Technical Question on Hard Button Remotes

What are the technical limitations that prevent bluetooth media remotes being used to control the corresponding controls in Roomie?

Obviously there are tons of options. […]

I continue to look for a good hard button remote solution. Any news on exposing play / pause current activity through the API?

Hardbutton remotes are just not my thing. I do try to appreciate users that want it though by adding features related to it from time to time to help gauge continuing interest.

For instance in V6, we added support for PS4 and Xbox controllers as remotes. They are Bluetooth and pair directly with iOS, quite reliable. If I felt more pull from the users around these features, I would invest the time to add activity selection to the left stick of those controllers which would really complete the picture there (I believe I discussed this in another thread, possibly in the beta forums).

But really, I can count the number of users who have submitted support queries on hard button remote topics in the past ~3 years on one hand. Perhaps I pay too much attention to it because it occasionally gets posted (like this) on the forum and also people (who likely do not use the product much) tend to bring it up when I meet them in person at expos probably because they used Harmony for so many years that they just haven’t upgraded their mental patterns yet.

So, if you care about this feature, comment on it, more importantly get other people to comment on it, to request it, and to request specific technical features related to it. From my perspective, it’s never been better, we just added 2 awesome controllers, and we also support a number of integrator-friendly solutions like LaunchPort, etc. Adding some no-brand Bluetooth remote has no apparent value whatsoever to the user base. Need a compelling case to spend time here.

Personally, I would never use any of these things because if I really perceived an ergonomic issue with control in some specific aspect, I would solve it on-screen – we’ve taken into account and designed for many issues in this area in the past. Making people use a hard button remote seems backwards.

But again, make a specific and compelling case to me, including why the many options we already provide do not meet that need. We’ve spent time here in the past, I’m certainly open to further improvements.

For my immediate purposes, I have a very specific technical feature request:

  • Expose basic controls for any activity via the API. My idea of basic controls are: shuttle controls and volume controls. Play, pause, vol up, vol down, mute would be a great start. Skip, back, FF, RW would be okay too, but not as useful. Then I can find a way to interact with it using a device of my choice. Since play / pause are already exposed to the Alexa integration I have a hunch this wouldn’t be much investment to make available to everybody by the API. This would solve my basic pain points.

Here are some of my use cases where I have a, in my view, a need for hard button remotes:

  1. This just happened the other night. In the theater watching a movie. I have a dedicated iPad for Roomie in the theater. I prefer a totally dark room, so I tend to turn off the iPad when watching certain movies. The volume is on 80dB reference level. My wife says she has to go to the bathroom. I tell Alexa to tell Simple Control to pause. She doesn’t hear me. I try again. She doesn’t hear me. So I use my thumbprint to unlock the iPad. Doesn’t recognize it right away. Try again. Finally in and hit pause. During all this the movie is going on and I lose 30 seconds of dialog, which now I have to go back. It’s on AppleTV so rewind is a bit of a guessing game. I can think of lots of ways I could make this situation better. I could have less fat fingers. I could listen at lower volumes. I could just have the iPad on all the time. In my mind easier solution is pick up a tactile device that my brain and muscles have memorized and hit pause in 1-2 seconds.

  2. I don’t always have my phone physically on my body. I am working in my basement woodworking shop. Music is on. I want to skip a song. I usually yell at Alexa to do this, but again, it’s a shop to she might not hear me because of the size of the space, tools making tool sounds, or because of the music playing. So I have to walk to my desk to pick up my phone to skip. I have other situations like this as well. Some I do have solved with a physical remote like the one I linked. When I am on the first floor I have an iPad mounted in the wall that I use to play Amazon Music. I have that remote paired to the iPad. Anywhere on the first floor I can control music.

  3. When I have guests over who stay in my guest room I can’t expect them to install Roomie. I have a complex set up. Basically you can play any source device in the house on any display in the house. So my options are to dedicate an iOS device with Roomie on it and give them a tutorial, or just limit what they can watch to DirecTV and give them a DirecTV remote.

As for the other options you provide.

For me, I suppose the Xbox controller would work in certain situations like the theater. But this has low WAF and my dad would look at me like I had a screw loose if I said to use it to control the TV. And I am unlikely to have an Xbox controller with me at the table saw.

I did look into LauncPort. I think that would be a decent solution for the theater. Actually, more than that. I thought it was elegant. Unfortunately, they push you to integration partners for the 10 button device. I have a good relationship with Abt Electronics - a LauncPort partner - and I talked to them about it. It was pricey, and they hadn’t sold a lot. They even thought it was discontinued until I showed them it wasn’t. I could find another partner I suppose that had more experience, but the whole point of Roomie is no hassles have to deal with vendor lock-in, integration people, etc. BTW - I just looked at their site and they now sell the 10 button directly. That’s nice. I still argue that $650 for hard buttons is a bit pricey.

Lutron. I have a bunch of Lutron in the house, but not their lighting automation stuff. I went with ISY and Insteon. This was mainly because of the open nature of the ISY. Of the options Roomie supports I suspect this would be the one that I could most easily make work. Buy the remote(s), buy the minimum supported hub.

I really was just curious if there was a technical reason why BT media remotes aren’t supported by Roomie. Most media apps on iOS seem compatible as I think they are just seeing the remotes as keyboards. I read somewhere that they work with any “native media app.” I wasn’t sure if that phrase had specific technical meaning and maybe Roomie wasn’t a “native media app.”

The nice thing about BT remotes is they are ubiquitous, relatively low cost, completely stand-alone, and - if you don’t totally cheap out - are reliable.

I think if you see the benefit of supporting the game controllers that it shouldn’t be much of a stretch to see similar benefits of a controller that is specifically dedicated to controlling media. I agree that the game controllers are very high quality, so the integration experience is probably top notch. That said, there are some good “no name” BT media remotes out there. Nothing magical about BT. Either someone does a good implementation or they don’t. You can rely on Amazon reviews to help flush out who does it well and who doesn’t.

In the end, my requests are:

  1. expose play, pause, vol up, vol down, and mute for an activity by the API. I think this probably also requires you to expose some ability to select a room via the API in case >1 activities are active.

  2. explore integrating hard button BT media remotes like the one I linked. That one is pretty decent quality and works well across a 1700 sq ft floor. But if you can find a better one then that’s great too. But my guess is since BT is a standard that once you support one they will all work to one degree or another.

I’ve got the same hard button needs as @bjs. Volume and Play/Pause being the front runners. I could never bring myself to use a game controller for this. I’ve created my own solution using ISY/Polyglot and a Harmony remote. I use ISY/Polyglot to sync my Harmony and Roomie activities. I can start or stop activities from either devices, and I have all the hard buttons I need on the Harmony. I would love to see the harmony devices added to Roomie so I could eliminate my kludgy ISY code. What I have works, and it’s fast and stable, so I’m content for now, but it could always be better.

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