Magnolia, the custom installation arm of Best Buy (NYSE: BBY) , needed a home automation system to help customers and salespeople operate audio demos in the listening rooms of roughly 470 Magnolia stores. They picked iRule.
iRule might seem like an unusual choice, given that the software starts at only $100 and the hardware at $100 as well, and given that it isn’t one of the biggest names in home automation. But the Detroit-based company beat out many of the better-known brands in the smart home business.
“There wasn’t anyone else that was multi-platform, flexible enough and affordable,” says Brent Newman, senior manager, Technology Design for Best Buy, in an interview with CE Pro. “We wanted something flexible, modular, something we could easily change out and that wasn’t hardware-driven.”
iRule uses iOS and Android devices as interfaces, a combination of local and cloud-based services for control, and flexible adapters or dongles (about $100 each) to operate devices via IR, IP, RS-232 or relay communications.
In the Magnolia implementation of iRule, the user has a smart tablet that replicates visually the display in the store, which consists of multiple speakers and components (take the tour here).
To select a speaker and/or source, the user simply touches the image(s) on the smart tablet.
LEDs in the showroom light up to show the products selected – a feature also enabled by iRule.
Newman says that Magnolia itself – not iRule – built the interface in about three weeks, with iRule doing only “a couple of custom things to it.”
That Magnolia themselves could program the system was an important consideration for selecting iRule, since products in the showroom can be rearranged or swapped out at any time.
Compared to the last demo system Magnolia was using, “we reduced the change-out time by 90 percent,” says Newman.
Although customers themselves can operate the demo system, it is primarily meant for employees. From the same interface they use for demos, they can easily pull up more details on any given product.
“If you can’t get the employee experience down, you can’t get the customer experience,” says Newman.
So is Magnolia offering iRule through its stores? No, at least not yet. Currently the company sells AMX, Control4, Pro Control, Savant and URC for home control.
iRule founder and CEO Itai Ben-Gal tells us that Best Buy is working on a different implementation for its core stores that lets customers try out the products with their own selections of music and video.
iRule Pro, the professional installed version of iRule, was named Control Product of the Year at the 2014 CEA Mark of Excellence Awards.