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Home Automation & Control

Why Dedicated Control Interfaces Are Still Superior to Mobile Devices

A dedicated interface, whether it be a wand-style remote, in-wall or tabletop touchscreen, will always provide a more robust experience than multi-purpose smart devices.


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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 the average consumer uses every day.

This culture shift has, undoubtedly, created new opportunities for systems integrators and sped the growth of the home automation market.

But this familiarity has led some clients to think smartphones and tablets are all they need, and it’s vital to our industry that we set their expectations correctly. 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 or tabletop touchscreen, 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 is an ever-changing segment, 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.

In-wall touchscreens 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 four 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. Smartphones require 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 a smartphone 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 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 improved profit margins for dealers who effectively communicate their benefits.





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Article Topics

Blogs · Home Automation and Control · Control Systems · Lighting · Security · Energy Management · Ipad · Apple · Iphone · All topics

About the Author

Joe Lautner
Joe Lautner is the control category director for CORE Brands and VP of marketing and sales for HomeLogic.

12 Comments (displayed in order by date/time)

Posted by John Nemesh  on  12/17  at  02:50 PM

Using Apps to control your gear is really just the digital equivalent of having 5 or 6 remotes on the table!  You still have to know what inputs to switch to and how the gear is connected.  For example, to watch a movie in a typical system, you would have to go into the app for the TV, turn on the power, switch the TV to the proper input, then close that app, go into the AVR app, turn it on, switch the AVR to the right input, then go into the blu ray app, turn that on, and press play!

Having a control system, even one that uses an iPad, iPhone or Android device is a LOT easier on the customer!  They go into ONE app, and press “Watch Movie”.

While I do see value in having an app available, make sure you are offering your customers a control system as part of the solution you are selling!  It makes you more money, and it results in a happier customer!

Posted by Paul Epstein  on  12/17  at  03:53 PM

Well said Joe. Good information for integrators to have.I like the “swiss army knife to cordless drill” analogy. Can I use that?

Posted by AMS Audio Video  on  12/17  at  08:30 PM

All of this goes away with an in-wall wired dock for the iPad and a proper iOS-based control system.

Posted by lbaltz  on  12/18  at  08:32 AM

Just install an iPad or iPod touch in one of the several in-wall docks available.  It’s still a far more powerful, and almost always, less expensive solution than a dedicated touch panel.  This eliminates all of your “advantages” except for the Angry Birds point.  I don’t actually have any clients standing at their in-wall iPads playing games though..  Checking email, weather, and having access to a few apps is a great addition to any in-wall panel.  There is also the advantage that the client is already very comfortable and familiar with iPad/iPod interface.

I personally believe that the era of expensive dedicated panels is drawing to an end, especially in the residential market.

Posted by lbaltz  on  12/18  at  08:33 AM

My previous comment assumes an iOS based control system will be used.  I agree jumping around multiple apps is not a goos solution.

Posted by Warren  on  12/19  at  03:04 PM

Interesting article.  In my home theater I have both a dedicated AMX controller as well as an iPad running AMX software.  The iPad was installed more recently when the software became available to drive it. Between the two I prefer the iPad. It is just as reliable, costs a fraction of the AMX panel, and it allows me to do more than fully control the system. In additional to my A/V system it is programmed to control Sooloos and I have full internet connectivity when watching Sunday football games…

Posted by OutaControl  on  12/19  at  04:04 PM

Curious - Of those out there that install dedicated iPads in wall docks, what is total average or typical cost of the dock, iPad and Installation? maybe there isa range based on the type of dock?

Posted by Don  on  12/19  at  04:34 PM

It depends on the application and the UI. If you make the UI intuitive and the graphics pleasing it is a great way to offer control. Our system replaced a hard remote system for the largest boat manufacturer in the world. Economically it made sense on a yacht a dedicated hard remote had failure issues. The iPad mini is a great addition to the line upend offers a screen large enough but still fits in one hand.

Posted by lbaltz  on  12/20  at  02:22 PM

Wifi iPad can easily be done for about $1000.  Wired ethernet will add about $300.

Still way cheaper than a dedicated 9” panel.

Posted by David Grant  on  02/22  at  07:58 AM

According to these guys, http://www.getsmarttv.net/ using smartphones and tablets is going to be the next big push by manufacturers. I can see that from a cost perspective. A tablet app can add a lot more functionality. I’m not so sure because when I’ve used my iPad for some TV controls, I found it very counter intuitive to be looking down at my tablet when my eyes kept saying “why are you looking down?”.

Posted by lbaltz  on  02/22  at  08:13 AM

David Grant,

I agree that any kind of TPs without at least the important hard buttons, are inconvenient.  I suspect we’ll see more remotes like Savant’s SSR-1000, or Crestron’s iPad sleeve which incorporate iP?? devices with hard buttons.  The iPad mini form factor should work very well for this application.

Posted by Morgan Harman  on  02/22  at  03:48 PM

a preview window on the iPad solves this too.  So the guide is shown on the touch screen and you can finish your selection while still looking at the controller.

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