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FEATURE: ROOM CONTROL Modern management


Nest’s wireless intelligent room thermostats and smoke alarms and associated smart device apps provide remote control of home heating


[KEY POINTS]


Smart device apps are available for many different home automation functions


Users may prefer integrated, single application control interfaces but are conversant with multiple apps for different elements of control


Small companies are producing novel and attractive automation applications and are growing rapidly as a result


Steve Montgomery investigates the changing trends in home automation brought about by smart device apps and their effect on the traditional control system market


WE SEEM to be able to download smartphone and tablet apps for almost every conceivable purpose these days, from managing our exercise regimes to helping us find a good restaurant in an unfamiliar town. Recently a wide range of applications have been released that automate home control services, offering manual or automatic control of lights, heating, door locks and security systems. Some of these act on individual devices, others manage a selection of devices. They all enable homeowners to control devices from within or to set, control and check their home environment remotely. All the large control system


manufacturers have released smart-device-based control applications to complement their existing control systems, and OEM equipment designers offer smart apps to control their individual items of technology. At the same time a vast number of new apps, and the necessary hardware modules needed to provide the interface to


34 May 2014


physical equipment, have been designed and released by start-up companies. These are often funded by crowd funding initiatives that have no previous experience of product design, development and, most crucially, testing. The net result is that


anybody interested in automating their home can achieve a reasonable level of


controllability themselves, aided by the advanced auto- installation and plug-and-play capability of most apps. They are, though, likely to end up with a surfeit of applications that they need to switch between to achieve any sort of comfortable environment; each with its own distinct look and feel, and with varying levels of quality, support and reliability. On the face of it, this situation may seem undesirable to system integrators, but it is, however one that can benefit the industry.


‘Users cannot be subject to unreliable


software that may heat their home in summer or leave it unsecured’ Paul Williams, Control4


Individual control devices and apps are rapidly generating mass-appeal that serves to introduce people to the market. “We welcome the situation,” says Paul Williams, vice president of security and communications products at Control4. “It brings wider market awareness and people who have seen home automation in upmarket homes realise that it is obtainable to them too, albeit at a less luxurious level. This leads them to develop their own ideas of what they would like to achieve beyond


a disparate selection of apps on an iPad, and they often come to Control4 as the first step in an integrated home automation solution that binds their individual components together in a ‘one-app-to-rule-them-all’ type of solution.”


GOING NATIVE Users are familiar with a wide range of different apps and are comfortable with switching between them on smart devices, so there is a case to use native ones. “Devices and services like


Kaleidescape, Sonos and Spotify are built around iOS apps, so it is unnecessary and a real overhead to develop a control app that reinvents the way they operate,” says David Webster, chief technical officer for RGB Comms. “New features require updates to the control interface which means ongoing work, or at worst the customer relies on out-of-date features. What is needed is a method of running two or more apps on screen at the same time to enable better ergonomic


The market is expanding rapidly with new the regular introduction of new technology. This is just the beginning


Geolocation technology can be linked with device management to effect intelligent control based on users’ location


control of several services at once.”


Jonathan Cooper, managing


director of residential, marine and commercial integration specialist The Next Level, points out other aspects: “User-managed apps do provide a threat to the lower end of the home automation integration market and where integration is solely of individual elements such as AV. At the higher end of the market homeowners demand the simplicity and reliability that professional integration solutions and installers deliver as well as global brands if they have homes in different countries. “In the same way that nobody wants multiple remote control handsets, a single application on a tablet is much more appealing and usable to them. Single applications from the main control


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