iRemoteControl Limited’s Paul Kasler voices his opinion on today’s remote control industry, stating that control automation suppliers are not changing with the times. Do you agree that there is no point in companies re-inventing the wheel to provide solutions outside of their core competence?
Paul Kasler: It all changed when Apple brought out the iPad…
Prior to that point in time, control automation manufacturers had based their home automation business models on using their own proprietary control hardware, whether it be dedicated tablets costing £5,000 upwards, or touch screen hand held remotes for £795, right down to dedicated LCD door entry panels costing £300.
Along with the low relative iPad pricing came a beautiful, light, multi-tasking tablet with a great display and an actual battery life of more than a couple of hours. Over the next few years, applications sprung up costing just tens of pounds, casting a doubt in the consumers’ mind on why they should spend thousands of pounds on software.
This was not an issue when three tablets cost £15,000 and the software to control your home was £5,000 to complete the solution.
So what do we see now – control automation suppliers changing with the times? Not yet.
We still see manufacturers bringing out their latest model of a ‘dedicated’ control tablet or a remote with the latest ‘OLED’ 4-inch touch panel. And the door entry suppliers are still hanging on by their fingernails with their next range of touch screen door entry panels.
In my opinion, these control automation manufacturers have to change their business model – becoming more software-centric and using off the shelf mass-produced hardware.
And that’s certainly Apple’s encouragement to manufacturers and developers with their HomeKit Framework. However, HomeKit requires each manufacturer to put additional hardware into their devices. The Apple MFI spec states that all the encryption/pairing keys must be secure elements and use a custom Apple EFI chip for authentication.
Apple is rightly neurotic of somebody hacking into your smart home devices and taking illegal control! The end game is devices that all talk a common language and can be controlled by a common control language and by voice commands.
We are already seeing manufacturer-specific, HomeKit-based Apps that focus just on their areas of automation and expertise, such as lighting and power, but no overall control. However, it is my belief that there is nothing wrong with a connected ‘island’ approach. Let each manufacturer focus on their core strengths.
Similarly, I see absolutely no point in companies re-inventing the wheel to provide solutions outside of their core competence. It is mind boggling to me why software developers should devote an enormous amount of resources developing an ‘integrated’ Sonos or Apple TV interface to add to their ‘fully integrated’ solution.
Do they think that users are that stupid that they can’t select the menu button in order to launch the Sonos App?
Similarly why create a sophisticated Electronic Program Guide (EPG) that is built into an App, when Sky already has a brilliant App that can do so much more than their proprietary EPG?
And why would you use software from a developer so short-sighted not to realise that all their hard work on reverse engineering, that the App is going to be redundant on the next release of that supplier’s product range or software?
Do you really want to base your business around a company that is clearly flushing a significant proportion of its R&D budget down the plughole every 12 months?
Or to work with software developers that provide more and more functionality in their software building blocks ‘ready for you to configure’ – but are in reality just making everything more complicated for the end user and for you to program?
So what impact will these changes have on the custom installer industry?
Lower software solution costs will be expected from the consumer and there will be a dramatic reduction in the number of control automation manufacturers.
What does the next generation of custom installer look like?
Well, one thing that hasn’t changed is that they need to be light on their feet and able to embrace new technology.
Secondly, the technology has become less complicated in so many ways, once you know the booby traps. And of course, there’s that continuing strain on prices.
HDBaseT has changed the ground rules in the Infrastructure world, in the same way that Apple iPad did for the Control Panel.
As of the middle of 2015, we now have a smart home infrastructure that just requires a single Cat6 and Coax run to each TV. As long as you have a new build and the client has all new TVs that support HDMI 2.0, HDCP 2.2 (and preferably HDR) – the nightmare of HDMI syncing will disappear, as well as the need to worry about running a separate cable for audio return.
The worrying thing for the custom installer (AND also the home automation manufacturers) is that the marketplace is becoming more of a flat playing field as the technologies rush forward to make integration easier.
The last thing you want to offer is an expensive control automation solution, or spend hours beavering away in your office late into the night, designing control software for each specific client’s needs.
You need software that is consistent from one project to the next. You need to be even more price competitive and efficient.
If your project price is going to be more competitive, you need to spend less man-hours on each project, whilst still being able to extract more revenue against each man hour (perhaps £75 + per hour rather than the current £50 per hour you are currently charging).
You are not going to earn that money sitting in the office programming (or paying out money for a dedicated programmer) – your focus needs to be on more client contact, whether that be installing or selling.
My belief is that the future in remote control is based around products that need zero programming and therefore can be easily updated when hardware is changed and when the TV channels change – which is becoming increasingly more common!
With a simple user interface that is instantly useable by everyone and that focuses on controlling specific coherent ‘island of tasks’ such as the following logical groupings: audio-visual, lighting and blinds, heating, air conditioning and energy conservation and home security, CCTV and door entry.