When asked to write this article, I called the local magic shop about purchasing the latest generation of crystal ball. I learned that there is a two year waiting list made up entirely of people in the home automation industry. So I must base this story on the facts at hand!

Many theories exist about where our home automation industry is headed and which products will lead the way. Of course all manufacturers believe they have the right product mixture. But two things continually seem to be missing: common sense and an understanding of the buyer’s needs. To predict who and what will be around as we turn the century we need only address these two things and learn to see past the smoke and mirrors that have become commonplace.

Many companies have tried the “one system for all needs” strategy. While “selling the sizzle” continues to generate sales, most of these installs never finish, complicate the users life, use proprietary equipment that can never be replaced with any other brand (lighting control is a good example), and often result in the buyer living in the house from hell!

It is this approach that has slowed our industry’s growth more than any other factor. The greatest damage has been to our most precious resource—the dealer! Dealers can normally sell one good system that often becomes their last. Still, manufacturers continue to launch the same old “one system for all needs” sales campaign over and over again. The underlying belief behind this approach is that we will never run out of dealers and that repeat sales from satisfied customers are not needed.

But not all manufacturers are doing the same old dog n’ pony show. AMP Inc. has a strategy that centers on common sense and also meets the buyer’s needs. The beginning of this strategy is not an automation product at all. It’s the information superhighway. It’s based on a belief that buyers want to step slowly into the electronic house age and will be happier if they can defer some decisions until they are more informed, while maximizing the capability to add on or upgrade later.

The key element in AMP’s strategy was the introduction of OnQ structured wiring into the new construction market. OnQ offers builders and new homebuyers a wiring structure that allows homes to be ready for resources coming down the information superhighway. It has many-well-thought out upgrade paths. Possibly the strongest feature of OnQ is the fact that home buyers need not become technical geniuses to make decisions about the wiring in their home. Instead, they commit to a base of wiring that becomes the enabling medium from which to grow.

During the construction stage of a new home, buyers find they have little time to learn new things. Forcing buyers to commit to the complex final electronic design for their homes is often the reason for a NO SALE. While some construction stage decisions are needed to select the features of an OnQ system, they are greatly reduced. Buyers have never opposed equipping their homes for the future. More often, they opt not to purchase, because they are over budget and/or have no time to learn how to make the right decision on complicated wiring choices. AMP OnQ addresses both of these problems by giving the buyer an infrastructure of telecommunications wiring suitable for today’s needs. This infrastructure also prepares the home to support future upgrades—and all at a very affordable price.

The SmartOne system, from Smart Corporation (formerly known as Smart Interface) in Las Cruces, New Mexico, opens up a whole new world and promises to be the standard by which all other systems will be compared. This system will redefine the term “ease of use and installation.” While the true extent of features available with SmartOne will not be known until the summer of 1997, a glimpse into its design revealed many innovative approaches.

SmartOne offers the homeowner a wide variety of choices. The system is modular in design and is easy to upgrade. As the needs of the consumer change so does the ability to grow your system without sacrificing your original investment. Owners or builders can start with the most basic of needs like integrating the existing security system to lighting systems. Then add control of your entertainment system, or move up to full integration of all sub-systems and add controls for the sprinkler system, gas fireplace, jacuzzi, and other low voltage products. SmartOne has something for everyone. Buyers can start small, start low-cost and then migrate upward without losing their current investments as needs change. Now this is a system worth waiting for.

Among the most powerful features of SmartOne will be its use of the CEBus protocol. Controlling lighting, appliances and other sub-assemblies without special wiring, this greatly opens up the market channel to include existing homes. But this is not new— so what else does Smart One offer?

How about user interfaces? The single most important point in tailoring home electronics systems to the buyer’s needs is ease of use. The factor that determines ease of use is the way a human interacts with the system. Some believe that a personal computer is the best choice. I say the K.I.S.S. (keep it simple, stupid) approach rules that out. Without letting Smart Corporation’s cat out of the bag, I will say that SmartOne will take ease of use to the far extreme, with several types of user interfaces.

Until SmartOne, the homeowner’s ability to have a whole house entertainment system that can be easily controlled from one remote control has been available in only the most expensive of systems. Advanced entertainment choices and superior lifestyle enhancement conveniences are integral parts of this system that qualifies this product as the Product of the Year. SmartOne certainly takes energy management to the next level and promises to get both homeowners and power companies extremely excited. The analog input capabilities of SmartOne rival that found only in the industrial instrumentation world and will offer the owner access to many new applications as yet unheard of in this industry.

But what about Price? Well this author is sworn to secrecy until the official entry of SmartOne into the market later this summer and it’s driving me crazy! Having been in this industry since the first days, I have never seen a product with the features that SmartOne has at this price. The reasonable price is due in part to a revolution in thinking and product strategy that will soon shock the automation world. The summer of ‘97 will be remembered, wait and see!

A new strategy for dealer training unlike anything offered in the industry before will assure that both sales and installations improve. Aggressive training programs for dealers aimed at the homebuilder market teaches the use of systems like the Virtual Realtor (the HAA Mark of Excellence winner in the Sales and Marketing competition). These new training programs illustrate AMP and Smart Corporation’s commitment to more than just making the right products.

With companies like AMP and Smart Corporation in the picture no one can predict how far our automation industry will go. But one thing is clear, when the smoke clears and the snake oil is all sold out, AMP and Smart Corporation will still be leading the way!

Tony Stewart, President of S.E.T Net and an AMP Master Dealer in South Carolina, is developer of the Virtual Real-Tour system and a founder of Automation University. He won the Best of Class at Habitech. Tony is currently a member of the board of directors for the Home Automation Association. Contact Tony at S.E.T. Inc. 864-848-5190 or email setnet@concentric.net