal y pense”.

Fact is that good looking, easy to use and qualitatively well build remotes were hard to find, and that mostly, upon request, they turned out as grey, dull, button covered plastic blobs. Few exceptions.

What made me positive, was the obvious insight some manufactures displayed by offering the matching app to their flat tv’s,, for free download. Also I rather display my iProduct on the couch table, then a blob of grey plastic! But, isn’t then the television mutating into an accessory for smartphones, which belong to the generation digital? What will happen to all those professional televiewers without an iProduct, like my aunty Gerda?

So, therefore, thy Television-makers: If there is hardly any material used on the sets you make, please free up the budget and put it in decent remotes – not only my aunty will be grateful!

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