Q: How has the residential control market changed as a result of products from Apple?

A: Back in 2001, when Apple first introduced iPod, a lot of people were intrigued by its convenience and portability. As the iPod developed, it became more engaging as it supported photos, video and metadata exchange with external control systems. The development control drivers by many control companies to integrate iPods was a key indicator that Apple products would become more important in home systems. iPort, having been the first in-wall system for iPod, saw another first-mover opportunity in the development of iPort-specific control drivers for a range of the most popular control systems. iPort products are a completely open platform and can be integrated with just about any control system and support the entire iPod playback feature set.

Q: How did you view the iPod touch?
A: iPod touch is a very cool device and certainly its support of the App Store made it much more than a storage and playback device. For iPort, iPod touch is a seminal product. It’s when we knew that the iPod’s primary function had become a user interface. That’s the key to getting more people to use any product. Make them enjoy the simplicity and consistency of its performance. For an iPod, the iPod touch was leaps and bounds more engaging yet added some very cool functionality that looked and felt great.

Q: Is the iPad just a large iPod touch?

A: Absolutely not! Sure, it does just about everything an iPod touch does but iPad does so much more…and we fully expect its feature set to grow, including features for the CI market. Leaving out the obvious size difference, iPad is a tablet. By that I mean it is very friendly for reading and writing far more than emails and texts. Have you checked out iBooks lately and have you seen the Apps for newspapers like Wall Street Journal and other major magazines? As for iPad in our market, it is huge and has only just gotten started. For companies who sell touch panels, their business will change, perhaps differently so for each company but surely they will each need to adapt to the presence of iPad. Those companies who embrace iPad and develop a control application with a simple and speedy interface will do well. iPort will do well as iPad represents yet another innovation opportunity. Producing a sleek in-wall mounting solution for iPad is a great approach to demand that a user commits an iPad to fixed locations in the home. After all; iPad costs a fraction of the cost of many touch panels so a lot more system budget can go to other products such as higher-end audio and video components, speakers and cabling.

Q: Let’s talk about the electronic systems contractor since you mention those other opportunities to sell. It would seem that iPad could be a threat more so than an opportunity.

A: It’s an opportunity. A huge opportunity. Yes, it is a change but that’s where opportunities lie. The old “keep doing what you do and you’ll get the same results” adage, you know? Let’s talk about the ESC dealer for a bit. They are the lifeblood of our industry. Sure, if manufacturers did not invent and build stuff, there’d be no dealers but that’s a shallow view. The designing and installing dealer is the touch point with the consumer, where the real decisions are made and influences are realized. Dealers need sell systems to more customers. The market has to broaden for us all to grow. I don’t know of an industry or of a brand that has grown without extending its reach to more people. iPad is a wonderful bridge to more people for CI as it is making more people aware of the choice for an automated home and at a fractional price for the interface. This is huge as it opens up more customers to the dealers!

CI Dealers have always ridden a fine line between selling “brands” and selling themselves. Now is an ideal time to keep on selling themselves but to also sell more products and in many cases, more products at higher price points. With the “savings” being realized for every iPad sold instead of a more expensive touch panel, the customer can choose to upgrade speakers, add more rooms of music, invest in more elaborate lighting or add a high-end two-channel system to a special room in their home. These are all enjoyable investments by the customer and solid, proven profit builders for the dealer. When an iPad is specified, selling an elegant mount that is correctly priced for the custom market is a good business model, especially if the dealer looks at it with the mindset of attracting a lot of new customers.

We certainly cannot disregard the ongoing economic malaise but isn’t it strange that with all of the economy’s issues, that iPad has been such a huge success and that many of the technology companies are prospering during the downturn? It could very well be that part of the economic decline is due to a significant change in how we spend our money and on what we spend it on. Delivery of news and information has changed in a big way. First it was cable TV and then 24 hour news and now it’s pitch-by-pitch game updates and Twitter. Nothing is fast enough so being connected on the go is a must and at home, being connected and using that technology to enjoy the comforts of home is the new deal.

Q: Do you find that they (the electronic systems contractors) are embracing or resisting this technology advance?

A: Most ESC’s are embracing it but some still are unsure how to proceed. We expected this as there are always early adopters while others are slower to adapt. We expect that seeing the iPort product in use at CEDIA and recommendations from dealers who have already installed it will help to convince others. ESC’s gain a lot of confidence from their peers so we’re doing all we can to encourage this.

Q: Do you find that the average iPort purchaser understands what the system can do and what they need on the hardware side to make it a real home control application?

A: Not yet. This is where intuition by the ESC really pays off. The ESC who knows their customers really well and presents a simple and elegant solution won’t have to “sell” the required hardware so much as they can “sell” their customer on the end-result experience. And as the process unfolds, it will be nice for the customer to realize that a fixed installation iPad can simplify their home control features.

Q: Who is currently your primary customer and what are they most interested in? (assuming end-user…)

A: iPort customers typically are familiar with Apple products either by way of using an iPhone, an iPod or a Mac. What’s common across these products is a really nice user interface which, in three very different methods, is fun to use. iPort customers are the type of people who appreciate technology, elegance and innovation…and they really expect a great user experience. As far as their interest goes for iPad/iPod content, that varies greatly but music playback and information are probably at the top for most people.

Q: What’s next for iPort?
A: iPort has always been about designing a product that makes using an Apple product enjoyable in a custom installation environment and building profitable opportunities for the dealer community. That won’t change. iPort will continue to develop new products that ensure that any way someone wants to use their Apple product with their home system can be accomplished. We’ve got our new Control Mounts for iPad and for iPod touch out now and they are really great products. Just imagine how cool your house would be if you simply installed an iPad in the wall of your kitchen and used it for news, weather, internet, family notes and goofing around on YouTube while dinner is being prepared!

About Buzz Delano, Business Development Consultant for iPort

Buzz Delano is an experienced industry consultant who works closely with iPort and other clients to develop and implement strategic business planning. He is has been an active CEDIA volunteer and currently is serving his second term on the Board of Directors.