The beauty and curse of Control4 is its tidy template for programming home automation systems. On the one hand, dealers can configure a system pretty quickly without getting sidetracked by time-sucking bells and whistles. On the other hand, some dealers like to sell bells and whistles.
Now dealers can – gasp – create fancy buttons with two-way feedback, dynamic text and show/hide functionality.
Currently, Control4 enables dealers to create custom buttons, but they are “one-way, statically defined buttons limited to six per page,” Chow tells CE Pro. “Ours can provide the ability to dynamically change the text and provide virtual-LED feedback.”
Control4 WebView Drivers
What took so long? Control4 was missing the right development tools, according to Chow.
Many years ago, Control4 touchscreens and on-screen display devices ran on Flash, “which allowed us developers to create custom applications that did not follow Control4’s traditional device templates,” he says.
Control4 encouraged the development of these third-party drivers, offering them through the company’s 4Store marketplace at the time.
“Unfortunately, that ended when Control4 changed from Flash to an Android-based architecture with the release of the T3 [touchscreen] and EA [controller] line of products,” Chow says. “So for a good three years now, you could not create custom applications for Control4 like we could have with 4Store.”
Enter Control4’s new WebView support, basically allowing mini-Web browsers to run within Control4’s own environment. To create the new drivers, developers essentially write Web pages that deep-link into native Control4 commands.
“This functionality was secretly added to OS 2.9 without Control4 announcing it or documenting it,” Chow says.
Scheduling and ‘Contact Us’ Drivers
In addition to the Advanced Button driver, Chowmain offers these two new WebView drivers.
The first is “Scheduler,” which empowers end users to create their own system-wide schedules, without having to bother the integrator.
“This is something that Control4 has never had on any of their user interfaces and has been asked for by dealers for the past 10 years or so,” Chow explains.
Control4 has a consumer-facing scheduler for thermostats, but not a generic UI for users to schedule anything else – whether sprinklers, lighting or complex scenes.
Chow notes that Control4 customers to configure many things on their own – like text alerts, macros and schedules – but only through Composer Home Edition, Control4’s consumer-oriented PC software.
“Our scheduler makes it easy for non-technical consumers to finally schedule the things they want, without Composer Home Edition or their dealer,” Chow says.
Finally, Chowmain is offering in its first batch of WebView drivers the “Contact Us” feature, which gives dealers the opportunity to add their company logo, contact information and Google map to a T3 touchscreen, with a clickable URL to the company’s Website.
Pros & Cons of WebView
WebView allows developers to do things with Control4 that they cannot do within the vendor’s own environment, according to Chow.
Control4 employs visual proxies for device types such as lights, thermostats, security systems, DVD players, locks and cameras, he explains. Standardizing these visuals speeds up programming, as interfaces can be auto-generated for all UIs, including touchscreens, remotes and apps.
“Control4 does a pretty good job at generalizing the majority of devices,” Chow says, “but there are cases where we can't use any of the proxies available or we need a more customized interface than what the proxy offers.”
WebView gives developers like Chowman the ability to create their own user interfaces for devices and services.
“It is a great replacement for 4Store and I think over time some fantastic applications will come out for it,” Chow says.
Sadly, WebView drivers only work on T3 interfaces, not mobile apps, computers or TV on-screen displays.
For that reason, Chow suspects most developers will stick with traditional Control4 development schemes.
Another potential limitation, Chows says, is that the assets for WebView must be hosted on an external service, not on the Control4 processor itself. This requirement demands some level of commitment from developers.