Android KitKat

A much-requested Android feature for some time now has been infrared support, with the likes of Samsung, LG, and HTC all outpacing Google to enable the technology on their devices. As such, a fragmented API ecosystem has emerged, and now Google's here to set things straight - or so it would seem at first glance.

Android's new IR blaster support only supports one real action: transmitting an IR signal. It does this with a new API and system service that any app can take advantage of on IR-equipped devices running Android 4.4 or higher. So that's good. Unfortunately, it seems Google missed a rather important part of the IR equation, at least according to the developer of Smart IR Remote.

Specifically, the feature does not allow for Android to receive IR signals - only send them. This means that things like learning, recording, or 2-way IR communication still cannot be achieved using the core Android OS. Major bummer. It's unclear why Google chose only to implement a send protocol, but my guess would be, as Android developers have oft-said, that there just wasn't time to do it. Android is developed by a fairly small team, and as such, some features simply can't be pursued to the extent they'd like.

Still, at least some form of IR support is now built into Android, which is certainly better than none.

Be sure to check out more of our KitKat feature spotlights as they come down the pike this afternoon, we aren't done yet!

Android Developers

David Ruddock
David's phone is whatever is currently sitting on his desk. He is an avid writer, and enjoys playing devil's advocate in editorials, and reviewing the latest phones and gadgets. He also doesn't usually write such boring sentences.

  • Jim Greco

    Any word if the Nexus 5 has an IR Blaster?

    • http://www.androidpolice.com/ David Ruddock

      It does not.

      • Simon Belmont

        Ah. I was wondering.

        It didn't mention one in the leaked FCC documents. So, I guess we already knew.

      • Andy Stetson


    • frhow

      Sorry, but it doesnt.

  • Kevin Mirsky

    I guess we know what's coming in 4.4.1 then!

  • Momulah

    Exclusive to Nexus 5 for Now..Never mind...they forgot to add one in...It'll be in Nexus 6 4sure..

    • http://www.androidpolice.com/ David Ruddock

      The Nexus 5 doesn't have an IR blaster.

    • https://steamcommunity.com/id/m-p-3 m-p{3}

      It will also come to the google editions of Galaxy S4 and HTC One. I think one of them has an IR blaster.

      • drksilenc

        both do actually

  • mgamerz

    It's just like wifi direct in ICS: It's a half assed broken POS. It never got better in 4.1/2/3. In fact it got more broken as they all are essentially different API's that are not backwards compatible. Source: I spent weeks on a Wifi direct app, gave up because its just a broken POS. Send a invite to an ICS device to form a wifi direct pairing? Crash that phone.

    • Walkop

      SuperBeam works great on my Nexus 10 to a Nexus 4.

      • mgamerz

        Yes, they're the same version of the OS. If you try to beam from 4.2 to 4.1 it likely won't work, and if it does, it won't work again if you try it directly afterwords. On the same API level, both sides typically do well (well, except ICS)

  • KRS_Won

    Motorola should have saved the name DROID ZAP for this ⚡

  • Nik

    Ok, this may sound pretty dumb... but why is everyone caring so much about IR blaster suddenly? I remembered my old Nokia phone used to have IR and it slowly got phased out by companies since nobody cared about it. Why a sudden hullabaloo about an old technology? :S

    • Justin

      With intelligent TV programming guides and whatnot, I can browse to a show I want to watch, hit a button, and it'll tune my TV/DVR to it. It's pretty clever, and works with existing systems without the need for additional hardware/dvr software (as we all know how often THAT is updated).

      It's not that it's old useless tech, there's just new and innovative ways to use it with the additional information we have on hand.

      • Nik

        Ok, so basically the technology is the same, just application of it has changed. That makes sense. Thanks for the info Justin! :)

    • enoch861

      It can save you a couple hundred from buying a Harmony remote.

    • shonangreg

      Japanese phones, in addition to usually being waterproof, often have IR ports. "Sekigaisen", it's called. It works to communicate with older phones for address exchange, etc., and presumably as a programmable remote control, if only OS and better app support was available.

      By the way, I just found out last week that my wife's Fujitsu Arrows X has a built-in FM transmitter. I love Bluetooth audio and my two Jamboxes, but she can do almost the same thing to any old stereo - even broadcasting to several at once. I hope FM transmitters become more common on android devices. And the waterproof, SDXC capable Arrows X had good to the top the list for my next music player / GPS tracer.

      My future phones may very well be Nexus devices, but music players need much more local storage.

    • The_16th_Doctor

      to help keep us in our potato couch shape

      • ari_free

        Well, there's the new step sensor feature.

    • ari_free

      Convergence. Now you don't have to deal with finding remotes since the phone can do everything and you always have it.

    • Caleb

      I was wondering this too and then it hit me earlier today: GPE phones. The GPE One and S4 have IR blasters that up until now are not officially supported by the OS (I think they enabled the IR blaster in the One on 4.3). Google probably did not like selling phones with hardware that did not work out of the box.

  • rr93

    It's 1.54 pm in India and I am still reading these articles... God, I love google so freaking much!

    • AkhilSood

      I m sure you meant AM? Excited much are we.

  • Andrew

    Maybe it's a stupid question but; Can I use it as a remote controller, for the TV just like as the S4 ? Or is it something else?

  • infogulch

    Most cameras can pick up IR light. (Try pointing your remote at the camera with the camera app open.) So with some work, devs could theoretically make apps that learn signals from the camera.

    Or they could just keep an updated massive IR signal database that phones would fetch based on the TV model. That's already something that universal remotes don't have.

    • Justin

      It's something that universal remote apps already have, but I was using the learning function for some of the obscure buttons on my existing remote control.

    • Sergiu Dogaru

      That's what we do with Smart IR Remote, keeping a huge database of IR signals. We have the largest one of all Android apps, but still lacking in places.

      As for the camera, it's impossible to record IR signals with it for the simple reason that the camera can record at 25fps, while the IR signals are sent at over 1000 times higher rate (most common is 40.000hz).

      • infogulch

        Oh, I hadn't thought of that. Well database it is then. :-P

        Maybe it would be worth it to make an open wikipedia-style db that devices can query where devs and users can add missing entries or fix broken ones.

        • shonangreg

          Great idea! I'd scan in the devices I have at home -- if I could get an IR-learning device. My Casio G'zOne one (running gingerbread) has IrDA, but no apps support the built-in hardware.

      • shonangreg

        Sergiu, will it take google integrating infrared receive capability into android before all the Japanese android phones with infrared ports can begin to get Play Store apps written for them?

        And are the little red IrDA windows that the Japanese use to exchange addresses and the like, from up to 20-30cm, the same as an IR blaster? Can they transmit a beam strong enough to control a DVD player from 3 meters away, etc.?

    • Mike Reid

      I see no reason why learning/receiving might not be supported in future Android releases.

      • Petem

        I fiddled with an LG G2 in a store and it had a IR remote app included. The instructions of the app described a learning feature, and it seemed to be working just like in a universal remote: you put the remote to face the top of the phone etc. If G2 does not have an IR receiver, then how can that possibly work?

  • Karan O

    the only feature that i will miss in my nexus 5 will be the IR BLASTER i used it for fun and daily basis and i love it ! I WISH that there was a alternate method for having IR blaster !

  • didibus

    Why don't they develop it with a bigger team!
    Has Google ever taken open source contributions? Since the development is hidden, how does that work?

    • https://steamcommunity.com/id/m-p-3 m-p{3}

      Uh they do accept contribution, and the development if far from hidden.


      • didibus

        I thought the roadmap were a company secret. If the planned features for the next version are open, why wouldn't news site report on them?

        So, I can potentially improve a Feature or fix Bugs and submit the code back to Google, and if they approve it, it might make it into the next version?

        • Chris Caldwell

          yes, thats how open source software works.

          • didibus

            Well, it's not necessary for it to work this way. Google just needs to release their source to call it open source.

            I'm just surprised they do that, why haven't some of the custom ROMs devs added features back to aosp?

  • Ryan Stewart

    Makes sense, IR receiving is about useless anymore. I havent "learned" an IR code since the internet. Every application or device is able to have its database updated constantly to stay on top of things. Id think it would only be useful if you were using some really odd knock off device.

    As for transfer of information, well, Im guessing they would like the faster and more secure NFC/wifi for that.

    • shonangreg

      There are a lot of region-limited devices around the world that don't get catalogued -- or their send codes standardized. You can even make one with an arduino today.

      IR is going to be around in our entertainment centers for a while, and there is a dearth of android devices and apps to replace the mass of remote controls on our coffee tables. I think Sony makes an app for their tablets, but none that I can find work on my phone that has IR built in. All the current apps need the headphone-jack-to-IR blaster hardware.

      Getting IrDA controls fully built into android just makes sense.

  • Fr0p0

    Yes, IR is old tecnology but maybe it could be a simply way to control via TV-webcam a pointer (like mouse pointer) on a google tv screen.. like a mix of wiimote&PSMove, isn't it?

  • 8Charlie

    I prefer controlling your TV via WiFi though, more options, more innovation. Would require you to have a new(er) model though, that's true.

  • ECantona

    "Android is developed by a fairly small team..."

    That surprises me...

  • Drew Poling

    I just got a Razor Maxx HD and found out that it is transmitting a constant stream of IR data even after a reboot. Is this the NSA or some other 3 letter agency? Anybody else have this issue?

  • travis

    Hi all does the galaxy prevail have an ir blaster