Changing with the times…
At the start of the year I decided to jump on the bandwagon and buy an iPhone. I figured it was about time that I embraced the wonders of Apple technology (and yes, a highly ironic – albeit delayed – move considering I write for the fabulously technical publication that is Connected Home).
Well, much like any other Gen-Y with the latest iPhone in their hands, I fell in love with it and wondered why I hadn’t bothered to buy one earlier. Pretty soon I realised how often I would pick up my phone for the simplest thing.
After work I’d get home, drop onto the couch and surf the web or check Facebook. Ever since this contraption entered my life I rarely use my laptop like I did in the pre-iPhone era. I start playing music on my phone instead of switching on the radio. I barely watch TV – I’m much too busy playing Angry Birds.
This got me thinking. With the introduction of more user-friendly mobile devices like the iPhone and iPad, there is no doubt that this has had an impact on the traditional world of home automation.
We’re at the dawn of the tablet era now. Earlier this year, Apple sold three million of its new iPads over its launch weekend, with some analysts expecting over 60 million of the tablets to be sold worldwide.
So how will these next-generation gadgets impact existing AV technologies in the home? The phrase ‘cloud to consumer’ as well as ‘disintermediation’ were tossed around a lot at this year’s CEDIA Expo – but if it takes off as predicted, it will effectively bypass the role of a custom installer.
In an age where we are almost condensing the entire AV experience into one portable device, the big question is: how can installers continue to make a profit and justify their role in the home?
The television – bigger is better
According to Sharp national marketing manager Mark Beard, next-generation gadgets will only add to the appeal of traditional AV technologies, such as the TV.
“New gadgets tend to be targeted for individual usage. This is fine in many cases, however, when it comes to communal usage – such as viewing movies or sport with family and friends – the more traditional AV products excel and will always have a demand,” Mark says.
“The trend of condensing AV equipment into one portable device has had some impact on smaller screen TVs, but this is more than offset with the increase in larger screen sales.”
Sharp’s big screen TV strategy has been driving the trend to larger screen TVs. 60″ and 70″ LCD TVs are available now, with 80″ and 90″ later in the year.
“The TV is the communal entertainment hub in the home. Smaller gadget devices cannot compete with the viewing impact of a large screen TV, but act to meet the needs of a wide range of consumers’ viewing needs,” he says.
Of course, the commoditised nature of TVs has made it difficult for installers to make a margin on displays, but that’s where high-end display manufacturers such as Baumann Meyer enter the picture.
“The home automation market will continue to grow at a steady pace. As consumers look to evolve their homes to smart homes, the demand will grow,” Mark explains.
“A tiered approach will assist the market as more affordable solutions come onto the market, allowing consumers to taste the benefits of home automation without the initial large expense.”
The sound system – embracing the change
Sonos was one of the first audio companies to embrace smartphones and tablets, and as a result, it has benefitted from the popularity of these devices.
Playback Systems is the distributor of Sonos, and as its managing director Niv Novak explains, the new breed of consumer electronics devices are largely driven by software. People are looking for usability and to connect to services online.
“It’s really positive for us, as consumers are engaged with smartphones and tablets and are looking for ways to control things like music, television and home entertainment. Our company has grown year on year and we will continue to grow, largely because of this shift,” Niv says.
“Sonos is really playing into all of these changes in consumer electronics – smart connected devices, intuitive user interfaces and cloud-based content. In many ways, the market is coming to embrace what we’ve been doing for a number of years.”
Niv believes that the introduction of portability in the home is arguably more powerful than any controller from any automation company that has come out to date. While the physical side of a custom installation will still be required, the usability of the devices and technology has become much more consumer-friendly.
“Installers need to find areas to add value. To make lighting control and AV work from an iPad still requires some system integration and consideration in the system design for the most part,” he says.
“They will need to look at delivering on a different level, because that’s where the biggest opportunity is. The people who spend $20 million on a home know that the programming and antiquated ways of the past mean they are going to be better off having iPads and control systems that update on the internet, and use more current technology. It brings the price down and the experience is better.”
The remote – all about the user interface
CommandFusion administrator Jarrod Bell believes that the introduction of slick Apple iDevices has most of its impact on programming and the user interface, and it also acts as an ‘add on’ for mid to highend systems.
“For too long, installers have been able to get away with cumbersome user interfaces and basic graphics,” he says.
“With Apple leading the way and redefining the touch screen user experience, it forces everyone to up their game as clients start to have expectations of how touch screens should feel, both from the point of hardware and software.”
On the software front, CommandFusion offers a customisable two-way user interface that operates on any iPhone, iPad or iPod touch, and any Android device (in public beta testing at the moment).
“Unlike other products out there, it is designed to work with an Ethernet cable product, rather than focusing on a particular system. The problem of many remotes hasn’t been solved by this introduction of smarter consumer devices; instead it’s just been shifted to ‘digital remote frustration’ – switching between apps is like picking up a different remote.”
As Jarrod explains, the main challenge for custom installers is that they can no longer rely on high margins for touch panels. Instead, customer service will be the key.
“Installers need to offer a full service package with quality installations, programming, customisation and aftersales service. Many integrators who are thriving with declining product margins have excelled at service and client relationships rather than making a huge margin from hardware,” he says.
“We are focused on supporting integrators to provide them with what we perceive as the tools needed to deliver a good outcome and still remain profitable.”
The past few years have seen an amazing rise in the adoption of mobile devices as a user interface within the home – there’s no doubt about that. Now, the challenge for installers is to find the most efficient and reliable way to incorporate these devices into their existing and new system designs.