Pros and Cons of Cloud, App URL, Google, Apple, and IFTTT Home Control

One of the most common objections to the use of multiple applications for controlling your home is the perceived inability of individual apps to be used for home automation.
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Gordon van Zuiden (gordon@cybermanor.com) is president of cyberManor in Los Gatos, California. One of the most common objections to the use of multiple applications for controlling your home is the perceived inability of individual apps to be used for home automation. The single application and central processor system for total home automation installations, however, may be losing ground to a number of companies and software tools that are now providing inter-app connectivity to independent intelligent systems.

The Cloud

In 2013, Lutron announced a partnership with Alarm.com whereby any client that subscribed to Lutron’s Remote Access service for lighting control and was also a client of Alarm.com could go to the Alarm.com web portal and initiate an away or entry lighting scenes when they armed or disarmed their alarm system. Pressing the “Away” button on the security alarm keypad will now turn off all the home’s lights, with no central home control processor required. The interaction of these two intelligent systems is all done in the cloud. At this year’s CEDIA EXPO, Alarm.com was demonstrating that its cloud-based automation services could be extended to control Yale locks and LiftMaster garage doors as well. Now the homeowner can arm the home’s Away security setting, and Yale locks will close, garage doors will shut, and all of the lights will turn off–no custom programming required.

App URLs

App scheme URLs provide another way that apps can communicate with each other. When an app supports this URL call–the Kaleidescape app, for example–then one app can open up another app. A good example of this is within the Roomie Remote universal remote control iOS application. This is one area where having one application control multiple devices is a necessity because you need to control a TV, a receiver, and an AV source device from one application that can universally control all of this equipment from different manufacturers. In the Roomie Remote Kaleidescape example, pressing the Kaleidescape icon with the Roomie Remote Universal app interface will turn on the TV and receiver, change the source on the receiver to the Kaleidescape input, and bring up the Kaleidescape app graphical interface within the Roomie Remote interface. This is the best of both worlds: a Roomie Remote for remote control and Kaleidescape’s great movie selection graphical interface.

HomeKit and ‘Works With Nest’

All of the leading residential total home control companies have partnership programs to ensure the highest level of compatibility between their own home control systems and their third-party partners–such as lighting systems, AV systems, HVAC control, security systems, or even health care and energy monitoring systems. But this year two large gorillas entered into the custom total home control market and announced their intention that they want to be the platform of choice for third-party partners to integrate well with one another. The first one is Apple with their announcement of HomeKit and then came Google with their announcement of the Works With Nest program.

Apple has adopted a software strategy with HomeKit and has released a software development kit to allow third-party developers to integrate home automation functionality across all hardware systems that support HomeKit. Apple is not investing in any particular home subsystem platform (as Google did with Nest), they are only providing the software tools to allow independent hardware manufacturers to communicate with other Apple partners over iOS smart phone and tablet platforms. Google is using the Nest platform as a cornerstone for their home automation leadership. Logitech, LIFX, IFTTT, Whirlpool, and the Chamberlain Group have already announced support of the Works with Nest platform.

IFTTT

IFTTT (which stands for If This Then That) is a San Francisco based company that launched in 2010 as a software service to enable users to connect different web applications (e.g., Facebook, Evernote, Weather, Dropbox, etc.) together through simple conditional statements known as “Recipes.” Initially these recipes were used for social or productivity activities, but with the explosion of the Internet of Things in the home, IFTTT has been busy writing recipes that allow these intelligent subsystems to talk to each other in the home.

One example that we showcase in our cyberManor Smart Home Experience Center is the ability to use the IFTTT recipe that says, “When the Nest thermostat is set to away, then turn off the Philips Hue lights.” This automation programming recipe was written by IFTTT, not by our programmers. Over the next few years, we expect to see an explosion of these recipes to be written to interconnect systems in the home–the beginning of which can be seen on IFTTT’s site at: https://ifttt.com/recipes/collections/32-recipes-for-the-internet-of-things.

The control and programming of the systems in the homes that we install for our clients is rapidly changing. Processing intelligence is no longer found in only one central home control processor; it is found in all the systems in the homes. The Internet of Things in the home is a peer-to-peer relationship of intelligent devices in the home with connections to the cloud and smart mobile devices for control and automation. This new networked architecture demands that we re-think the ideal infrastructure required to satisfy the long term integrated total home control needs of our clients. Our home automation knowledge has to include the pros and cons of home automation solutions that are enabled from the cloud, App URL’s, Google, Apple, and IFTTT, if we want to continue to offer best-in-breed integrated hardware and software solutions to our clients.

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