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?


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.

About the Author

Julie Jacobson
Julie Jacobson:

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


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