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Using an Apple Watch for Home Control

The Apple Watch has finally evolved to the point where it is an effective interface for home automation.

I purchased my first Apple Watch when they were launched back in 2015. I thought the watch would represent a breakthrough product for home control (just as the iPhone did when it was first launched) since almost everyone wears a watch and having fingertip control of your home on your wrist seemed like a winning solution for our custom installation industry. In fact, I wrote a column on this prediction for this magazine back in June of 2015.

While my premise was correct, my timing was off. The number of home control apps for this first-generation watch were very limited, hard to see, and not very reliable. Couple this with the fact that the watch had to always be tethered to a nearby iPhone, and the usage model for the watch as a home control product was very limited.

Fast forward seven years later and I just purchased the seventh-generation Apple Watch. Now I’m convinced that it’s time for custom integrators to re-consider the Apple Watch platform as an additional touchscreen for their clients to control their homes. Here’s why:

CyberManor Apple Watch
CyberManor Apple Watch – TV
Using the Control4 watch app, a user in the kitchen can click on the Move TV button to extend the TV’s motorized arm to move the TV away from the living room wall and toward the kitchen.

Number of Apple Watch Apps

When the Apple Watch launched in 2015 it had 3000 apps available for download. Today, there are more than 20,000 apps — 44 of which are built into the wearable device. Some of these apps have become daily mainstays for Apple Watch users, such as for activity tracking, health monitoring, cell phone calls, and messaging. With millions of people now wearing the Apple Watch on a daily basis, the ability to add home control functionality from Control4, Crestron, Savant, and Lutron makes this watch an ideal, wearable home control device for our clients.

Usability of the Apple Watch Home Control Apps

I’ve used my new Apple Watch for home control functions over the last 30-plus days and I’ve learned that in many scenarios it is the most practical home control option. For example, when I’m in the backyard entertaining and I don’t have my phone with me, I can use my Apple watch to turn on the Lutron backyard landscaping scene and my Sonos music system. I intuitively control the volume of our music system by rotating up or down the watch’s digital crown.

Also by Gordon van Zuiden: Engineering the Ultimate Master Bathroom Experience

With my Control4 watch app I can be in the kitchen and click on the Move TV button on my watch to extend the TV’s motorized arm to move the TV away from the living room wall and toward the kitchen [see photos]. Or I can easily open and close the Velux ceiling skylights from anywhere in the home from my watch. These are just a few of the many home control solutions that now can be invoked by the simple touch of an Apple Watch screen. Apple has also greatly enhanced the watch’s actual touchscreen real estate over the years and magnified the text, so it is much easier to see and input touch control.

Another important fact is that some people don’t carry a phone with them everywhere in the home. For those clients, controlling driveway gates, garage doors, lighting scenes, etc. from a watch becomes a much more practical and realistic solution.

Your Home Controlled Your Way

Our new home control marketing mantra is “Talk, Touch, Push, and Point.” Those words represent all our customers’ home control interactions, delivered in a form factor that works best for a given client in a given room at a given time. Sometimes the best and easiest way to interface with home technology is with voice; other times a touchscreen is the preferred method. And for many people keypads and remote control pointing devices are the best way to invoke a home control or viewing action.

Today, when we give demonstration tours of our Smart Home Experience Center, we focus on all of these methods of control. When we present the in-wall Control4 touchscreen, we hold up an iPhone and an Apple Watch next to the touchscreen so our clients can see at a glance all of the fingertip touchscreen methods of home control. Adding the Apple Watch to these tour demonstrations just enhances the message that the sophisticated home technology solutions we install in our clients’ homes can all easily be controlled by the device of their choice.

An analogy I like to use when justifying the use case for Apple Watch for home control is the one of how people best communicate with one another. In some cases, email is the best manner, in other cases text gets the job done. Obviously, a phone call is a great form of communication, and lately phone calls have been enhanced by Zoom video calls for communication. No one form of communication fits all people at all times, so having access to a variety of the communication tools — and knowing how to best use a given communication tool to most effectively communicate — becomes a very important skill. Offering our clients all of these various home control options, including the Apple Watch, ensures that the technology we have installed in their homes will be successfully used and enjoyed by every member of the family for many years. That’s a trend we should be watching!

Gordon van Zuiden is president of cyberManor, a home networking and systems integration firm based in Los Gatos, California.