For years, cellphones sported infrared emitters and receivers, and with the dawn of smartphones they were replaced with IR “blasters” that could operate anything with an IR remote control receiver. Then suddenly this feature almost completely disappeared. It’s tragic, and here’s why.
The Mystery of Why IR Blasters Left Us
Unlike headphone jacks, which have several arguments as to why they needed to go, it’s not entirely clear to me why IR blasters in smartphones had to make an exit. It seemed that in one generation of phones, they were there, and suddenly, everyone sort of tacitly agreed that the fun was over.
The last Samsung Galaxy phone to have an IR blaster was the Galaxy 6, after which they were no more in this massively popular mainstream phone series. I wasn’t able to find any explicit reasons or announcements on why this feature went away, but I suspect it comes down to a few things:
- Bluetooth and Wi-Fi are better for transmitting data.
- Most users probably didn’t take advantage of the feature.
- The hardware took up internal space that could be used for something else.
These points seem reasonable, but on the other hand, this technology couldn’t have added that much cost to each phone. And for users who did use the IR blaster function, it could be extremely useful.
While you won’t find an IR blaster on a mainstream Samsung or Apple phone, they are still available in some modern phone brands. Especially those made for the Chinese market. For example, the Redmi Note 12 is a 2022 phone with all the bells and whistles including an IR blaster and a 3.5mm headphone jack.
Redmi Note 12
The Redmi Note 12 brings most of the high-end features you’d get from flagship smartphones, with mid-range performance, and budget pricing.
IR Blasters Would Still Be Useful Today
The lack of IR blasters in mainstream smartphones, even flagships, wouldn’t sting nearly as much if it wasn’t for the fact that appliances that still use IR remote controls are everywhere. Not only do appliances hang around for much longer compared to personal devices like smartphones, but even devices like TVs or home theater systems launching as you read this still have IR receivers.
It’s not just about using your phone as an emergency remote for your own home appliances. If you’ve ever stayed in a hotel with a missing air conditioner or TV remote, you’ll know how handy an instantly-programmable universal remote can be.
IR Blaster Mischief Was the Best
So the practical benefits of still having IR blasters is clear, but I have to confess something. One of the real reasons I miss this feature on my current phones has to do with the minor mischief you could get up to.
I’ve used IR blasters to change the channels and volume on display TVs, adjust the temperature of the boardroom thermostat, and change the channels in a restaurant to something more interesting. Having an IR blaster sort of made you feel like a hacker, without having to use something like a Flipper Zero. Now you’ll have to be content with such mischief using Bluetooth, NFC, or wireless casting. What also never gets old is a funny name for your Wi-Fi network.