A New Wireless World - ResidentialSystems.com

A New Wireless World

The dawn of the app is now a full, bright day in the sun—a day that seems to get longer by the month.
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The Advent of Internet and Mobile Technologies Exert Influence on Custom Control and Automation Systems

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Saving integrators time and money is at the heart of iRule’s business model, which is the development of a control mobile platform built on smartphones and tablets and Software as a Service (Saas) geared toward the home entertainment and automation markets. The dawn of the app is now a full, bright day in the sun—a day that seems to get longer by the month. With the proliferation of mobile, handheld, and tablet devices and their ease of use firmly established as part the collective cultural experience, the companion applications that make these devices so appealing no longer need to be called by their full function name. Wide acceptance of applications has led to a booming niche market that permits everyone from grade-schoolers to technology professionals to find just the tool they never knew they really needed.

The impact of apps, as well as the visible shift from hardware-based technology solutions to the ever-expanding possibilities of streaming and “the cloud” has left its mark on the custom integration channel, specifically companies and integrators that have gained expertise in delivering home automation and control products. Quick to pick up on the shifting winds, many CI manufacturers have already placed beautiful, functional apps in the marketplace as a supplement to their large, sophisticated systems. If there is any fear that apps might one day dethrone complex, custom control automation, it is not manifesting itself in the now, where manufacturers are bending this new and ubiquitous tool to their will while focusing on reiterating the value of custom control systems to end-users who want more than the ability to point their mobile device at electronic components.

BEST OF BOTH WORLDS

To be a custom control and automation manufacturer in today’s technology business is to constantly have the words “scalability” and “flexibility” as part of your product mantra. Of course, this has always been the case, just as ease-of-use has become a selling point for integrators. What has changed is just how expansive that scalability has become. For a large automation company like Crestron, whose 3-Series Control Systems proliferate the new landscape, making sure that IT is as much a part of newer systems is as important as customization.

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Continuity is very important to RTI, whether in a handheld or in-wall controller, Apple or Android phone or tablet, or even on a PC.
This is true across the board, as AMX’s vice president of marketing Joe Andrulis pointed out when explaining what automation and control integrators are dealing with in the field. “Integrators are facing astonishing obstacles with today’s connected installations, from HDCP key limitations to scaling multiple displays with various resolutions—all in addition to integrating digital and analog sources,” Andrulis said. “Their customers don’t know the challenges. They just want their media content, whether from a Blu-ray player, app, Pandora, or analog unit, to play on the various displays located throughout their home.”

AMX’s solutions, the Enova DGX 16 and 32 Digital Media Switchers, are the Swiss army knives of usage possibilities—switcher, controller, Ethernet switch, and redundant power supplies in single compact enclosures—that aim to make automation integration appear seamless.

This idea of operation continuity across control-integrated devices is not new either, but it probably best highlights why custom control remains incredibly relevant, as Pete Baker, RTI’s VP of sales and marketing noted.

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Interesting new control products have emerged, like Clare Controls’ cloud-based ClareHome management tools, which according to CEO and founder Brett Price, are designed to cut the cost of integration programming, reduce the amount of time it takes to make changes to an existing project, and give customers more control of their user experience.

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AMX’s solutions, the Enova DGX 16 and 32 Digital Media Switchers, are the Swiss army knives of usage possibilities—switcher, controller, Ethernet switch and redundant power supplies in single compact enclosures—that aim to make automation integration appear seamless. “Continuity is very important, and we strive to provide this for our customers through the user interface. Whether they are using a native RTI handheld or in-wall controller, Apple or Android phone or tablet, or even a PC, a consistent user interface across all devices helps to ensure optimal satisfaction,” said Baker, who uses the company’s Integration Designer software as an example of this continuity.

It’s a case made over and over again by manufacturers who say the proof is in the product. ELAN’s g! system has been a success story, as have several other products by well-known custom manufacturers, including HAI with its Zigbee wireless energy management system, On Controls with its modular product line that features GUIs that are mirrored across devices, and Vantage Controls with its upcoming Equinox system.

Control4 looks to provide dealers with solutions that have the performance, functionality, and flexibility to extend automation beyond just media entertainment devices. The company’s new Control4 HC-250 Controller is a one-room, home theater solution with the processing horsepower to enable customers to whip through media libraries on-screen without any lag. For larger installations, the HC-250’s sleek design and Power over Ethernet (PoE) connectivity make it a control solution for every TV throughout a home or office. “It’s this value, power, and versatility of products like the HC-250 that provide our dealers with limitless ways to fulfill their customers’ automation needs,” said Control4 CEO Martin Plaehn. He also noted that the HC-250 is a “future-proof runway” for when consumers want to upgrade and add lighting control, security system, a garage sensor, etc.

Interesting new models are also emerging, like Clare Controls’ cloud-based ClareHome management tools that, according CEO and founder Brett Price, are designed to cut the cost of integration programming, reduce the amount of time it takes to make changes to an existing project, and give customers more control of their user experience.

“ClareHome’s cloud-based management tools significantly improve the integrators’ efficiency as they configure and deploy complex projects,” Price explained. “Our product lets integrators utilize a split-team strategy, in which techs perform physical tasks on site (running and terminating wires, placing hardware, etc.), while the programmer works remotely, using Clare’s cloud-based Fusion Configuration Tool.”

Similarly, CineTouch integrators can avoid programming by utilizing the company’s control software and web tool to build and make changes to installations right from the panel, while NavNet also uses a no-programming model to make it easy for an installer to interface with complex subsystems like lighting or shade control.

The no-programming approach, as explained by Pro Control general manager Mike Everett, is about maintaining profit margin. “We aim for profitability, which is achieved through our Pro Control software. Our programming software makes it very simple and efficient for dealers to program our systems, while still allowing them to provide a completely customized control experience for their customers,” he said, noting integrators can put together systems in 15 to 30 minutes.

Savant Systems, which has made a name for itself not only in the choice of its automation platform (Apple OS) but also in the ways it has embedded its control functionality in a variety of hardware devices is also moving to the cloud.

“For complex or basic installations, Savant cloud-based streaming media (iTunes Match, Pandora, Squeezebox, etc.) is becoming more popular and is available to Savant users on iOS devices at home and on the go, as well as complete access and control of their home,” noted Savant’s executive vice president, Jim Carroll. “The versatility of Savant’s TrueCommand app enables our dealers to deliver the next-generation functionality that users are seeking.”

NEW TECH AS SALES PITCH

“The app without the device would be nothing,” said Joe Lautner, product manager and business development director for ELAN. Lautner’s definitive statement underscores the value of both the control and automation integrator and the continued importance of dedicated systems for anything approaching serious home control. Indeed, manufacturers have been using cloud management, content streaming, and now the app as a means of enticing customers to view more specialized control options. This has been effective in three key areas of the custom integration sales pitch: a foot-in-the-door carrot, a retrofit winner, and add-on value.

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URC is taking foot-in-the-door pitching seriously with its Total Control system, which is designed to capture customers’ expectations for leading-edge capabilities. “The more we embrace and support cloud sources, the more attractive our solutions become,” Lautner said of ELAN’s control cache. “We have offered Pandora, Rhapsody, and internet radio for a number of years and also support iTunes. We will continue to enhance and add to these services to keep our products fresh and desirable.”

NavNet also has tapped into this attractive soft pitch by pre-loading its systems and controllers with 16,000 internet radio stations and SiriusXM streaming, which is a confident move that company president and CEO Nav Dhunay noted when he said, “If homeowners can use their familiar mobile device with an app to control their system, they’re more inclined to purchase the system.”

URC, too, is taking foot-in-the-door pitching seriously with its Total Control system, which is designed to capture customers’ expectations for leading-edge capabilities.

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For a large automation company like Crestron, whose 3-Series Control Systems proliferate the new landscape, making sure that IT is as much a part of newer systems is as important as customization. Its Mobile Pro for Apple and Android devices offers scability and open-platform compatibility.

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Bitwise, a company that creates control products and software that use custom user interfaces on mobile devices to eliminate the need for dedicated touchpanels, finds this model gives their integrators the opportunity to brand themselves. “With Total Control, integrators have the power to say, ‘Yes, we do that,’ and secure the customer,” said URC’s director of marketing, Cat Toomey, “while also continuing to be the advisor who helps them see why they may want dedicated control devices for daily use.”

At Savant, the foot in the door comes with word of mouth about its streaming media content and capabilities, with Carroll acknowledging that customers’ familiarity with Apple’s iTunes has paved the way for their growing interest in Savant Systems.

“Customers see our functionality and our intuitive app working seamlessly in iOS devices that they are already familiar with—and this drives users, who are interested in our products and services, to seek out Savant dealers,” Carroll said. “Additionally, Savant is constantly seeking to innovate and improve the user experience, profiling all of the latest hardware and giving our dealers the resources they need to provide the best solutions.”

For integrators who have built their business on retrofits, the new ways of accessing content and establishing home automation is yet another means to getting new clients. RTI and HAI have all seen the possibilities in this stream for their integrators and have offered a variety of ways for them to use it to its full potential.

Control4 sees home automation and control enabling homeowners to access any of the content/ services they have in the home or online from any TV or any device anywhere, said Eric Smith, CTO, Control4.

Smith predicted “increased interoperability, personalization, and a growing number of connected devices” will accelerate home control, enabling technologies such as gesture control, voice control, and recognition (RFID) for further personalization in the smart home.

“The smart home of the future has you entering your garage and having a device that simply pairs with your phone and then adjusts the home for your arrival with all of your preferences,” Smith said.

For RTI, bridging its RTiPanel, Apple, and Android apps with existing and new control options means offering the same level of customization as its native controllers on the same software platform. “This approach allows the integrator to provide their customers with a simple, intuitive control interface using programming tools they are already familiar with,” Baker noted. “In addition, the wide selection of control interfaces within the RTI product line allows for tremendous flexibility during the system design process.”

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CineTouch integrators can avoid Q&A Integrator Voices programming by utilizing the company’s control software and web tool to build and make changes to installations right from the panel. HAI has taken the introduction of IT and mobile-based control capabilities to expand its energy and entertainment product options with the use of a single app that can be used on multiple devices.

“Apps and wireless products are what’s hot in home automation right now,” said Greg Rhoades, HAI’s associate director of marketing. “Integrators love the notion of being able to use the same products in retrofits and new construction, and homeowners love saving money on wiring.”

However, the greatest potential for new technology by far has been the add-on benefit often cited by manufacturers and integrators alike. The fact that most control and automation companies have happily created mobile and tablet apps as an extension of their systems imply that the potential benefit is mostly positive.

“Integrators are finding that the recurring revenue opportunities are endless when offering services to add new handheld devices, update layouts and backgrounds, and make simple changes to marcos and favorite buttons,” said Glenn Murdzia, national sales manager for On Controls. “It becomes very beneficial and profitable for a dealer when the calls keep coming in, and you can also take care of these requests from your office without rolling a truck.”

Saving integrators time and money is also at the heart of iRule’s business model, which is the development of a control mobile platform built on smartphones and tablets and Software as a Service (Saas) geared toward the home entertainment and automation markets.

“iRule embraced the cloud from the beginning and literally built our product on that concept,” said Itai Ben-Gal, CEO of the company. “Our professional integrator customers have found the advantages helpful—both in terms of profitability and customer service. Our integrators can update or modify a customer’s remote without rolling a truck and having the customer leave work early just to perform small changes to the control system, and that means happier customers and a happier installer. It’s really a win-win for everybody.”

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HAI has taken the introduction of IT and mobile-based control capabilities to expand its energy and entertainment product options with the use of a single app that can be used on multiple devices. Services like Honeywell’s Total Connect Remote Services and AlarmNet solutions have been using cloud technology in security installations, before the term was even coined. This highly encrypted secure network has close to a million subscribers and integrates advanced packet and streaming technology.

“Consumers today are seeking security solutions that fit in easily with their lifestyle—particularly for technology that is compatible with their mobile device or tablet,” stated Ralph Maniscalco, director of marketing communications for Honeywell Security & Communication. “For example, a Total Connect Remote Services app is available on iOS for iPad and iPhone, Android, and BlackBerry platforms. Users overwhelmingly prefer using their mobile devices to control their systems whether at home or away. The beauty of the app is that it provides ease of operation while the mobile device is the preferred user interface. Integrators have a much better chance of success when they offer solutions their customers want and that they find easy to use.”

Honeywell has developed demo apps for Total Connect Remote Services and LYNX Touch 5100, which is its new self-contained system, so dealers can demonstrate the simplicity and ease-of-use of the product offering without the added distractions of finding an internet connection and juggling different pieces of hardware. “It helps the integrator and the consumer focus on the most important part of the demonstration: how the system works, and why it’s beneficial to own one,” Maniscalco added. “Honeywell has also designed consumer microsites that showcase both the Total Connect and LYNX Touch 5100 solutions. A dealer can point his customers to these sites, so they can get a better understanding of the benefits of the products, ask about options and system upgrades, and share it with their friends and family.”

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NavNet also uses a no-programming model to make it easy for an installer to interface with complex subsystems like lighting or shade control. Of the companies that the CI channel is most familiar with, Crestron led the charge with one of the first apps, its Mobile Pro for Apple and Android devices. Marketing solutions manager Rey Lozano noted its scability and open-platform compatibility while recognizing the need for “a mobile and tablet application which lets you control your home theater, lighting, thermostat, shades, security, and other home systems from virtually anywhere.”

AMX was not far behind with its TPControl app that controls just about everything while maintaining a uniform GUI experience across multiple devices, both mobile and proprietary.

“The easy-to-use application provides real-time, touch control of AV systems, lighting, shades, room temperatures, and more,” Andrulis said. “These devices can seamlessly communicate with an AMX control system via 3G, GPRS, and EDGE cellular networks, or Wi-Fi, to allow the convenience of remote use.”

Bitwise, a company that creates control products and software that use custom user interfaces on mobile devices to eliminate the need for dedicated touchpanels, finds this model gives their integrators the opportunity to brand themselves.

“Our GUI template offering combined with our Project Editor software allows [for full customization],” said Krista Bergman, national sales manager for Bitwise. “In the end, the integrator has sold “their” home automation solution. They continue to brand and advertise themselves, not the products in the back end. We simply supply the tools needed.”

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For larger installations, the Control4 HC-250’s design and Power over Ethernet (PoE) connectivity make it a control solution for every TV throughout a home or office and fits with the company’s vision for the home of the future. Clare Controls’ ClareAssure, which runs on the Apple platform, is perhaps the most specific in its usage outside the requisite mobility factor. Part of the ClareHome cloud-based system, ClareAssure is a system monitoring tool that Brett Price said gives integrators the “ability to show customers that you can detect problems early—sometimes even before the issue even becomes apparent in the home—[which] goes a long way toward addressing any concerns they may have about making their purchase.”

In a similar effort to give integrators as much flexibility as possible during the installation process, Cortexa offers an easy-to-install home automation controller that enables homeowners to synchronize their living space via the cloud and that allows integrators access to remote management and administration tools to enhance service to their customers.

“We have embraced the cloud in conjunction with our new webportal, www.mycortexa.com, to make the system faster and easier to setup as well as to allow for easier remote access,” noted Danny Kupersztock, director of technology and support. “We provide services via myCortexa including automatic backups, storing video recordings, and allowing for guest access, as well as minimizing the need for a static IP and reconfiguring home networks. We also allow home owners and installers to access multiple homes from our cloud solution. With an affordable Cortexa system, utilizing the installers preferred technology, owners with multiple properties can outfit all of their homes for less than the cost of outfitting their primary residence with other systems.”

DEFINING THE FUTURE

If you are tired of hearing about the cloud, you will be left behind. Its potential still hasn’t been fully realized, though its current uses have given more than a glimpse of its significance to a near future that has already begun to be defined by it. The evidence lies in what control automation manufacturers are anticipating for not only the channel, but for their own products, which as we have seen here, have been greatly impacted by its arrival.

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On Controls offers a modular product line that features GUIs that are mirrored across devices. “Dependence on the cloud brings the preclusion of 24/7 connectivity. We’ve leveraged the internet for years for information (weather, traffic cameras), remote maintenance, and updates,” said John Nagy, director of product management and support for CineTouch. “Now we’re doing automatic email and text notification of system issues or user conditions and of course remote control using mobile devices. While we still want integrated systems to work if disconnected, we have more options now for centralized services and backups.”

CineTouch has taken advantage of the cloud’s potential by integrating voice recognition and voice response in its software to trigger responses to its cloud-based control system; a system that also talks back by reciting events that took place while you were out.

The examples continue and include Savant’s swath of solutions, Crestron Connect, which is embedded in popular electronic components and provides system monitoring, and On Control’s and Clare Control’s already completely cloud-based solutions. Other companies like Vantage Controls and NavNet are not far behind.

“We anticipate greater integration with the cloud for both storage and processing of automation tasks,” said NavNet’s Dhunay. “By integrating more home control features into the cloud and allowing the cloud to process and react to changes in the home environment, we can see a system that is able to keep the home owner completely aware and in touch with what is happening in their home. Not only will they have access to all of their media through the cloud, but the cloud will be able to push information to home owners’ mobile devices.”

The cloud model for control systems also has direct benefits for the installers, according to Cortexa’s Kupersztock. “Remote access and administration through the same portal gives installers an ability to see any Cortexa that they are listed in as an Installer. They can see the last communication with our servers, the last reboot, local IP address, and WAN IP address, “he said.

But not just anyone can access the information remotely. “We have a second layer of security with the system,” Kupersztock added. “To gain access to myCortexa, you have to know the credentials for the myCortexa account, and you must have the credentials to gain access to the system in the home.”

Q&A INTEGRATOR VOICES

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DAVE RAINES
OSBEE INDUSTRIES INC., HARRISON, NY

How are you using control systems to create simple solutions to complex challenges in your projects?

Apartments where real estate is premium and there is no room for equipment. In that instance, we turn to Crestron DigitalMedia to centralize all the equipment in one room. Through DigitalMedia, we can distribute video, so all the homeowner will see is the display. Cable boxes, game consoles, and Blu-ray players are hidden away.

Q&A INTEGRATOR VOICES

MARTIN EDWARDS
SYNERGY HOME ENTERTAINMENT & AUTOMATION, CALGARY, AB, CANADA

What’s an example of a project where your control/automation system of choice helped you to achieve positive results?

On a recent project, the homeowner, who did extensive travelling for business, needed the ability to monitor his home while he was away and stay in touch with the family. Additionally he wanted his family to have the ability to operate the home without his assistance—in a word: it had to be “simple.” The NavNet system allowed me to accomplish this easily. We were able to integrate security cameras around the premises with the NavNet system, and utilizing the Blackberry mNavNet app, the homeowner was able to view all of his cameras. The mNavNet app also let him see what gates/doors were open, what the HVAC was doing, and whether or not his pool was being used. For staying in touch, we utilized a NavNet HD Video Streamer connected to a large LCD panel in the family room of the TV. Through the use of a web cam connected to the HD Video Streamer, the family was able sit in the family room and videoconference with the homeowner while he was travelling. The NavNet system is very simple to use, but what made it easier for everyone was that the mNavNet app was available for all of their mobile devices. They had iPhones, iPads, and Android devices. Any of those devices could control the system, and the interface is exactly the same no matter what device you use.

Q&A INTEGRATOR VOICES

SCOTT RUZICH
EPIC AV AUTOMATION, SACRAMENTO, CA

How are you using control systems to create simple solutions to complex challenges in your projects?

With ELAN g!, we are able to provide simple control for complex climate control systems consisting of 20 combined zones of hydronic (radiant heat), forced air, air conditioning, and humidification. With a simple user interface that is identical on all devices, our clients can easily adjust the temperature in one room or program a single button that adjusts the entire house, whether it is 3,000 square feet or 20,000.

For Jay Bakaler, Savant’s control solution fits well within any budget.Q&A INTEGRATOR VOICES

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JAY BAKALER
METRO EIGHTEEN INC., SAN FRANCISCO, CA

What’s an example of a project where your control/automation system of choice helped you to achieve positive results?

The Belvedere Showcase House is the most expensive spec home in the U.S. at $45 million dollars. Savant delivered the maximum performance, the highest quality all in a package with the smallest profile and by far the easiest integration with other systems in the home. The Savant solution also fit well within the budget, enabling me to divert more resources to other solutions (such as the home theater) in the home.

Q&A INTEGRATOR VOICES

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PETER SHIPP
ZIO GROUP, WINTER PARK, FL

How are you using control systems to create simple solutions to complex challenges in your projects?

The challenge at The 2012 New American Home wasn’t just integrating a lot of technology, it was also a question of integrating a lot of new technology. The design team opted to use ClareHome, an emerging control automation system that not only allows integrators to manage their projects remotely, using a cloud-based methodology, but empowers the end-user to customize the system. We were impressed with the speed and ease with which the system handled everything we threw at it, including lights/shades, multi-zone audio, security, video surveillance, pool/ spa, fireplace, and more.

Q&A INTEGRATOR VOICES

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JASON VOORHEES
CANTARA, COSTA MESA, CA

How are you using control systems to create simple solutions to complex challenges in your projects?

When things are hard to use in a large home, busy clients lose interest, get frustrated, and don’t use these features to their potential. With our control systems, we focus on placing the subsystems in the background and combine them into a singular user interface that the client becomes an expert using.

What’s an example of a project where your control/automation system of choice helped you to achieve positive results?

One high-profile 30,000-square-foot project included 18 thermostats, 58 touchpanels, nearly 1,000 lighting loads, and all the AV to match. AMX is the only system we’ve found to maintain stability at this level, while providing the programming environment to create the most powerful user experience possible.

Q&A INTEGRATOR VOICES

JASON HATZIDAKIS
JAMIESONS AUDIO/VIDEO, TOLEDO, OH

How are you using control systems to create simple solutions to complex challenges in your projects?

On Controls utilizes the device that’s already in your pocket or in your briefcase. People love the convenience of using a single device for multiple tasks throughout the day. The more the merrier! Telling a client they can use this device to control the entire system/ systems, makes them very excited and helps the sale. On Controls programs quickly and allows for as much or as little customization as needed. We love to integrate web pages, live camera feeds, and favorite channel icons (already in the database, by the way). The thing I like he best, is the speed of operation. No lag time at all!

Q&A INTEGRATOR VOICES

BRYAN WERNER
ADVANCED MULTIMEDIA SOLUTIONS, LA CROSSE, WI

How are you using control systems to create simple solutions to complex challenges in your projects?

Having an easy-to-use and reliable control system is integral to the success of every project we do. By installing handheld or in-wall control devices, we’re able to give our clients one-touch control that is so intuitive that anyone who encounters the system can begin operating it in a matter of seconds. This holds true for both residential and commercial projects. A perfect example of this is a project we recently completed on two homes for a client using a suite of RTI products. One of the customer’s main requests was having a system in each home that anyone could use, including their mother-in-law. To achieve this, we installed RK2 in-wall controllers in the kitchens to provide centralized control points for audio, lighting, and the kitchen TVs. The great rooms and media rooms utilize T2B handheld remotes with familiar interfaces. And having an XP-series processor at each residence ensures reliability of the systems and provides us with remote access from over seven hours away.

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