Integrating Tablets

Web tablets are a category that barely existed 18 months ago, and yet they have now become an 800-pound gorilla casting their shadow over virtually every channel and category in the CE business.
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Web tablets are a category that barely existed 18 months ago, and yet they have now become an 800-pound gorilla casting their shadow over virtually every channel and category in the CE business. More than one industry observer has noted that Apple sold more iPads last year than the automation channel has sold touchpanels in its entire history.

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McIntosh is perhaps one of the brands most synonymous with high-end audio, and it has an iPad app for music listening.

Existing control and automation vendors find themselves in a unique position, having to cater to client demand for tablet control while still needing to support and maybe rethink their own interfaces. The opinion of RTI VP of marketing Pete Baker reflects the consensus of automation vendors that while tablets, especially Apple’s iPad, are in high demand, they should be considered part of a balanced control ecosystem rather than a category killer.

“Where the iPad and other tablets really shine as control devices, and we believe they will continue to do so this year, is in giving consumers convenient remote access to their electronic environment from virtually anywhere in the world,” Baker noted. “This is an extremely powerful and attractive feature, and also provides the ‘wow’ factor that consumers crave.”

So Baker and others believe that tablets should be thought of as an extension of automation, rather than its replacement.

But the iPad is no longer alone. Tablets based on Google’s Android platform also are quickly growing in popularity, and it’s just the beginning.

The Latest Media Control Apps

Automation and security vendor HAI’s Hi-Fi 2 control app for iPhone and iPad is designed as a standalone music gateway. It allows HAI’s iPhone app to connect directly to the Hi-Fi 2 and Music Gateway systems without requiring a home control system. That means an iPhone, iPad, or iPod Touch can be a simple interface for the audio system. A powerful distributed audio system with both local and remote inputs for increased ease of installation, the Hi-Fi 2 connects to Music Gateway stores with access to thousands of songs.

Hi-Fi 2 features include Volume Source Control (VSC), which can display metadata such as artist name and song title, and users also can jump through songs in their collection using the VSC, as well as accessing songs on the 500GB hard drive and viewing shared network folders for song selection.

Autonomic Controls’s Mirage Media Controller for iPad controls the Mirage Media Server (MMS- 5 and MMS-2) and Mirage Media Control System (MCS). It allows users to browse and control media libraries and supported streaming services from the tablet. MMC also ports metadata and album art, and users can access and play multiple iTunes and Windows Media libraries alongside Pandora and SiriusXM, as well as stream free radio stations from around the globe with RadioTime. Spotify is now available to European customers, and Autonomic plans to integrate Rhapsody and Last.fm by Q2.

Michael de Nigris, CEO and co-founder of Autonomic, acknowledged the power that the iPad wields in the channel. “Mirage Media Servers are known for cloud-based access and control of content from anywhere at any time,” he explained. “Someone who already carries an iPad wherever he or she goes can forgo the high cost of dedicated touchpanels.”

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Autonomic Controls’ Mirage Media Controller for iPad connects to the Mirage Media Server (MMS-5 and MMS-2) and Mirage Media Control System (MCS).

Apple OS-based automation vendor Savant is no stranger to tablet, being one of the first ones out of the gate when the iPad debuted. Its latest app, TrueControl for the iPad, iPod touch, and iPhone, offers full, two-way control of audio and video, lighting, security, climate, and every other subsystem.

Savant Mobile, the remote access feature for the TrueControl App, provides users with two-way control of all the features of the system anywhere in the world with Internet access. Homeowners can disarm their security system, trigger gate access, control heating and air conditioning, turn lights on or off, and view live video feeds from security cameras. On the programming side, TrueControl can be completely tailored to meet the individual control requirements of the client, including userchangeable and defined backgrounds, icons, control categories, and channel favorites.

Security System Access

Another appealing feature of automation systems for iPad owners is being able to remotely interface with their home’s security system. Honeywell’s free Total Connect remote services app has been updated to enable faster, higher quality streaming video for Apple iPhone, iPad, and iPod Touch devices. With Total Connect Video Services, users can select from up to six cameras on their system. They can view live video, record and store video clips, take snapshots and look in on their homes and businesses from any remote location so long as they have WiFi or 3G access. Beyond simple viewing, users can control their pan-and-tilt cameras, and a double-tap feature centers the camera on its axis, letting the viewer get a better look at a designated area and simplifying navigation.

Controlling Light

Light control, by which industry professionals now mean not only electric light fixtures but motorized window coverings as an encompassing category, have been taking full advantage of the control options that tablets offer users. Lutron Electronics has released a RadioRA 2 iPad app that is designed to control lights, shades, temperature, and appliances, combining both convenience and energy saving benefits.

The app allows homeowners to: monitor and control their system while away from home, enact a temporary, energy-saving “green” mode that reduces light levels and turns off unneeded appliances, and control multiple homes from one iPad. Integrators are able to personalize their clients’ control programming with a real-time level editor.

AV System Control

RTI has developed the RTiPanel app, which allows control of systems automated by its XP series of remote processors from anywhere in the world on an iPad. For programmers, the RTiPanel app offers simple configuration and customization through the Integration Designer software that they are already familiar with.

Tablet control, in general, and the iPad specifically, is central to Crestron’s new Core 3 OSpowered PMC3 and PMC3-XP Prodigy control systems. The PMC3 combines the processing power of a computer operating system with the sturdiness of a network appliance and enables realtime multitasking to run up to 10 independent programs simultaneously, all communicating with each other on the same platform, controllable not just from Crestron touchpanels, but also from the Crestron Mobile Pro and Mobile Pro G apps for Apple iPad and iPhone.

Audio Brands Get in on the Act

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Light control manufacturer Lutron Electronics has released a RadioRA 2 iPad app that is designed to control lights, shades, temperature, and appliances, combining both convenience and energy saving benefits.

Apps aren’t just the purview of automation. McIntosh is perhaps one of the brands most synonymous with high-end audio, and it has an iPad app for music listening. Featuring McIntosh’s signature blue LED Watt Meters as a backdrop, the AP1 Audio Player iPhone/iPad app provides virtually all features of the existing iPod app, while adding a veneer of McIntosh cool. Users can select tracks, artists, playlists, and albums as well as control the volume of the music, with all controls fully customized and consistent with McIntosh styling and functionality.

Third-Party Development

With the growth of the tablet as an interface, there’s a commensurate need for third-party app development, as well. Guifx is an interface design studio specializing in touchscreens for home automation and embedded systems. The company recently released updates to its most popular user interfaces, called Oscar, Deanna, and Victoria, to offer compatibility with Crestron’s Mobile Pro G iPad app and, according to the company, is hard at work on new Android tablet interfaces.

Similarly, Bitwise Controls is an automation programming company with experience in not only commercial and residential AV, but industrial control and monitoring equipment manufacturing, as well. The company is working with its partner automation vendors to develop plug-ins and software support for tablet control of most major brands of automation equipment.

Looking forward, it’s easy to predict that the impact of tablets throughout the coming year will be consistent with what we’ve already seen. As clients continue looking to expand the capabilities of their control systems beyond the AV components in their home, the demand for access to their systems from tablets will only increase. And manufacturers and integrators are going to continue providing functionality to meet that demand.

Lee Distad (www.leedistad.com) is an Edmonton, Alberta-based custom channel business

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