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The App Isn’t Everything

The impact of the Apple iPad on the custom home control market has been well documented–almost all of our clients want a Crestron, AMX, Control4, Savant, or URC app on their iPad or other iOS device to control their home.

Why the iPad May Not Continue to Dominate Home Control

Gordon van Zuiden ([email protected]) is president of cyberManor in Los Gatos, California.

The impact of the Apple iPad on the custom home control market has been well documented–almost all of our clients want a Crestron, AMX, Control4, Savant, or URC app on their iPad or other iOS device to control their home. But to date, Apple iOS-based control is mostly used in tandem with a traditional touchscreen, keypad, and candy bar remote control offerings from the aforementioned vendors. The reasons for staying with this hybrid control solution (for now) include the following:

For now, there are various reasons to stick with a hybrid control solution, employing both iOS devices as well as candy bar remotes and dedicated touchpanels, like this one from Crestron, but it is imperative to keep a close eye on how this trend continues to evolve.

1 The candy bar remote

Controlling the TV experience from an iPad or iPhone is not as easy as from a candy bar universal remote. These touchscreen controls force our clients to constantly look away from the TV to see their touchscreen remote to control a TV viewing experience. Savant’s universal remote controller has married the iOS platform with a standard candy bar remote, and I expect to see more iOS-based universal remote controllers adopt a similar approach.

2 Consistency of user control interface

Controlling a home’s AV system, lighting, whole-house audio, cameras, thermostats, and security systems from traditional home control platforms offer a similar look and feel for the control of all of these subsystems. In the Apple iOS world, each application is written differently with a different interface. Lutron lighting control has a different look and feel than the Sonos whole-house audio application or the Nest thermostat application. But is that really a drawback today? The phenomenal success of the app market indicates that people are very comfortable in moving from app to app despite different user interfaces.

3 Extensive interoperability across subsystems.

Traditional total home control systems can provide automation features such as flashing lights when an intruder walks in or opening drapes in the morning to one’s favorite music station. iOS apps typically don’t talk to each other–yet. Using “app URL schemes,” can enable apps to communicate with each other, and because more and more apps are including this feature, this level of automation may be possible in the near future. Even within an iOS application, some automation is possible; Lutron can raise or lower drapes at a specified date and time, Sonos can initiate music as an alarm clock. For homes with a lot of custom automation functionality across system platforms, the iOS solutions may fall short. The reality is that most of our total home custom control installations do not involve a lot of automation–most of our clients prefer direct control of each subsystem over automated control that they do not initiate.

4 Great range of subsystem driver support.

Traditional home control software platforms have a large ecosystem of supported products with IR, serial, or IP drivers written to support their communication. What if you want to control a Russound system from an iOS device application? If the iOS app doesn’t exist, you can’t control it. But maybe you can… Enter Global Cache’s product line that allows any iOS device to communicate serial or IR commands to a subsystem, and you have the ability to get almost all subsystem products onto an IP network, and therefore iOS control. A software app company like Roomie Remote used the publically available RS232 control codes for a Russound CAV 6.6 unit and developed a program list that now allows Roomie’s iOS app to directly control all the zones of the Russound system. The Nest thermostat is an excellent example of this potential shift in control support priorities. Four or five years ago, Nest would have probably wanted to partner with Crestron, AMX, and Control4 to make sure there was driver support to include this thermostat in those control systems. Now with the prevalence of iOS devices, its first choice is to support these platforms.

5 Multiple hardware interface control options.

Traditional home control platforms controllers can be picked to provide the optimal solution for a given room and application. iOS devices are mobile-only controllers in limited screen sizes. However, there are now a number of wall-mount docking solutions available for all of them.

There are a number of other distinct differences between the offerings of the total home control systems and the iOS platforms, such as latency between switching apps versus latency within a single home control application. There is also a limit to the level of GUI customization that you can perform with iOS platforms. And then there is the overall reliability concern of Wi-Fi connections within the home.

It’s clear that the answer to which solution is best in the total home control market is anything but clear. But it’s imperative to fully understand the impact these iOS devices have and will have on our home control market.