Discover more from BIG by Matt Stoller
Why Logitech Just Killed the Universal Remote Control Industry
Monopolies are lazy. Logitech bought, monopolized, and killed the universal remote control business.
Welcome to BIG, a newsletter on the politics of monopoly power. If you’d like to sign up to receive issues over email, you can do so here.
I had always wondered why no one has been able to solve the ‘too many remote controls’ problem, a clutter a living room of remotes with no ability to figure out which one controls which device. As it turns out, the answer is… a monopoly! A few months ago, I got an email from a professional installer and BIG reader who told me about the company Logitech, a consumer electronics producer. “These remotes,” he told me, “can control a massive array of A/V devices including TVs, cable boxes, disc players, streaming boxes, amplifiers, and more recently IoT devices like lights, blinds, and plugs.”
Logitech’s products are pretty, but the actual quality of the software is terrible, which is the classic sign of a marketing-driven organization run by lazy executives. Logitech is a monopolist in the universal remote control space, which it acquired in 2004 when it purchased a firm called Harmony. “Their market dominance has been ironclad because of their database: they have infrared codes for hundreds of thousands of devices, from brand-name TVs to random HDMI doodads on page fourteen of Amazon. For obvious reasons, they haven’t open-sourced this database.”
I say ‘was’ because Logitech is actually killing the entire product line now. Their CEO says it is because of competition from streaming, but that's nonsense, they’ve wanted to get rid of the product line since 2013. As my source says, “if Harmony were its own company, I highly doubt they’d decide to shut down due to abject hopelessness.” Now the database will probably be destroyed, and people will have to redesign their systems to no longer include a universal remote. There’s also a security issue. :Since much of the Harmony software is cloud-based, countless systems may become inoperable, or impossible to update as new devices (e.g. the PS5) aren’t added to the database, or else vulnerable to hacking as security issues go unpatched.”
“Essentially, Logitech was allowed to buy up a competing company, use their brand to dominate the market for over a decade, until finally they faced other monopolists (Amazon, Apple, Google) and decided to give up and shut down, leaving customers, to borrow a recently-overworked phrase, holding the bag. Pretty well every step of it has been infuriating to watch.”
Monopoly, even the small unimportant ones, make life a little worse.