Tobias Eichenwald and his two roommates emptied their living room of furniture months ago. The couch and chairs have since been replaced by a workbench with computers, wires, circuit boards and a 3-D printer.
Their apartment in Berlin’s Kreuzberg district is the headquarters for their startup Senic, which is developing new tools to control connected devices in smart homes of the future.
Their flagship product is a device called Nuimo, a universal remote control that can control lights, locks, music, thermostats and other functions linked to a Bluetooth-compatible device.
“In the next 10 years, there will be a big move away from mobile phones.”
The promising startup already has support from renowned U.S. incubator Y Combinator, Birchmere Ventures and online retail giant Amazon, in addition to crowd-funding sites like Kickstarter.
“Those guys have some really cool things planned,” said another supporter, Lars Hinrichs, founder of career social networking site Xing.
Mr. Hinrichs said he could imagine Senic “building the next generation of interfaces after the smartphone.”
Though smartphones have become remote controls for the way we currently work, communicate, play, shop and even monitor our health, this could soon change.
With their smartwatches, Apple and Samsung are already taking some of those functions away from phones. And voice-control systems, such as the Amazon Echo hands-free speaker, could become control centers for homes and apartments.
“In the next 10 years, there will be a big move away from mobile phones,” Senic co-founder Mr. Eichenwald said.
A mobile phone, he said, is like a Swiss Army knife – an extremely flexible universal tool. But whenever they can in everyday life, people tend to reach for specialized tools: a bread knife, screwdriver or hand saw, for example.
“In IT as well, there is a need for specialized user interfaces,” Mr. Eichenwald said.
That’s the thinking behind Nuimo, the universal controller that Mr. Eichenwald and his roommates are building in their Berlin apartment.
The 29-year-old demonstrated how it worked recently in his kitchen. Picking up the Nuimo remote control — a round aluminum device about the size of a hockey puck — he pressed a hidden button, lighting up a heart in the middle of the front side. With a swipe of his finger, it switched to light-bulb mode. With another motion, the light above him grew brighter.
Another swipe and Nuimo switched from lights to music mode, filling the apartment with bass beats. By rotating the outside dial, he reduced the volume to allow for conversation. The Nuimo responds to a multitude of commands that include swiping, turning, pressing and gestures.
Mr. Eichenwald believes that fetching a smartphone, unlocking it and working through an app just to turn on the lights or change the music isn’t progress, but a step backward.
“Of course we can control many more things,” he said.
Some of the device’s more than 5,000 crowd-funding supporters, for instance, use it in place of a mouse. With Nuimo’s sensitive rotating wheel, they can work more precisely with design or video-editing software more simply than with the wheel on a computer mouse.
Hirox, a Japanese developer of digital microscopes, is working on similar experiments: Its users switch lenses with a swipe to focus in on their slides.
The Nuimo can remote control all the same elements of a smart home that a smartphone can, from the doorbell to heating to window blinds. But unlike a smartphone, the device can be set up to work with gestures. If your hands are greasy from cooking, for instance, you can change the music with a hand motion, without ever touching the device.
Xing founder Mr. Hinrichs wants to install the Nuimo in all of the apartments at Apartimentum, his high-tech residence in Hamburg.
Maximilian Boit, product manager at the loudspeaker specialist Teufel, is also enthusiastic about Nuimo’s potential: He is integrating it into the music systems at Teufel and Raumfeld.
Online retail giant Amazon has also taken an interest in the startup after expanding its Launchpad startup support program to include a dozen select German companies. Senic will soon begin selling on the Amazon platform.
In spite of this prominent support, Senic’s founders know that new interface tools like Nuimo will never completely replace smartphones for remote control.
“It continues to be of use,” Mr. Eichenwald said, explaining that smartphones and Nuimo have a symbiotic relationship.
Nuimo users, for instance, still need smartphone apps to control functions throughout their smart homes with the new device.
This article originally appeared in WirtschaftsWoche. To contact the author: firstname.lastname@example.org