Simple Control Q&A: When an Expert Cryptographer Makes a Smart-Home System
Simple Control, a rich yet affordable home automation system developed by an expert cryptographer, launches remote monitoring platform to help integrators manage their clients' smart homes.
More about Simple Control
Simple Control Company Info
But don’t let the DIY background fool you. The company, known for its rich integration capabilities, has been targeting the home-technology installation channel for many years, especially since 2014 when Sanus founder Jim Wohlford joined Roomie founder Will Price and launched what we now know as Simple Control.
Over the past two years, Simple Control has added hardware to its arsenal of software, making network configurations and remote monitoring a breeze. On that note, at CEDIA the company demonstrated its new software version 4.5, featuring integration-friendly Remote Management tools such as Multihome, the ability to view multiple properties through a single dashboard.
We caught up with Wohlford and Price after the show.
How was CEDIA?
CEDIA was very strong for us this year with a solid mix of new and old dealers and both U.S. and international interest. Dealers are very interested in the Internet of things and a powerful, affordable and reliable control layer for A/V and other smart devices. (Watch the booth tour.)
What is the state of your consumer vs. pro business right now?
True home control integration is not really a DIY product. Dealer design and installation assistance is most often needed. Most of our dealers are interested in both light commercial and residential applications.
The consumer business remains good for us, but our primary focus is on the CEDIA market. With the recent introduction of Remote Management, along with Users and Permissions and Echo Voice Control, we have an extremely strong and efficient solution for integrators that their customers love. We have years of experience delivering mass-market user-friendly apps that consumers want to use and are not walled off into proprietary systems that result in both dealer and end-user frustration.
How are products sold and supported in the pro channel?
Our Simple System product line is sold through authorized dealers and distributors and are not available through online resellers. Interested integrators and dealers can visit SimpleControl.com for more information.
Many enthusiasts and integrators think you have the most robust home automation platform around. What are some things you’re doing that the others aren’t?
Two significant differentiators are two-way IP control of the most popular brands and deep media guide integration. The Simple Control compatibility list reads like a Who's Who of A/V and connected-home brands. Because we started as an app on the App Store, we were forced to build the strongest IP control on the market.
With DirecTV, Sonos, Plex, AppleTV, Roku, FireTV and many other products we have gone deep on guides, control, speaker grouping, camera compatibility and many other areas.
Our integration with major partners like Dish and TiVo are great examples of the depth of control that Simple provides. DVR record and playback that integrates the metadata from our guides is just not available in other control systems.
What does founder Will Price’s strong background in encryption bring to the smart-home category?
Features like multi-home, remote access, remote management, user types, synchronization and permissions are all built on the principles our engineers learned over decades, from the time Will co-founded Pretty Good Privacy (PGP) back in 1996. PGP is the famous encryption software that led the charge to make encryption legal for all of us.
We are deep security people. Will has seven patents related to cryptography, and has brought a sense of practical, but uncompromising, security to key areas of the Simple platform, in exactly the places where you see others having trouble.
Jim Wohlford says he looked at “everyone out there” before deciding to partner with Simple Control. What was it about the company that attracted you and other investors?
A rack of equipment with wired one-way control through hundreds of feet of wire with dedicated wall panels is not a modern, Internet-of-things paradigm. We were looking to harness the power of the network, phone and tablet that the homeowner already owns with modern two-way IP control.
Dealers and end users want to choose their A/V gear based on their own tastes and needs, not based on the compatibility requirements of their control system. We envisioned a control layer that integrated with cloud services and did not require proprietary hardware. Will had developed this exact system in Roomie Remote and over the past few years we have transformed the product into the full featured Simple System line, designed specifically for dealers and integrators.
Why did it take so long for Simple Control (Roomie Remote) to deliver hardware for easy configuration/implementation? Do you think a manufacturer can succeed in the custom channel selling software only, no hardware?
Simple Control is first and foremost a software company. Simple Hub runs the software: Alexa voice control, timers, triggers, remote access, remote management, connection to both the Simple Cloud and third-party clouds. These are very advanced features that took years of development time to provide world-class functionality and security.
We’re building a strong and solid foundation that will last for years to come. Hardware is a key part of our product mix. Besides the Simple Hub, we also offer Simple Blasters to integrate full IR, serial and contact-closure control for older and non-smart products.
Similarly, what took so long to deliver remote service?
Integrators tell us the Multihome and Remote Management features are exactly what they need to widely deploy and service a control layer.
Similarly, we’re hearing feedback all the time that we have the best integration with Alexa. Doing this well and doing it securely takes time, but we’re happy we did it right and we think the user experience now speaks to that.
Is data analytics a big play for Simple Control? If so, what kind of things have you learned or do you plan to learn based on how people use their systems?
Will co-founded Pretty Good Privacy. He holds a very staunch stand on these topics. Before companies had privacy policies, PGP was printing 10,000 pages of encryption source code in books so that it could be exported – pioneering software for anonymity and encrypted voice calls, employing people specifically to handle privacy issues, etc.
At Simple Control, we’ve never even mass-mailed our own customers. We’re not in the business of collecting or using customer data. While our cloud services do inevitably come in contact with a lot of customer data, we try to encrypt it client side, so that we’re simply holding it and not able to access it.
There may be some opportunities to expand in this area in the future, in particular using white-label versions of our apps and other OEM-style arrangements, but it’s not something we’re seriously focused on now. We’re several steps beyond what users would even hope for in terms of privacy and security.
What are some trends you’re seeing in both technology and other areas (demographic, macroeconomic, consumer behavior, channels of delivery, etc.) that you think will have notable effects on the smart-home market in the next few years?
Voice control has been the big story this year. It has been talked about for decades, and now our partnership with Amazon has made comprehensive voice control of the home a reality.
Binding the diversity of content sources is an emerging trend. Finding content on Netflix, Amazon or your linear source is a challenge we are well-positioned to solve. We feel there is a deeper level of comprehensive content access that is possible.
Folks have streaming sources, local sources and live content. Finding what you want to watch, when you want to watch it, should be easy and seamless, even with a myriad of sources: satellite, Apple TV, Fire TV, TiVo, Kodi, and Plex. Do you already have that movie on Plex? Is it on Netflix or HBO? Which source should you play it on?
Simple Control is an intuitive dashboard to all of the amazing smart devices in the customer’s home or business. The explosion of individual apps for every device has truly replicated the coffee table remote problem of the late 1990s. We have the largest IP library, so customers and dealers can control the products and services they choose, in the manner they prefer.
There has never been a better time for a single app to put it all together. This is where we’re going. Over the next year, we’re strongly focused on unifying A/V and total home control with an affordable, powerful and friendly interface.
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Julie Jacobson is founding editor of CE Pro, the leading media brand for the home-technology channel. She has covered the smart-home industry since 1994, long before there was much of an Internet, let alone an Internet of things. Currently she studies, speaks, writes and rabble-rouses in the areas of home automation, security, networked A/V, wellness-related technology, biophilic design, and the business of home technology. Julie majored in Economics at the University of Michigan, spent a year abroad at Cambridge University, and earned an MBA from the University of Texas at Austin. She is a recipient of the annual CTA TechHome Leadership Award, and a CEDIA Fellows honoree. A washed-up Ultimate Frisbee player, Julie currently resides in San Antonio, Texas and sometimes St. Paul, Minn. Follow on Twitter: @juliejacobson Email Julie at email@example.com
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