The Integration Guide to Touchpanels, Remotes, and Apps

Over the years, touchpanels, remotes, and more recently, control apps have served as the primary access point to programming and effectively engaging with home automation systems, which are now evolving into and underpinning the broader development of the smart home concept and its corresponding technology girdle, the Internet of Things.
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Over the years, touchpanels, remotes, and more recently, control apps have served as the primary access point to programming and effectively engaging with home automation systems, which are now evolving into and underpinning the broader development of the smart home concept and its corresponding technology girdle, the Internet of Things.

Whether proprietary or built on an open platform, current home automation control interfaces have had to adapt to rapid changes in how end users interact with their home systems. Consumer familiarity with touchpanels, remotes, and mobile apps means that these control devices continue to be key to smart home adoption, while newer developments like voice control—currently the leading engineering focus of corporations like Google, Amazon, and Apple—highlight how significant home automation will be in calculating quality of life over the next 10 years.

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The Lyric Controller by Honeywell, like many newer proprietary control interfaces offers ease of use through simple, straightforward icons, while also including voice control to create Lyric Smart Scenes.

“The combination of control device types will not go away in the near future,” said Jon Clancy, vice president of residential business at Crestron. “There are good reasons to utilize a combination of handheld remote controls, wall-mounted dedicated touchscreens, mobile devices, and now voice control. Gesture-driven GUIs are expected these days, thanks to mobile device development, but end-user adjustable/editable scenes, scheduling, etc., are also assumed by today’s homeowners.”

With big corporate players entering a domain once held firmly by CI professionals, we talked to a number of custom integration manufacturers about how current trends in home automation control interfaces are defining their design process and what integrators can expect from them in what is becoming a crowded field.

Boxing the Big Outlets

“The DIY segment gets interest from consumers primarily due to price point; however, it typically fails to deliver on expectations due to the complexity of install and the lack of powerful integration,” noted Sanjay Patel, president of TiO. “To be competitive among pro-level competitors, we’ve had to develop a system that is feature rich, cost effective, and easy to install.”

In addition to TiO’s 7-inch wall-mounted touchscreen tablet that will be available later this summer, the company also has the TiO Home App, available for Apple iOS and Android devices. In a bow to a collective industry move toward voice control, TiO will have soon add this feature to its app.

“We’re committed to providing a solution that removes the time-consuming and expensive activities, such as programming and new wiring, to replace it with a simple plug-and-play system,” Patel added. “TiO’s home automation solution does not require any programming, as the entire ecosystem can be configured through any Android or iOS tablet. The tablet simply connects to Wi-Fi and automatically discovers the TiO components that can be installed with existing home wiring. This reduces the cost of the install and provides a more cost-effective solution for the consumer.”

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In addition to TiO’s 7-inch wall-mounted touchscreen tablet that will be available later this summer, the company also has the TiO Home App, available for Apple iOS and Android devices

Clare Control’s ClareHome App user interface seeks to bridge the gap between DIY and custom options to offer a best-of-both-worlds solution. Providing an interactive experience based on individual profiles rather than the entire the home, ClareHome allows each family member to personalize the control system.

“With myClareHome, coming soon, homeowners will be able to personalize the performance of their system even further,” said Delia Hansen, Clare Controls’ VP of marketing. “Capabilities include ‘anywhere/anytime’ control, creating personal one-touch scenes, viewing schedules, and activating/deactivating scheduled scenes. The myClareHome.com portal provides homeowners with important information about their systems, as well as a gateway to purchase add-on devices for system expansion including ClareVue Lighting components, budget cameras, and other accessories. After the purchase, the integrator is notified to schedule the installation. The portal is designed to be a safe place for consumers to go to get more product, activate features, and truly get the most out of their system.”

Control4 recently expanded the iOS version of its app to include the Apple Watch, a move that Brad Hintze, director of product marketing for the company, said emphasizes Control4’s commitment to giving end users as many ways to control their systems as possible. For first-time smart homeowners, however, Control4 recommends its EA-1 control bundle, which comes with an affordable SR-260 remote.

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Clare Control’s ClareHome App provides an interactive experience based on individual profiles rather than the entire the home.

“Many who start in the DIY space buy one product at a time, but these devices don’t generally work together, and getting support for these various products from hub manufacturers can be challenging,” Hintze said. “With an installed system, consumers have a reliable Control4 dealer to turn to with support questions, and a diverse line of automation devices that they can choose to add in from the start, or as they want to expand their system. Many DIY systems require multiple apps to control different devices; with Control4 you get one mobile app to control all the devices in your house, which is a big differentiator for consumers looking to add automation to their home but want a simple user interface and ease of use. As DIY is maturing, we believe many more people are beginning to recognize the value of a professionally installed system.”

To deliver consistency between user interface devices, the team at ELAN Home Systems often looks to technology to simplify the user experience. With in-house research indicating that ELAN systems are an attractive choice for homeowners with multiple homes, Bill Hensley, director of marketing for ELAN’s parent company, Core Brands, noted that the company’s HR200 remote is popular because of its ease of use as well as its interface, which is consistent across all of ELAN’s touch panels and mobile apps.

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ELAN’s HR200 remote is popular with Core Brands dealers because of its ease of use as well as its interface, which is consistent across all of ELAN’s touchpanels and mobile apps.

“The standalone mass-market solutions are often ‘islands’ of automation—the true automated features that make an entire home ‘smart’ are not available when these systems are not integrated,” Hensley said. “Our strength is integrating with all the subsystems or devices that homeowners gravitate toward and then elevating the experience. So back to our approach to interfaces: we integrate that subsystem in the most seamless way possible. This makes it easier for the user.”

On Controls CEO Itai Ben-Gal, who sees the DIY market as more of an opportunity than a threat, believes integrators can leverage new consumer devices such as Amazon’s Echo to show off their expertise by introducing end users to a deeper level of control. At the same time, he also makes it clear that the company’s dedicated control app, which has added voice control, offers an ideal user experience.

“The best interface is no interface at all—in other words, whichever solution is the easiest and most seamless experience for the user,” Ben-Gal said. “At On Controls, our app has always defined our vision for the smart home, accessed by the most personalized interfaces we could create. We are continuing along these same lines by adding voice and gesture commands, making smart technology more approachable to more people until it becomes an integrated and effortless part of their daily lives.”

With a broad portfolio of products to address design and ease of customization for integrators, RTI continues to hold fast its mandate that RTI control systems must be installed by a CI professional who has the training and experience necessary to ensure reliable, simple control for every user, as stated by Brett Stokke, RTI’s director of communication.

“It is the customization, expansion, and technological advantages of the RTI control system that empowers dealers to provide their clients with the best user experience possible,” he said. “For instance, affordable Z-Wave wireless home-automation products are increasing in popularity. They are easy to install and ideal for retrofit or new construction. To address this market, RTI is developing the ZW-9 Z-Wave interface module, along with a line of lighting control solutions. This allows Z-Wave devices to be an extension of the RTI ecosystem, providing convenient control over a broad range of devices including security, thermostats, lighting, door locks, window treatments, and more.”

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RTI believes that it is the customization, expansion, and technological advantages of its custom control system that empowers dealers to provide their clients with the best user experience possible.

Savant Systems, which has long focused on the personalized user experience with an emphasis on simple and intuitive interfaces, has continued that company line with a range that starts at a attractive budget entry point, regardless of the consumer’s desire (or lack thereof) to work with an integrator. Savant also recently introduced the Savant Remote and Savant Pro Remote, with the latter offering integrators tools to create a larger custom system. Both remotes include voice control.

“Our Savant product line starts at $499 and provides an amazing entertainment option for up to four rooms that can be configured and set up without the need for an installer, although some people still choose to have it professionally installed,” said Tim McInerney, director of marketing for the company. “With our Savant Pro product line, the sky is the limit for size and functionality, but our commitment to simple, elegant interface options sets us apart from the competition. The Savant Pro line is available only through a network of carefully chosen professional integrators.”

Simple Control, which itself started out as a DIY solution, still has a strong foothold in that arena, noted company president Will Price. Today, Simple Control has made IP control its primary concern, with the company having developed IP control libraries for consumer devices, including Samsung and Apple TV.

“The depth of our IP control library has always been number one for us, and that is critical for DIY,” Price said. “For resellers, we’re introducing a major new infrastructure to manage client configurations, even remotely, right from our app.”

Simple Control for iOS is the company’s flagship interface. “In the fall we’re introducing a major next-generation of that UI that we think is going to set a new bar,” Price noted. “We believe we’re already the easiest-to-use app in this space based in part on the fact that we started in DIY with a very demanding consumer user base. We’re turning that up to 11. The traditional notions of ‘activities’ based on a particular device that we’ve all been using for a few decades now will be reimagined.”

The Lyric Controller by Honeywell, like many newer proprietary control interfaces offers ease of use through simple, straightforward icons, while also including voice control to create Lyric Smart Scenes. However, Lyric is just one half of the equation for Honeywell, a company that sees itself has having a foot in both the professional installation and DIY worlds, underscored by its DIY DragonFly product.

“Consumers look to the professional installation channel to install many types of products, especially when it incorporates monitored life-safety devices such as smoke detectors,” said George Janelis, senior channel manager, Honeywell Security and Fire. “We continue to support the channel with our newest products and services, including installation guidance via web or phone support when needed. But, with the increased popularity of DIY, we now offer ways for consumers to go in that direction. For example, our DIY DragonFly product can be easily installed directly by the end user, but it can be set up to benefit the dealer community via the central station by contributing recurring monthly revenue.”

Raising Voices

Amazon’s Alexa has revolutionized home control and its potential by placing voice control front and center as the ideal interface. Still a work in progress, Alexa nonetheless has opened up new innovation paths as well as forced both consumer and custom specialists to not only think outside of the box but well beyond it. It stands as one of the pivotal products in what is destined to be a storied history of modern living. But what new technologies and ways of interacting can come out of voice control?

“One highly likely area of development will be proximity,” Ben- Gal noted in a list of his predictions. “This is where a smart home system can identify who you are and where you are in the home. Proximity, used in conjunction with voice and gesture commands, will greatly simplify the smart home user experience. Software that can analyze your behavior—perceives that you are sitting down on the couch with a cold beverage—surmises that you are relaxing and turns on the TV.”

Ben-Gal also looks to a future where facial recognition can be use to unlock the door as you approach the home carrying groceries. “Software-based smart home technology will be able to gather bits of data, track habits and behavior to understand the needs of each individual homeowner and deliver appropriate functionality,” he said. “The smart home of the future will be able to anticipate the needs of the family and act accordingly.”

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