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The Integration Guide to Touchpanels, Remotes, and App-Based Control Systems - ResidentialSystems.com

The Integration Guide to Touchpanels, Remotes, and App-Based Control Systems

Touchpanels, Touchscreens, and Mobile Apps Differentiate CIs from New Comers
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This Integration Guide was sponsored by RTI as a supplement to Residential Systems, October 2015

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ELAN Home Systems suite of hard-button remotes, in-wall touchpanels, and the brand’s ELAN g! mobile app are designed to offer simple, powerful features and consistency across devices, as well as the environments they control.

User interfaces come in all shapes, sizes and capabilities—conforming to the needs of the often-complex systems behind them. Over the years, user interfaces, including touchpanels, touchscreens, remote controls—and now more than ever, mobile apps—have been a specialized category for the custom integration channel, especially when advancing the complete home automation and control concept.

Today, with the Internet of Things and the “Smart Home” push expanding the number of controllable devices and objects within the residential space, CI pros are faced yet again with a problem that they sought to eliminate years ago: the over proliferation of interfaces and remotes for simple access to controllable devices.

“Users are not any happier with multiple apps to control their home than they were with multiple remotes to control their TV,” said Mike Anderson, president of TiO. “Many integrators started their businesses providing remote control consolidation. The Internet of Things provides a similar, and even larger, opportunity to consolidate device control into a single app. Why would people settle for the Internet of Things when they can have the Internet of Home?”

With the market suddenly flooded with consumer-grade user interfaces claiming to offer complete home control while doing no such thing, custom integration manufacturers have begun to re-emphasize the single platform model with bespoke interfaces, and remotes that can also extend their functionality to newer third-party players.

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RTI’s RTiPanel app is a custom programmed application designed to the needs of customers and their individual home environments. The addition of both wired and wireless interfaces into the system further centralizes the control system.

MAINTAINING CONTROL ECOSYSTEMS

One of the chief selling points of custom home control has been the wow-inspiring integration of seemingly unrelated products. Jeffrey Singer, director of global marketing at Crestron, offered a near-textbook definition when he noted, “home automation is a system comprised of many products that should be designed and engineered to work together as a single solution.”

The easiest access point to such an ecosystem has been the user interface, and for Crestron, the newest conceptualization of that gateway is Crestron Pyng, which allows installers to set up a system from an iPad or laptop without writing a single line of code.

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One of Honeywell’s two new platforms, Tuxedo Touch attaches to Wi-Fi-based products like IP cameras and provides automation for lights, locks, and thermostats to serve as the central hub of a connected home or business.

“A system can be up and running in a fraction of the time it used to take. Then, once it’s set up, the customer can create scenes, schedule events, change settings, rename buttons and functions from their iPad rather than calling a programmer to do it,” Singer explained. “Crestron Pyng is built into more than 300 Crestron products, and soon will be added to all Crestron products. Since it’s all Crestron, anything is possible.”

With a focus on the user experience, ELAN Home Systems has designed hard-button remotes, in-wall touch panels and touchscreens, as well as the ELAN g! mobile app, to offer simple, powerful features and consistency across its user interface devices as well as the environments they control, including security, climate, lighting, and more.

“A multi-app solution loses a key connected home feature: automation,” said Joe Lautner, director of business development at Core Brands, ELAN’s parent company. “Automation means that one system can trigger an event with another system simultaneously. For example, when a user leaves their house, they can set the security, lighting, climate, and entertainment systems to all behave a specific way through a push of a button, in one location.

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The URC compact system controller, the MRX-8, can be integrated so easily that end users don’t even need to know it’s sitting somewhere on their network, according to Cat Toomey, URC’s director of marketing.

“The product that best exemplifies the seamless integration is the graphical user interface,” Lautner continued. “The mobile device app as well as the on-wall 7-inch and 4-inch touchscreens, all support both a landscape and a portrait view. This provides the greatest flexibility and comfort when using a mobile device, and adds options when mounting screens on the wall. With ELAN, consistency is key.”

Aware that more consumers are adding more connected devices to their homes while also amassing apps on their mobile devices—an approach that the Control4’s director of product marketing, Brad Hintze calls unsustainable—Control4 is offering devices that meet specific control needs.

“In many installations, we find our customers think they are going to do X, Y, and Z all from their Control4 mobile phone app—which they do,” Hintze said, “but when mixed with smart lighting solutions we offer by way of wireless dimmers and wireless keypad dimmers, they start to natively interact with them the most out of all the control devices. We attribute this to the simple and natural integration that a light switch is already known for. You walk into a room, and it is a natural interaction to reach for a light switch. But what happens when you give that switch the power to not only illuminate an entire scene of lights, but also start your favorite playlist and bring the temperature down to your preferred level? With our wireless keypads, all you now have to do is walk to the bottom of your stairs and press the “goodnight” button, which does all of that. We can’t make things more seamless than that.”

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In addition to app-based control of home funtions, Control4 finds that users still prefer to reach for a physical button for functions like turning on lights when they walk into a room. The company’s wireless keypad dimmers fulfill this need with greater degree of functionality.

Acknowledging that the simplicity and ubiquity of mobile devices as a smart home interface is a powerful draw for those looking to quickly and effortlessly interact with their home devices—and as a consequence, also looking for a clear and clean user interface experience—Savant has delivered its own native app. Calling it “A Single App Home,” Tim McInerney, director of product marketing for the company said the solution gives complete control over the home with an intuitive interface.

“For example, a homeowner can use the Savant App to ‘Capture’ their home with a single click,” noted McInerney. “No programming needed, just set the house how you like it: lights and shades at just at the right level, your favorite Pandora station playing in the right rooms, security system armed, gas fireplace warming the living space, etc. Then hit Capture on the Savant App to save your home just like that, and recall it as a Scene later with a single button press. Or schedule it based on time, specific dates, or days of the week, or even celestial time like sunrise or dusk.”

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On Controls’ software-based platform aggregates all IoT devices to be accessed within a single app, and offers the ability to personalize an interface for each individual in the home.

TiO Home, a native app that also looks to consolidate user interaction with home devices, is free to download from the Google Play Store and Apple’s App Store, and allows users to create, edit, recall, and schedule preset scenes that include all aspects of the home (called “Moods” and “Experiences” by TiO) by setting the actual devices the way they want, then saving the settings with the touch of a single button. The app works with TiOConnect, a five-product ecosystem that allows third-party system integration.

“First, choose a TiOConnect interface: TCIP or TCWiFi (the only decision is wired or wireless connection to the network),” Anderson explained. Then choose from one of three adapter cables: Serial control, Contact Closure, or IR. Once installed, the TiOConnect Element will automatically appear in the TiO Pro app. Simply choose a device from the constantly updated list of thousands of brands, products, and model numbers, and it just works. The connected device is now controlled from the TiO Home app and its settings can be saved in Moods and Experiences.”

The URC compact system controller, the MRX-8, can be integrated so easily that end users don’t even need to know it’s sitting somewhere on their network, according to Cat Toomey, URC’s director of marketing.

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Pro Control’s combination of its Pro24.z remote, ProLink.z control processor, and ProPanel App provides bi-directional communication with a home’s electronic systems.

“A custom integrator can install an MRX-8 and program a TRC-1080 handheld interface, and to the consumer it’s all about the pretty, color LCD remote, not the backend processor that’s dishing out commands to Z-Wave controllers, IP devices, and so forth,” Toomey said. “We conscientiously planned to make the whole world of whole-house control more widely available when we designed the MRX-8, starting with the price. We believe we offer the most powerful controller at the most attractive, most user-friendly price anywhere. And while the CI industry thankfully does not revolve around price, a “too-expensive” price is perceived as a serious obstacle to many homeowners. The MRX-8 is our bulldozer that knocks down that wall.”

Citing an increase in broadband penetration rates across the United States, as well as the growing availability of strong wireless networks, Honeywell has created two platforms, Tuxedo Touch and Lynx Touch, to give customers greater connectivity flexibility.

“These products attach to Wi-Fi-based products like IP cameras and provide automation for lights, locks, and thermostats,” said Rob Puric, director of product management for Honeywell. “This provides a completely integrated solution that can serve as the central hub of a connected home or business.”

As noted by CEO Itai Ben-Gal, On Controls’ software-based platform aggregates all of the IoT devices to be accessed within a single app that is so intuitive, “even guests unfamiliar with the system could navigate and control the smart home features,” and gives integrators the opportunity to stand out from competitors by offering a tailored solution. The ability to personalize an interface for each individual in the home is an opportunity for integrators to differentiate themselves from competitors by offering a tailored solution. The latest version of the platform offers deeper control of devices such as Apple TV, a new graphic user interface called a device slider, and a new, modern graphics interface template called SE7EN.

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TiO Home, a native app that also looks to consolidate user interaction with home devices, is free to download from the Google Play Store and Apple’s App Store, and allows users to create, edit, recall, and schedule preset scenes that include all aspects of the home.

“Integrators will find that in addition to the broad array of features, the On Controls automation solution is unique in its customizability, a vital asset to integrators as they seek to present real value to clients and distinguish themselves from competitors,” Ben-Gal said. “The On Controls solution presents integrators with an opportunity to leverage their creativity and tailor a solution that meets the exact needs and exceeds the expectations of each customer.”

RTI’s solution for the multiple-app craze is the RTiPanel app (it works with the company’s XP series control processor), a custom programmed application designed to the needs of customers and their individual home environments. The addition of both wired and wireless interfaces into the system further centralizes the control system.

“An RTI XP series control processor mounted in a rack or cabinet acts as the nervous system of an entire installation—quietly storing the communications and control protocols for all of the elements under the system’s control, for example, lighting, audio, video, and security,” said Brett Stokke, director of communications for RTI. “It is what pulls everything together and gives users complete, reliable command of every aspect of a single room or an entire house. The processor allows the user to control the system in a variety of ways, including two-way RS-232, routable IR, ethernet, and relay control.”

In addition to focusing on an expansive library of two-way control drivers, Pro Control has recently added a new Z-Wave module, the Pro-zwi, to offer greater control options with Z-Wave-enabled devices.

“The combination of our Pro24.z remote, ProLink.z control processor, and ProPanel App provides robust bi-directional communication with a home’s electronic systems,” said Mike Everett, general manager for Pro Control. “Serving as the “brains” of the system, the ProLink.z control processor offers an abundance of control options, including advanced device control and monitoring via two RS-232 ports, while an ethernet port enables network control of devices such as music servers, satellite TV, lighting, security, and HVAC systems.”

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With Savant’s app, users can create scenes easily by setting lighting, music, thermostat, etc. at desired levels and pressing the “capture” button. They can then recall the exact setting later with a tap of a button.

STAYING AHEAD OF THE COMPETITION

Buzzwords abound in our industry today—Future Home, Smart Home, Internet of Things—and with the buzzing, newcomers as well as prominent staples (telecoms and utility companies among them) have arrived to offer wares that do not always fulfill the necessity the way custom integration players have always known how. When it comes to home automation control and the user devices employed as the gateway to these long-lasting, reliable systems, experience always wins out.

“Those big companies are extremely high-volume, but lower-margin businesses,” said Singer. “They pump out thousands or millions of boxed units every day. To do that, they must create a very controlled (limited) offering. They offer a sandbox. We offer a beach—and any beach you want. There’s no glory in winning the race to the bottom. We do not sell DIY or mass-market consumer products. We are proud to provide bespoke luxury lifestyle experiences, which includes white-glove service and support. We are committed to develop the very best, high-performance products and state-of-the-art technology that makes it easier to deliver custom home automation on any scale.”

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