Changing the channel on your cable box? There's an app for that.
And here's yet another use for your iPad (or, apparently, any other tablet, netbook or smartphone): use it as a remote control for your TV! Well, assuming you're a
Comcast Xfinity customer, anyway. At The Cable Show yesterday, Comcast CEO Brian Roberts showed off an early version of The Xfinity Remote, an interactive programming guide which will run "on many IP-enabled devices" (according to the Comcast blog).
Once you pair your device (for the demo, an iPad was used) with your cable box, you can pull up the Xfinity Remote and browse through an on-device guide, or pop up the virtual keyboard to do a text search for whatever topic you're interested in. (Comcast is going to really push this as a way to find content to watch in the On Demand channels.) Once you find something worth watching, tap a button and your cable box will switch to that show. Alternatively you can choose to record the show.
Additionally there're some social aspects to the program. You can invite friends to watch any show you're currently watching. If your friend accepts your invitation, his cable box will tune into the same show you're watching. It isn't really clear why you'd want to do this, but it's neat from a tech point of view, I guess. This is probably also intended for On Demand content, since finding that can be harder than just switching to channel 805.
What also isn't clear at this point is what's involved in pairing your device with your cable box. Will this require new hardware (mind you I'd love to replace my dinosaur of a cable box/DVR with something newer) or is it all happening upstream? Can you pair more than one device? Can you just access Xfinity Remote from a web browser? Can I use my iPad from the office to switch channels on my girlfriend when I'm working late and I know she's home watching Buffy re-runs? If I can invite a distant friend, it's logical to assume I can also control my cable box from anywhere, right? So can she 'lock out' remote control so I can't mess with her?
The biggest question of course: when can we get this? Sadly, Comcast doesn't have a release date for us, but they say "We’ve got developers working now to finish and launch this application." That much seems fairly evident from the fact they've got something to demo. The most surprising aspect of this news is that Comcast might be able to create an IP-based remote when their old-tech infra-red remotes barely work. I'd upgrade to Xfinity Remote just so I could chuck the piece of junk Comcast provides now into the bin. I guess I'll just have to be patient.