By Lisa Johnston
New products on display at the American International Toy Fair, held in N
NEW YORK — Logitech launched two new universal remote controls last week, despite the fact that the company is actively trying to sell off that division.
In a sneak peek for the press earlier this month, Ian Crowe, senior manager of the Harmony remote portfolio, demonstrated the newest additions to the line: the Harmoney Ultimate and the Harmony Smart Control.
The company announced in January that it was divesting its remote control and video security categories, and would be placing a strong focus on tablet accessories. Crowe declined to comment on the sale process, other than to say, “The division is up for sale, but during that time, and presumably even after it is completed, in terms of contributing to the Harmony lineup, it is business as usual for the team.”
The Harmony Ultimate, which ships this month for a $349 suggested retail, can control up to 15 devices. As with the Harmony 900, the Ultimate features a main base station (known as the Harmony Hub) that the remote connects to via RF. Mini blasters placed inside a TV cabinet in turn convert RF to IR, so they are able “flood” a closed cabinet with IR, Crowe explained.
Noting that “these days people obviously have more than just IR devices,” Crowe said that unlike previous Harmony remotes that required a separate Bluetooth accessory, the Harmony Hub features Bluetooth to connect with gaming consoles for one-remote access.
Consumers with a Wii or Wii U will be able to control the console’s cursor using the Ultimate’s 2.4-inch color touchscreen, which also provides haptic feedback and has an improved user interface over previous Harmony remotes.
Since the Hub also features built-in Wi- Fi, the Ultimate can be used to control Philips Hue lighting around a house. The Hue bulbs connect via RF to the Wi-Fi bridge.
When asked if the Ultimate will be able to control other Wi-Fi-enabled devices, Crowe said, “That’s the plan. Nothing yet. We’re integrated with Philips first, and we’re working a couple others that use a similar system where our Wi-Fi bridge can connect to theirs.”
The Wi-Fi-enabled Hub also enables consumers to receive automatic updates about account settings, preventing them from needing to “go back to your computer and plug something in to do a firmware update,” Crowe noted.
Any changes made to the account or remote can be automatically synced back to the remote and vice versa, and an Apple and Android smartphone app allows a smartphone to be used as the controller.
The Ultimate charges via a docking station, and a full charge, which takes about two hours, provides a few days of active use, Crowe said. Standby battery life is about a week.
The second remote launched by Logitech, known as the Harmony Smart Control, will ship in May for $129. Although it has many of the same feature as the Ultimate, including the Hub base station and smartphone app, it is really geared toward users who want to use their smartphones for controlling their TV but still desire a physical remote from time to time, Crowe said.
The Smart Control lacks a touchscreen, uses a coin-cell battery rather than a charging dock, and can control up to eight devices rather than 12. For consumers who want to use gesture control and set favorites and customization, they will need to use their smartphone for these activities rather than the actual remote.
The Smart Control will also not be able to control Philips Hue light bulbs.
Both the Ultimate and the Smart Control are reportedly compatible with more than 5,000 brands and more than 225,000 devices.
Logitech is discontinuing the 900 and 1100 remotes, but the Harmony Touch and 650 will still remain. The Hub will also be sold as a stand-alone accessory later this year, although pricing wasn’t set at price time.
In other Logitech news, the company announced last week that its chief financial officer, Erik K. Bardman, was stepping down April 26 to join Roku as its CFO.
Bardman had been with the company since 2009. A statement by Logitech said it was conducting a search of internal and external candidates for a replacement.
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