The incredible market success of the iPhone and iPad, along with other smartphones and tablets, has transformed the way homeowners look at control systems.  Suddenly, something that used to be a foreign concept is as simple as operating a device that the average consumer uses every day.  This culture shift has undoubtedly created new opportunities for systems integrators and sped the growth of the home control and automation market. 

But this familiarity has led some clients to think that smartphones and tablets are all they need, and it’s vital to our industry that we set their expectations correctly.  The fact is that even with the widespread adoption of mobile devices, dedicated control interfaces are just as crucial to the value of a home control system as they were 20 years ago.  A dedicated interface, whether it be a wand-style remote, in-wall touch screen or tabletop touch screen, will always provide a more robust experience than multi-purpose smart devices.

With special features such as always-on intercoms, hard buttons for common functions and the ability for users to delve deeper into security, energy management and media settings and controls, dedicated interfaces provide consumers with significant advantages.  What’s more, as wireless networks become increasingly congested by more wi-fi devices, having hard-wired control interfaces ensures fast, never-fail access to the system.  As an industry, it’s up to us to maintain our dedicated interface sales and communicate the value of these devices to the end-user.

Home control and automation is an ever-changing and evolving segment of CI, as evidenced by the introduction of dozens of new home control platforms over the last decade including those from non-traditional providers like Lowe’s and Verizon.  While many of these products can’t yet compete with the level of integration our most beloved and profitable systems provide, they may help to make home integration a truly mass-market commodity.  This could turn out to be a double-edged sword by increasing interest in home control but also enforcing the idea that smartphones are the ultimate interface device, making our role as educators more important than ever.

ELAN g! Entertainment and Control System

In-wall touch screens have several advantages that are obvious to integrators but may not be so obvious to consumers—you always know where it is, you can’t drop it, you never have to charge it, you (and your kids) can’t break it, toddlers won’t be able to reach it, it won’t slow down because you installed 4 versions of Angry Birds, you can set different home screens and accessibility options for different users, it’s always on, it’s available for other family members to use when you aren’t home and some models even serve double duty as TVs with analog video inputs, making them perfect for kitchens and bathrooms.

As for wand-style remotes, a few days spent exclusively using a smartphone for television and music control will send most consumers running for their old remote.  Smartphone requires several steps to perform very basic functions, so no multi-purpose mobile device will ever trump the classic remote’s one-button control of on/off, volume, mute, next/last song, pause, fast forward and rewind.

For me, the difference between using an iPhone and a dedicated interface to access a control system is like comparing a Swiss Army knife to a cordless drill when you want to build a desk.  The Swiss Army knife may be able to get the job done, but it will take longer and require more effort because it wasn’t designed specifically for that purpose.  Control manufacturers have been designing proprietary touch panels for decades, and they will continue to provide a better experience for users and improve profit margins for dealers who effectively communicate their benefits. 

About Joe Lautner

Joe Lautner is the Director, Control Category Core Brands.