Much is being said about mobile devices and tablets being the road to bring Home Automation to the masses.  How do you see it?

I would agree with this assessment.  HAI has provided remote access to the home since 1985, originally via telephone.  A homeowner would use the keypad on a landline telephone, anywhere in the world, to turn down the thermostat, adjust a light, or activate the alarm system.  So HAI by Leviton realizes the importance of the remote access capability that is provided via tablets and smartphones.  Not to mention, they’re cool devices to use inside the home!  The ability to actually place home control in their hands is incredibly powerful and helps the end-user tie together all of these subsystems in their mind.  “Wow, from this one device in my pocket, I can turn on the sprinklers, turn off the pool pump, see if my daughter arrived home from school”, etc.

What are some of the advantages of mobile devices and tablets as home controls?

There are plenty of advantages to the onslaught of affordable wireless Touchscreens in the form of tablets/smartphones.  Now, a single tablet can be the remote control for your TV, the CCTV monitor for your video surveillance equipment, and the hub of all your other sub-systems like access control, wireless security sensors, thermostats, lights, irrigation, audio/video, etc.  When I first began working for HAI six years ago, we were so excited about a wireless Touchscreen that was thousands of dollars to the end-user.  I just saw an Android tablet listed for $69.  So the proliferation is great for home controls.  Now, people can theoretically use several of these devices throughout their home and do so rather affordably.  The tablets sort of make it more accessible and less of a fantasy for your average homeowner.

What are some of the dis-advantages?

Our tablets and smartphones tend to walk off – to the library, on the plane, to the office.  This is why we still encourage at least one Touchscreen interface in the home, something dedicated to control, so that it’s always there to adjust any settings whenever you need it.  Granted, most items are automated, but it’s comforting to know there is a single interface that you can access 24/7 and not have to go searching all over the house for it.  Plus, tablets and mobile devices tend to be over-used and lose battery power quickly.  An in-wall Touchscreen in the most frequently used area provides hard-wired and reliable control 24/7/365. 

How does a home controls company take advantage of this current move to mobile devices?

One thing HAI by Leviton is doing to take advantage of mobile devices, is offering free apps for products that can be used stand-alone.  For instance, HAI by Leviton’s new Hi-Fi 4×4 system can be controlled stand-alone from your iPhone or iPad.  You can even use the same iOS device’s Bluetooth settings so that you can stream your iTunes across the entire home without connecting to a dock or refreshing a media server.  We also have a great stand-alone free app for the Home Theater Extender 2, and we ship the device with templates that the end-user can customize.  Homeowners are using this new app to control a small AV setup in their living room, and business owners are stacking the devices so that they can control dozens of components in sports bars, all from the same app!  It’s incredible.  Offering remote access to our stand-alone solutions opens us up to many new potential customers, who maybe want to dip their feet into our home technology offerings.  Once they see how easy and reliable the stand-alone systems can be, they begin looking for ways to link everything together with a home control system.

Can you give examples of when a proprietary touchscreen is more desirable?

Absolutely.  Proprietary Touchscreens have a few benefits.  For instance, right now, homeowners or business owners can incorporate their own design template.  Meaning, if they want a photo of their family as the background, or if they want black icons, or if they want it golf themed, that’s possible.  The interfaces on the other devices tend to be static and not very customizable.  Perhaps all of that will change in the future, but it’s a stronghold for the Touchscreen that HAI by Leviton manufactures today.  When we create a mobile app, it has to conform to so many different size/OS formats, especially if we’re talking about Android.  When we concentrate on the Touchscreen GUI, we know that entire device like the back of our hand, so there’s a lot more we can make happen with absolute certainty that it will work properly for every customer, and we can give them the ability to make custom interfaces as well.  More innovation seems possible there, and then we can figure out how to make a new feature work for the other devices after that.  Also, as mentioned previously, the Touchscreen in your wall isn’t going anywhere.  Your kid isn’t going to lose it in the couch cushions, drop it and break it, or take it to the library and accidentally leave it.  With our Touchscreen, there’s an LED that shows whether or not your alarm system is activated, the faceplates have ten different finish options to match your style, and it’s all installed quickly with a single Cat5 for power/communication for a device that doesn’t need recharging. 

What would be your order of preference for app development on Android, iOS, Windows Mobile?

Personally?  I’ve jumped all over the place regarding platforms and have owned several Android/iOS/Windows devices.  HAI by Leviton right now sees the most sales success with our iOS apps, so they tend to get the most engineering focus, followed by Android.  The new Windows platform is exciting and I’m certain we’ll be working on something for those great devices too, since our first smartphone app was Windows based.

Do you think consumers understand how to use their phone to control their home systems, or is there still a lot of education needed?

Thankfully, most apps, including HAI by Leviton’s, have been developed by people who created in-home Touchscreens for years.  They know that people don’t like multiple clicks before actually getting a chance to change a setting, they know how the physical layout should appear so as not to be confusing.  I think there is minimal consumer education that needs to happen, because once you put that phone or tablet in someone’s hand, it’s so simple to use that they are no longer intimidated by the blinking green circuit boards that are tucked into their utility closet.  Make the app attractive, easy to use, and there are typically no issues with any users, young or old.

Look in your crystal ball and give us a realistic vision of the typical home control system in 5 or 10 years?

Wow.  Tough question.  HAI was founded in 1985, and it has taken a while for home automation to become mainstream, but we’re there now.  Homeowners see commercials, they see smarthomes being built by their friends, so it’s only going to become more widespread as we learn to increase features and reduce costs.  I think the typical home automation system, in 5 years, will be 100% wireless.  The TYPICAL system will probably be smaller than what we see now, potentially self-installed so that people can retrofit their homes or apartments in an hour or two.  That said, many HAI by Leviton customers place their systems in large estates with dozens of complicated sub-systems being tied together.  The systems integrator is not going away any time soon, thankfully.  There will probably be MORE integrators than we’ve ever seen, and they’ll be working hard to connect so many new ideas that come in smaller packages.  More devices and appliances will speak nicely with one another, and I don’t think all manufacturers will get on board for a particular protocol, at least not within a five year time frame.  Your doors and windows will be smarter with built-in technologies, alternative energy like solar power will be better integrated, electric cars will be a part of the system, and it will just be a lot more seamless than it is right now.  I think it’s just going to keep on growing like it is, with technologies becoming more affordable, and more devices becoming “smart”, using various RF protocols.  Ten years from now?  I’m not certain.  I think we’ll all have Google Glasses by then and you can just gesture to raise your window coverings or close your eyes to shut your AV system down.  But seriously, HAI by Leviton will be there to corral as many different sub-systems and protocols as possible, continuing to lead the way for affordable and comprehensive home control throughout the world.  

Greg Rhoades

Greg Rhoades, 29, Director of Marketing, has worked for HAI by Leviton since graduating from college in New Orleans.  He never expected to find such innovation in a region better known for food, music, and partying.  He is proud to work for a company that is driven to provide smart solutions for every home and business, and looks forward to the future technological advancements in the industry.