RAY: the smartest remote on Earth

Boing Boing is proudly sponsored by Ray, the super remote!

Walk into almost any room with a television set, and you're bound to come across an unseemly pile of remote controls. The more game consoles and streaming media players we collect, the more plastic remotes we accumulate, and after 50 years of TV remote technology, controlling what you want to watch on your television set is more confusing than ever. Not even the traditional universal remotes have helped much. Why? Because most universal remotes are designed to function the same way as the remotes they're trying to replace!

The only way to fix the remote control madness is to erase our notion of what a remote control is and how we interact with them. Start from scratch and reinvent one. Be less about how we control things and more about how we enjoy them. And that's exactly what Ray Super Remote has done. Unlike any other remote control, the Ray recommends what you want to watch based on what you like to watch. It learns and improves the more you use it, tapping into various video sources like content from your cable provider, movies on Roku and other streaming services, making the TV experience less about searching through guides and more about sitting back and watching old favorites or new discoveries.

Founded by CEO David Skokna and created by a team of engineers and designers who come from innovative companies like Apple, MakerBot, Amazon, and Nokia, Ray could easily be mistaken for a smart phone. It's a beautiful device, with sleek Gorilla Glass on the front and back, and the same machined aluminum siding you'd find on an iPhone. And most remarkable of all, this is a remote control with no buttons on its face! Instead, you control your TV and game consoles with a touchscreen.


"The whole process of hitting buttons and navigating all these different remotes is completely obsolete behavior," says Mark Kizelshteyn, Head of User Experience at Ray, who came on board just after the company was founded in Brooklyn, NY almost three years ago. "It's not about hitting buttons."

The only buttons you'll find on Ray are three on its curved aluminum sidebar: one to turn the device on and off, one for volume control, and one for mute.

Kizelshteyn, who has also designed products for HBO GO and TED, says the driving factor in creating Ray was to make sure TV viewers find what they want to watch as quickly as possible. "The process of controlling the television needs to be invisible."

And so it is, in the same way navigating anything on your smart phone is. You don't think about the process, it's intuitive. Just like a smart phone, you simply tap, type or swipe. It opens to a welcoming "Hello" screen with apps that personally apply to you. These could include TV, Apple TV, DVR, Cable, Kids, Sports, Xbox or a bunch of others to choose from.

So for example, hit the TV app, and from there you can choose from your favorite shows, look at a TV guide, search for something new, record a show, and so much more. The device is constantly learning, so it becomes more custom tailored to your tastes as you use it.

As far as getting started, setup time is faster than any other remote control out there, according to Rich Besen, Head of Hardware Design at Ray. "Our setup process is on average less than half the time of our nearest competitor, and this is due to the fact that we have this beautiful touchscreen, which makes it easy." So easy, in fact, that Ray doesn't come with a manual or instructions booklet. "We're so excited to see people setting this up. It's even easy for people who aren't tech-savvy. You turn Ray on and it walks you through the setup process."

It is a bit unbelievable that, with smart phones and smart technology already entrenched in the mainstream, it's taken so long for the smart remote revolution to enter the new millennium. But according to Kizelshteyn, "People who have tried to go after this realize it's a lot more difficult than they expect. There's an enormous hardware, software and business development challenge, since it's nothing like a traditional remote."

Ray's small team of industry insiders took on a Steve Jobs type of attitude and approach in the way that they strived for perfection. "We didn't have a precious mentality about anything," says Kizelshteyn, "We all worked extremely hard, but it wasn't always right. We needed to be able to say, 'You know, this doesn't work. We need to throw this out and start over.' And we did that time and time again. Sometimes it knocks you down and it hurts, but you have to get up and say, 'It's okay, let's try it again.'" Kizelshteyn says everyone had this same mentality, and it was a really powerful force in the company.


Besen, who used to be a member of the Product Design team at Apple, says that, similar to the process at Apple, the Ray team controlled every aspect of the product's high quality. "The materials were carefully selected from the most premium aluminum, and we made sure to own the design from beginning to end. There was no confusion at Ray about making this the best product possible."

Ray controls devices over IR and will be rolling out Wi-Fi and Bluetooth control in future software updates.

Finally, one of the great things about Ray is that its operating system is constantly updating to accommodate changes in streaming devices, so it never becomes obsolete. "As new technology evolves in the TV world, our hardware is there to support it. It's futureproof," says Besen. "We really wanted to bring the remote forward and make something that wasn't just a remote, but that was a premium product and a welcome addition to the living room." In other words, they reimagined the remote.

Learn more about the Ray Super Remote!