Evolution of the App

Now that most manufacturers offer a control system app for mobile devices, the looming question is, so what now?
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The Future of Mobile Device-based Home Control

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Manufacturers are developing the next generation of their apps. Pictured here are apps from Cortexa (left) and HAI (above).

Now that most manufacturers offer a control system app for mobile devices, the looming question is, so what now?

“An industry challenge is trying to understand where smartphone or tablet technology is going,” said Andrew Wale, VP of marketing, Vantage Controls. “The latest iPad doubled the screen res. What does that do for apps? With an HD-plus quality screen, you can get more finite on how you interact with the app.”

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While envisioning the next generation of home control apps is challenging, most manufacturers have new features in the works. Somfy’s app upgrade will reflect TaHomA’s latest features, like the ability to view live streaming camera feeds and choosing between English, French, and Spanish as a display language. “System alerts, whether through text message or email, will also become more popular as user desire for status updates increases,” said Alex Keichinger, product marketing manager, lead on TaHomA.

Mike Everett, GM at Pro Control, also identified display notifications as a feature his ProPanel app will integrate in the form of notes posted at the top of the screen, similar to the way Android and iOS systems currently notify users of a new email or text message.

For some, the app evolution is also about the relationship between an app and the traditional touchscreen GUI. RTI has introduced the SURFiR remote, which automatically tracks what is done on an app, so if a mobile device is being used for something other than control, the remote knows where the app left off.

ELAN is also working to “ensure consistency between the GUI,” and other devices, according to Joe Lautner, manager of business development and project management.

Byron Wendling, Crestron technology manager, of touchscreens and user interfaces, identified providing a “unified user experience” between touchscreens and mobile as Crestron’s main app initiative. He said that specific features “coming down the pipe include SSL support, the ability to launch third-party apps from within our own app, integrating the web browser into the app, and dynamic scrolling lists.”

HAI is committed to exploring different mobile platforms, and the next app the company is releasing is designed for the Kindle Fire e-reader.

For BitWise, new GUI elements, such as dynamic scrolling media lists and popup menus has provided rich media browsing and more content discovery, so users can access web services like Pandora while browsing their stations and playlists through the BitWise Touch app.

Cortexa Automation, specializing in smart home, energy-saving control, is introducing a new user interface built on HTML5, which allows the app to work across all mobile device platforms. HTML5 also allows Cortexa to make changes to the app on the fly, according to Jesse Lind, sales and marketing director.

Control4 is unique in that it has an app development kit, so third-party developers can create apps specifically for the Control4 ecosystem. Ross Livingston, product development, Control4, said, “Hints of apps that have potential include GPS home recognition, voice and motion control apps, and new smart kitchen apps.

Voice and motion control were also cited as future trends by RTI’s Baker and Vantage’s Wale, who said Vantage is attempting to second-guess when those technologies will start finding their ways onto tablets.

Future App Wish List

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CEDIA’s director of technology, Dave Pedigo is currently working with subject matter expert Ian Bryant (right), co-owner of Simplified Concepts, on a whitepaper called “Designing for Mobile Device Integration.” In an interview with RS, Bryant discussed some frustrations with mobile device integration he sees as a control systems programmer.

Bryant believes “there is so much more we can do with apps,” than today’s offerings provide. One such feature he said AMX’s app currently offers is the ability to provide “push” notifications, which is Apple’s term for forwarding notifications from third-party servers to iOS devices.

Consolidating the multitude of control apps is another area developers could address. This could take the form of “app switching,” or having a button in an app to switch directly back to the other apps instead of having to go back to a main screen in the device.

Making apps more customizable, so they play better together with other apps, could help enhance the experience for end users. Bryant suggested manufacturers could supply programmers with some of their app codes to help achieve this.

–Lindsey Adler

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