Control & Automation

The Marketing Challenges of Remote Controls and Home Automation

Lessons from Logitech Harmony, Savant Remote and others: Are they universal remote controls or home automation hubs?

The Marketing Challenges of Remote Controls and Home Automation

Julie Jacobson · June 29, 2016

In June, Logitech announced the Harmony Pro, a new universal remote and home automation controller for the custom integration channel.

For perspective on the product, I spoke with an industry friend — an integrator-turned-home-automation manufacturer — about his experiences with Harmony. This friend has tried all of the DIY-type smart home hubs, including Revolv (he liked it!), Wink, SmartThings, Lowe’s Iris, Staples Connect, Vera (MiOS) and apparently every other Internet of Things device du jour.

Calling it “a phenomenal product,” he says Harmony is his go-to remote and home controller: “It allows complete control of your A/V equipment along with Z-Wave and ZigBee devices via an app. It’s very easy to set up and use. I use it every day and love it.”

So why, I wondered, do you rarely hear Harmony mentioned in the same breath as all those other hubs? Maybe because those other guys are “framed and positioned as home automation because that’s all they do,” says Logitech senior product manager Todd Walker, “whereas Logitech’s legacy is in A/V control.”

It’s a struggle for good remote-control companies to join the smart-home conversation, even when their automation systems rival the best in the business. And vice versa.

If I were giving a keynote address, I would pause and repeat that line for emphasis (though I hate when presenters do that). Walker says he hadn’t really thought about this issue — if it actually is an issue — but now was wondering, out loud, “Maybe we need to rethink that.”

It’s a struggle for good remote-control companies to join the smart-home conversation, even when their automation systems rival the best in the business. And vice versa.

If you want a universal remote control, do you turn to a home automation company? It doesn’t seem natural.

The leading remote-control companies in the installer channel know this all too well. URC and RTI have spent years to get a seat at the home automation table. At the same time, Control4, Crestron, Elan, Savant and other top control companies can’t seem to sell their products as “universal remote controls” because perhaps they do too much.

I have suggested to all of them in the past that they bundle a remote with a controller and package it as a remote control system.* None of them has really taken this approach except for Savant with its new Savant Remote for consumers and Savant Pro remote for integrators.*

None of the DIY-oriented home automation systems include handheld remote controls, and most won’t control a TV system. And yet, they dominate the DIY smart-home dialog. Logitech Harmony, on the other hand, has a solid remote and a “phenomenal” home automation solution if you believe my friend, yet is mostly an asterisk in the IoT universe.

Logitech truly does want to be known as a home automation provider. It’s just that the company has “found entertainment is the primary entry point to the smart home,” Walker says.

For pros, the answer is pretty simple: Your customer wants a remote control? Sell them a remote control. They want a home automation system? Sell them a home automation system. Even if they’re both the same product. For the manufacturer, consider two different packages and messages for the exact same product.

You need look no further than the “cold medicine” aisle at the drug store, where every product comes in three or four different boxes, each with a different message to fix whatever ails the customer at any given time.

*That oh, by the way, does home automation, too.



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  About the Author

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 julie.jacobson@emeraldexpo.com

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  Article Topics


Control & Automation · Automation · Universal Remotes · Whole House Control · News · Blogs · IoT · Iris · Logitech · MiOS · Remote Control · Revolv · All Topics
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Comments

Posted by Paul Self on July 1, 2016

Julie, we can take this offline for the other article. I’ll follow-up directly.

Posted by Julie Jacobson on July 1, 2016

Paul, you read my mind. As I read this I’m in the process of writing about Eero and smart doorbells. Why don’t WE do that?

Posted by Paul Self on June 30, 2016

Thanks.

A little UX rant follows…..

I am the odd marketing person that also ran the control system department for a major integrator and I have brought many houses live with AMX, Crestron, RTI, Lutron, and a few others. We built a standard UI that sucked less than a lot of other UIs. It was ok at the time. The focus was on how the customer approached it, not how the techno weenies in the office approached it.

UX in this industry is so pathetic. I know a lot of people have tried, but very few really understand UX. Try this https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xAKnPtbfNfY&list=PLg-UKERBljNy2Yem3RJkYL1V70dpzkysC. There are many issues here that must be applied to a UX on a controller.

Human factors as so badly over looked that it is amazing this industry has survived.

Many of the industry folks worship Apple, but very few have actually read the developer guidelines. Try it before you start making another custom UI.

My biggest rant is against the concept of an “Intuitive User Interface”. Intuitive and intuition are very subjective based on gender, age, culture, education and many other factors. I like the concept of “Obvious”. When you go to an ATM, it is very obvious what needs to happen. The UX must be obvious.

A client on a 25k sqft house that ran a successful software company once told me, “You will understand the thing you invented better than anyone else will.” I learned to test UX on customers and pay attention to their reactions.

Sell the experience. Sell the remote.

Posted by Julie Jacobson on June 30, 2016

What Paul said. If you have a client that needs a “remote control,” sell them a remote control and leave it at that ... for now. All of the major home automation mfrs in the category have remote controls (that may happen to come with a little black box). Mfrs should do a better job of packaging their products for the various needs, for example, A REMOTE CONTROL.

Posted by SKoolD on June 30, 2016

@Paul Self - I 100% agree with the approach.  UX is paramount and the marketing strategy should be about being a remote control first and foremost.  If that system evolves to include the popular elements of “integration” all the better.  The race in this category is for a brand with great UX to deliver that platform expandability but in a tasteful way with other brands that have great followings. 

Another thing we’re seeing more and more these days is customers who have dabbled in smart home tech i.e. doorlocks, lighting, doorbell solutions, etc. of all different brands and they want it all to work in 1 system.  As all of us in this conversation would agree, this is a backwards approach but one that really shows the direction of the DIY market.  Manufacturers need to be cognizant of that and steer their offering to include as much of the IoT product as possible BUT ONLY IN A SMART FASHION.

Posted by TheDarkKnight on June 30, 2016

I agree, Paul Self. My point wasn’t that there’s little/no value in a Harmony or Savant DIY solution. Rather, that there’s still a big difference between a single room remote that does a couple other things and a fully custom home automation solution.

Posted by Paul Self on June 30, 2016

I believe the intent of this article was about how to market a control solution to the consumer, not which devices actually work. We have all seen catastrophic fails and many near misses. But, how does the consumer perceive the product category and how does the industry market to them?

IoT and Home Automation are big scary concepts to a consumer. Integration is a polysyllabic word that we understand, but the consumer is scared of it.

I just went through this exercise with a friend of mine. He needed a new remote for his dad. Harmony fit the User Experience (UX) expectations. This is an important concept. UX is how the consumer experiences and thinks about the product category. They are paying for it and ONLY their opinion matters.

My friend bought the Harmony, configured it, and then asked me if music (Sonos) and AC (Nest) would work like this on a smartphone. A few days later he asked about being able to turn off his lights as well. While this is a crude “Automation System” to us, it is a remote control for the consumer.

I would suggest marketing it as a remote and use that as a slippery slope into automation.

Posted by Julie Jacobson on June 30, 2016

Seth_J, I have had that conversation many times with Control4, and it’s more relevant now with the EA line. Try packaging it as a remote contol. I can’t speak to the performance of the SAvant remote, but I like the marketing direction. People understand remote controls.

Posted by iKnowTech on June 29, 2016

@SKooID, I had high hopes for the Savant remote.  But we couldn’t get it to program correctly for basic things like Input 2A vs 2B on a Panasonic Pro Plasma.  Sonos Connect did not come up as an AV device for programming the Receiver to come on and set the input.  The IR blaster and IR out of the remote base was so weak that it wouldn’t control devices in a cabinet with tinted glass doors 5 feet away even though every other wand remote seems to handle it just fine.    Would have needed 3 separate blasters to put inside the rack. 

The fact that it’s all wizard based programming from only within a mobile app, makes it very difficult to troubleshoot with an End User because you can’t just remote in and adjust programming for them.    The fact that it is has no IR ports for physical emitters, and that the host doesn’t even have an Ethernet port.  All these things seem like they were designed by someone who cares much more about how something looks on outside that how it actually functions.    The voice control was abysmal.  Couldn’t get it to do very basic commands like “Watch CNN”

Good luck trying to pre-program these devices on another network, before you roll a truck to clients house, they didn’t design it to work that way.

I wanted to like it, but Savant made it very difficult.  They seem to be going for the pure DIY market and frankly I don’t think average user will be able to set these up without calling in for support anyway.  If they wanted integrators to focus on this product, they would have made it cloud programmable, where integrators could manage all their clients in on pain of glass portal, and had the host with an Ethernet port and a few IR outputs.

What they need to do is bridge the gap between this Savant 1.0 system and Savant Pro and meet in the middle somewhere.  At the end of the day DIY doesn’t put food on my table, and if that’s what Savant is going for with 1.0 I can’t see it being a product I’ll support.

Posted by SKoolD on June 29, 2016

@pebaugh - You completely missed the point of the article.  The rising tide in this market segment is all about IoT and DIY.  The reason for this movement is to put the power of the system in the end user’s hands, thus the success of Harmony and all the up and comers looking to make a splash.  This customer base does not want integrators involved so C4 is not an answer here.  Sorry.

@iknowtech - I’ve successfully set up a few Savant remotes now with great success.  The remote and app are a big hit amongst my employees and as long as the proof of concept continues to make believers out of people it will be a great success.  Like any new product, especially a DIY multi-room universal remote aimed at the DIY market, it will take some time to iron out but the vision/potential of the Savant system is top notch and in my opinion really sets the bar high for this category.

View all comments.

Posted by TheDarkKnight on June 29, 2016

Except Harmony does not rival the best systems in the business. The fact that he would even say that, means Logitech has very little understanding of the capabilities of true home automation systems.

Posted by Seth_J on June 29, 2016

That sounds like head in the sand syndrome, TheDarkKnight. 90% of the functionality at 1/10th of the price shouldn’t be ignored and for most people that’s good enough. The don’t need to feel entitled and own a custom “true” home automation system—whatever that is. I’m not a fan of Harmony for historical reasons but from all indications is highly regarded by the people that use them. If I didn’t have access to Control4 or URC you bet I’d be using a Harmony.

Going back on topic its interesting that the Harmony line is having this problem too. We’ve struggled in the past to sell Control4 to some clients who are utterly amazed to learn it can do more than control a TV. I have to wonder if the products just aren’t packaged right—and even then what is the correct packaging. Its a very perplexing problem to run into. The product is good enough to do A, B and C but if the client only ever wants B are they turned away because they think A and C are too complex? Do customers even care about adding features later on?

Posted by TheDarkKnight on June 29, 2016

I’m well versed on what Harmony can do and it’s not 90% of the functionality.

Posted by iKnowTech on June 29, 2016

Spent 8+ hours on the phone with mom trying to help her set up a very basic system with the new Savant 1.0 remote.  Could not get it working reliably for the few activities it needed to do.  That was my initial test to see if that remote was something that I would want to potentially sell my clients, but frankly I don’t think it’s going to happen. 

I had her ship it back and sent her a preprogrammed URC Complete Control IR remote that took me 15 minutes to pre- program and it will works flawlessly.  In fact she was replacing an old Harmony 890 that the Activity hard buttons finally gave out on.  That worked flawlessly as well.  The Savant 1.0 remote, they have really missed the mark on that one if you ask me.  I had high hopes….

Posted by pebaugh on June 29, 2016

The new Control4 EA-1 bundled with an SR-260 can be positioned as a TV remote with automation capabilities.  At a $600 retail price plus install and programming this is on par with many of the credible offerings from URC yet opens the door to many upgrades such as lighting, T-stats, shade control, doorlocks and custom programming,  the icing on the cake is the audio capabilities built in with one stream of Tune-In, Pandora, etc.  I challenge any manufacturer to match what the entry level EA-1 has.

Posted by SKoolD on June 29, 2016

@pebaugh - You completely missed the point of the article.  The rising tide in this market segment is all about IoT and DIY.  The reason for this movement is to put the power of the system in the end user’s hands, thus the success of Harmony and all the up and comers looking to make a splash.  This customer base does not want integrators involved so C4 is not an answer here.  Sorry.

@iknowtech - I’ve successfully set up a few Savant remotes now with great success.  The remote and app are a big hit amongst my employees and as long as the proof of concept continues to make believers out of people it will be a great success.  Like any new product, especially a DIY multi-room universal remote aimed at the DIY market, it will take some time to iron out but the vision/potential of the Savant system is top notch and in my opinion really sets the bar high for this category.

Posted by iKnowTech on June 29, 2016

@SKooID, I had high hopes for the Savant remote.  But we couldn’t get it to program correctly for basic things like Input 2A vs 2B on a Panasonic Pro Plasma.  Sonos Connect did not come up as an AV device for programming the Receiver to come on and set the input.  The IR blaster and IR out of the remote base was so weak that it wouldn’t control devices in a cabinet with tinted glass doors 5 feet away even though every other wand remote seems to handle it just fine.    Would have needed 3 separate blasters to put inside the rack. 

The fact that it’s all wizard based programming from only within a mobile app, makes it very difficult to troubleshoot with an End User because you can’t just remote in and adjust programming for them.    The fact that it is has no IR ports for physical emitters, and that the host doesn’t even have an Ethernet port.  All these things seem like they were designed by someone who cares much more about how something looks on outside that how it actually functions.    The voice control was abysmal.  Couldn’t get it to do very basic commands like “Watch CNN”

Good luck trying to pre-program these devices on another network, before you roll a truck to clients house, they didn’t design it to work that way.

I wanted to like it, but Savant made it very difficult.  They seem to be going for the pure DIY market and frankly I don’t think average user will be able to set these up without calling in for support anyway.  If they wanted integrators to focus on this product, they would have made it cloud programmable, where integrators could manage all their clients in on pain of glass portal, and had the host with an Ethernet port and a few IR outputs.

What they need to do is bridge the gap between this Savant 1.0 system and Savant Pro and meet in the middle somewhere.  At the end of the day DIY doesn’t put food on my table, and if that’s what Savant is going for with 1.0 I can’t see it being a product I’ll support.

Posted by Julie Jacobson on June 30, 2016

Seth_J, I have had that conversation many times with Control4, and it’s more relevant now with the EA line. Try packaging it as a remote contol. I can’t speak to the performance of the SAvant remote, but I like the marketing direction. People understand remote controls.

Posted by Paul Self on June 30, 2016

I believe the intent of this article was about how to market a control solution to the consumer, not which devices actually work. We have all seen catastrophic fails and many near misses. But, how does the consumer perceive the product category and how does the industry market to them?

IoT and Home Automation are big scary concepts to a consumer. Integration is a polysyllabic word that we understand, but the consumer is scared of it.

I just went through this exercise with a friend of mine. He needed a new remote for his dad. Harmony fit the User Experience (UX) expectations. This is an important concept. UX is how the consumer experiences and thinks about the product category. They are paying for it and ONLY their opinion matters.

My friend bought the Harmony, configured it, and then asked me if music (Sonos) and AC (Nest) would work like this on a smartphone. A few days later he asked about being able to turn off his lights as well. While this is a crude “Automation System” to us, it is a remote control for the consumer.

I would suggest marketing it as a remote and use that as a slippery slope into automation.

Posted by TheDarkKnight on June 30, 2016

I agree, Paul Self. My point wasn’t that there’s little/no value in a Harmony or Savant DIY solution. Rather, that there’s still a big difference between a single room remote that does a couple other things and a fully custom home automation solution.

View all comments.