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Remotely Controlled

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A gimmick feature of the new MacBook that I’m really enjoying is the remote control. It lets me control the music the computer is playing while reading in bed – without having to get up. Excellent!

In its gimmicky nature I didn’t think too highly of the remote and its implementation. At least physically it feels a bit cheap. With rather hard edges (good looking but not nice to touch) and the play button feeling and sounding a bit hollow. So when looking around a bit, I was surprised that (apart from their failure to integrate it into System Preference’s presumable ‘Spotlight’ find feature) Apple seemed to have integrated it rather well into the OS, rather than just having tacked on an infrared sensor.

Well, I only investigated this after holding the play button of the remote control for a while and seeing the computer go to sleep after that. Because – huh – pointlessly pressing keys on remote controls is what I do (I once managed to lie on my VCR’s remote and pressing one of its keys in the process; unfortunately that was the way to turn on the child protection, which essentially blocked the whole machine; quite a bit of confusion, cursing and phoning my parents to look for the manual ensued when I wanted to watch a video a little later). But instead of starting to randomly press buttons on your remote, you could just read a Wikepedia entry on the topic.

It turns out that not only can you send the computer to sleep with the remote control, you can also turn off the infrared sensor completely using the system’s security preferences:

Turning off the infrared sensor

That makes a lot of sense and I suppose it’s absolutely essential if the computers are to be used in classrooms or other areas where little pranks are laughed upon. And, even, better you can set up your computer to obey the commands from a specific remote control only. Not only is this handy in situations where more than a single Apple Remote capable computer is present, it also suggests that the remote is slightly more sophisticated than it looks (well, the serial number on its back may have been a hint here…). And thus, holding the Menu and Skip Forward buttons for a while will lock the remote to your computer – or rather your computer to that remote. And you’ll see a pretty graphic on the dimmed screen when that happens.

Graphic indicating that the computer has been locked to a specific remote control

That’s pretty, but my inner topologist feels compelled to remark that the two pieces of chain depicted aren’t actually interlocked. Isn’t that somewhat bad iconography?

In addition, accessing the remote’s input from applications other than Apple’s seems to be possible. Let’s hope the relevant bits of the OS will be properly documented and a fixed feature of the OS at some stage, so the users and programmers can rely on them. While I find Front Row mostly useless, being able to use the remote for other things would be cool. Particularly VLC comes to mind as an application that could use some remote controlling.

And while VLC isn’t quite there yet (apparently the developers don’t have systems for testing this), there’s already a good demo which shows how you can read remote events – complete with a class that I assume you can use in your own applications. And, going even further – a bit too far for my taste – is Remote Buddy which lets you control pretty much everything on your computer using the remote. So play on!

Mirrored piggy and Apple remote control PhotoBooth photo

… and as you’d expect, the built-in camera can see the remote control’s IR light.

June 20, 2006, 0:38

Tagged as Mac OS X.

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