The Right Angle

AMX's Modero touchpanel line, which won CEDIA' best user interface award, is an exemplar effort to put a much needed solution in the hands of custom systems installers.
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If you feel overwhelmed by the super-saturation of new custom gear in Autumn, you're not alone.

In response to CEDIA EXPO's product explosion is a growing rebel yell, and it's shouting, "So what?" New widgets and robots are occasionally newsworthy, but they don't solve real problems for dealers. Getting snazzy "next-gen" equipment in your showroom is fun, but what about those rare products that truly meet a need, rather than create one?

AMX's Modero touchpanel line, which won CEDIA's best user interface award, is an exemplar effort to put a much needed solution in the hands of custom systems installers.

According to Robert Noble, AMX's director of product management, "We listened to what our dealers, executives and worldwide partners really needed" in residential control.

Nobel joined AMX two years ago, during the period when the organization was rebirthing itself. With a very successful 10-inch touchpanel line and distinct form factor well known in the industry, AMX could have ridden that legacy for a while. It was in that window of corporate restructuring, however, that the management team identified a gap in the product portfolio, and decided to focus efforts on the next generation of AMX's user interfaces.

While the company deliberated on how to evolve its G4 graphics engine and raise the bar on user interfaces, the development team engaged outside industrial design resources and conducted dealer and executive surveys. The team then spent serious time with colleagues and corkboards brainstorming about the Modero's anatomy.

Re-conceptualizing the notion of "interface" was an essential component of the design process; AMX tried to redefine what their main goals should be, and carefully analyzed feedback and requests from their internal and external network.

From there, the development team cherry-picked the strongest elements, naturally complementary ingredients, and ancillary features to help the Modero coalesce smoothly.

With a complete feature wish list now out on the table, AMX agreed that the new touchpanel must be equal parts Cary Grant and Harry Houdini--a classic, elegant and sleek product with supreme functionality.

"Our goal with the Modero was to not only hit a home run, but to knock the cover off the ball," Nobel said.

The engineering phase was meticulous; AMX maintained an open approach to the Modero creation, preparing copious spec sheets and considering all perspectives for styling, color-schemes and tilting mechanisms. Interaction with the touchpanel was closely considered from every angle; engineers wanted to experience the touchpanel interface from the client's perspective, rather than that of a programmer or technician. This close attention to detail yielded unique interface designs largely ignored hitherto. The results--such as motion-sensors in the front panel, optimized viewing angles, and new multimedia access--illustrate the Modero's emphasis on intuition and flexibility.

Other noteworthy features include the SmoothTilt mechanism for one-hand adjustment of the panel in tabletop mode, a KickStand for convenience (on the Modero ViewPoint) and enhanced Internet functionality.

Regarding Modero's programming, AMX wanted to give custom designers new aids. "AMX makes great Internet-based programming applications," said Mike Stram, owner of Home Theater Gallery in Tampa, Florida. "For instance, the Weather Modules are customized for each of our client's geographical interests, allowing them instant access to updated weather information at the touch of a button," Stram noted.

The first-generation Modero also offers light sensors and motion sensors, added to the product to create intelligence. In a period of inactivity, the panel automatically "sleeps," and when someone walks close by, it instantly awakens. This specific interface engineering is radical, according to Noble, because it overturns the paradigm that clients must touch the panel twice to wake it up, a Pavlovian condition for anyone reared in computer-culture. Clients no longer have to waste time instructing the panel what to do and when to do it.

Touching a screen just once versus twice may seem trivial, but when experienced day in and day out, in tandem with dozens of convenience features, the result is a stunning feat of intuition and ease-of-use.

"We want to give the appearance to the end-user that this thing is smart," Noble said. Smart, indeed, and discreet. "The light sensor, for example, is very innovative," he continued. "In the intelligence set-up, you can establish a high-water mark and a low-water mark for ambient light. The panel won't change unless it passes the water mark. There has to be a threshold change to alter brightness." What that means for clients, is that the panel can dynamically synch and blend into an environment when not in use, as if it weren't even there.

The interface, as a gate to the Internet, is another victory for the Modero. "Since the new Modero touchpanels operate off the AMX Netlinx controllers, which have a high-speed network port built into them, they bring the Internet directly to each Modero touchpanel throughout the home," Stram said.

"Imagine having an 'always on' Internet connection with complete PC-operation as well as all of your local in-house control options conveniently located around the house," he continued. "[There is] no need to boot up your laptop anymore."

Recently, AMX launched Web control for Modero functions, a seven-inch widescreen model and water-resistant face-plates for its four-inch panel. In addition, AMX's 90-day product shipping guarantee is still in effect and more popular than ever.

According to leading integrators like Stram, evolutionary policies like their shipping guarantee, which prevents empty promises, and the progressive thinking of the Modero, make AMX a trusted dealer ally and harbinger of efficiency in the custom industry.

Margot Douaihy is managing editor of Residential Systems magazine in New York City.

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