Savant’s New Smart Home App Epitomizes Simplicity, Elegance, User Engagement
Launched at CEDIA 2014, Savant's new iOS and Android app lets users create their own home automation scenes and schedules, personalized with images. New Savant Plus cloud service will simplify networking & remote access.
Julie Jacobson · September 29, 2014
From the day Savant Systems launched its Apple-centric home automation system in 2005 to the time it introduced the TrueImage (formerly “Virtual Control”) user interface in 2009, the company has been somewhat of a maverick in the smart-home business.
The latest innovation, demonstrated for the first time at CEDIA Expo 2014, is an app called “Single App Home” that puts more power in the customer’s hands, whether they’re holding an iOS or Android device.
With the new app, consumers themselves can create and edit schedules and scenes—something that used to require a professional integrator and sometimes a costly truck-roll, which makes the smart-home experience annoying for consumers and surprisingly unprofitable for dealers.
“The key person in the home automation chain is the end consumer,” says Tim McInerney, director of product marketing for Savant. “They want – and we want them to have – the best experience possible, which drives more sales for integrators.”
For customers, the “programming” process is super-simple. Click on NEW SCENE, and either 1) CAPTURE the existing settings for later recall, or 2) CREATE a new scene by selecting and setting devices from a drop-down-menu.
And cooler yet … customers can personalize their new scene by simply taking a photo from the very smart phone or tablet they use to control their Savant home automation system.
Say you’ve just set up the house for a party. You’ve got the lights set just so, some mellow tunes humming at just the perfect sound level and the temperature set at comfortably cool for a crowd of people.
Press the CAPTURE button to capture that scene for the next soiree. To illustrate the mode, a user might take a picture of the party-ready space, or import an image of a party hat.
Consumers just as easily can schedule scenes based on time of day, day of the week, “celestial” time (dawn, dusk, sunrise, sunset) and other parameters, straight from the simple app. For example: On week days, 30 minutes before sunrise, set the temperature to 72 degrees and ramp up the bedroom lights. (Yes, users can set their own fade rates.)
Era of User-Configurable Home Automation
This user-friendly method of configuring a home automation system isn’t exactly unique. In the past few years, smart-home startups have employed similar programming tools for do-it-yourselfers.
But the approach is new and increasingly popular for custom-installed solutions, which entail far more complexity than typical DIY products. There are hundreds of disparate devices and multiple communications protocols to contend with, including “dumb” products that were never meant to be interconnected.
Audio and video integration is the trickiest element of a home-control system, which is why you usually won’t find it in cheap DIY products.
Something as mundane as having a doorbell initiate picture-in-picture on a TV screen to bring up an image from the front-door camera cannot be done (simply) with off-the-shelf systems.
And it can’t be done by any ol’ do-it-yourselfer either—at least not with Savant, which still requires a pro to set up and deploy a system, and to add devices to the program. Want to add a Philips Hue light bulb to your automation ecosystem? You can screw it in yourself but you can’t enroll it into the Savant app.
“You absolutely need an integrator,” says McInerney. “That is the key to making this successful. The integrator makes the intelligence work. But when it’s presented to the end user in a Savant interface, they don’t see the complexity.”
Speaking of complexity, Savant eliminated much of it in the new UI design. The new look is simpler and far more elegant than the original, nixing the colorful icons that now seem awfully loud in the older Savant template.
By default, the new interface is organized by “room views,” rather than by device or function. At the same time, users still can pick a function, such as Pandora, and then select the room where they want the music to play.
Even so, for more complex installations Savant still supports the ultra-customizable TrueControl platform, where anything goes.
‘Savant Plus’ Cloud Service on the Way
Kind of overlooked at CEDIA Expo was the forthcoming Savant Plus service, which offloads certain processes to the cloud for a more seamless installation.
First and foremost, network configuration—including security—moves to the cloud, allowing remote access without the usual complexities associated with port forwarding, VPNs, firewalls and other “network mumbo jumbo,” says George Katsiris, director of product management for Savant.
The Plus service also provides new functionality to Savant’s current offering, including the ability for users to configure push or email notifications “without intensive programming,” Katsiris explains.
There will be a recurring fee associated with some of the new cloud services, but Savant hasn’t set the prices yet. In any case, a free trial subscription will be offered to new customers.
Hardware for the Kind-of Mainstream
I’m not sure which of the home technology companies decided it would be a great idea to over-consumerize their Website and remove virtually any hint that the company actually makes products, but the new Savant.com follows in that new tradition.
Savant doesn’t make it easy to find product information on the new site. It took me ages to locate the goods, buried in the MENU tab under INTEGRATOR STORE.
Come on, guys (not just Savant), would it kill you to put a PRODUCTS tab in the navigation menu?
But I digress.
Savant continues to focus on its “Smart” line of controllers at lower price points than the flagship “Pro” line.
The most affordable new hub, the “Smart Host” ($800) runs on Linux, defying Savant’s tradition of Mac OS-based controllers.
Compared to its Pro counterpart, the little controller supports fewer devices, but plenty for most homes—Up to 250 lighting loads, 8 cameras, 6 thermostats, 20 remote controls, 20 mobile devices ….
But $800 is just the beginning of a system. The Smart Host requires network-connected clients for anything besides IP-controlled devices. The clients ($200 - $400 each), called “Controllers” in Savant parlance, add various I/Os for serial, IR, relay and other communication methods.
Compatible light switches start at about $200 each.
On-Screen Display (OSD) is not supported and the Smart Host doesn’t work with many Savant peripherals built for the Pro controller.
In the end, consumers still get one of the most capable home automation systems on the planet, plus the much-needed ability to personalize their systems without making yet another annoying and expensive call to their integrators.
And the new software truly exemplifies elegance and simplicity.
And Another Thing … Mass Deployment?
A dealer tipped us off to the linkedin profile of Mark Tubinis, SVP Connected Home for Savant.
Tubinis bio reads (emphasis added):
SAVANT provides a comprehensive, elegant and personalized user experience for Home Control and Automation leveraging the emerging connected Internet of Things and incorporating the Things already in your home today. In this role I lead efforts to bring this solution to the market in partnership with Broadband Service Providers and Energy Companies worldwide.
It’s not surprising that Savant would chase mass-market opportunities afforded by cable and utility operators. But if they succeed, it would be a first for a company of Savant’s ilk.
Perhaps with the $90 million investment KKR recently made in the company, Savant has a flying chance.
The integration firm Xssentials did a nice job of capturing the Savant app at CEDIA 2014.
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JULIE JACOBSON bio/articles: cepro.com/jj
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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 firstname.lastname@example.org
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