Eight trends to look out for in next-generation control systems
Control systems are always changing and updating. Geoff Meads stops to look at trends moving forward that integrators need to keep an eye out for.
It’s easy to think that the world of residential control is now a mature market. Gone are the days of ‘plug and pray’ drivers and bespoke cable requirements. We now enjoy familiar ‘app’ style interface design and the stability of IP network communications. However, the tech world doesn’t stay still for very long and, looking at related industries, there may be some interesting possibilities for home control interfaces right around the corner.
For my UX column on this issue I thought I’d put together a list of new features we might see migrate from other industries into residential control in the coming years. So, please read on and see if you agree with my thoughts…
Light & dark display modes
You may already be using ‘dark mode’, a different screen colour layout where the background is dark and the text white, on your phone or computer. Having a screen which is predominantly dark, especially when ambient light levels are low, is far better for avoiding eye strain and, in settings like a dark cinema room, dramatically reduces the distracting ‘glow’ that a device gives off when it is in use. I think this would be a welcome addition for control apps and keypads, especially in home cinema and other entertainment environments.
Display colour based on time of day
Building on dark and light display modes, my MAC now changes between dark and light modes depending on time of day. This would be a great addition to control keypads and tablets, especially for night-time use, but it could be taken further with interfaces that change their entire colourway at different times. There have already been a number of studies and practical use cases where in-room lighting changes colour with the circadian rhythms of the occupying human beings. The effects on mood and productivity can be extremely positive. So, why not change the colours of our interfaces too?
AI control suggestions
I’m sure you won’t be surprised by this point! One of the holy grails of the truly ‘smart home’ is the house gaining the ability to think for itself, learn what the inhabitants want and need in certain circumstances, and acting accordingly.
While a full AI control approach might be some way off, it’s clear that smaller tasks (like HVAC and lighting controls) could be handed off to a system using machine learning in the very near future. Deeper AI control of the home will involve discussions around security, privacy, and a number of other concerns though.
Chatbot/AI system help
These systems are already present in any number of online services so why not introduce the ‘Chatbot’ type experience to home control useability? It would certainly reduce the costs and speed of support and, coupled with AI learning, could solve control questions in real time, prompting the user with suggested actions to take.
The introduction of Chatbots won’t please everyone of course. If your experience of them is anything like mine, they seem to have the answer to every question going apart from the one you need to ask. However, the scope of the online Chatbot systems we currently see (online banking for example) is often far wider than a home control scenario so maybe they could be useful in our, more limited, use case?
Phone Proximity Customisation
The way we configure our mobile phone has become a valuable database of information. From simple things like a dark / light display preference to preferred language, currency, health and activity data, and not forgetting our current location.
While we can already set control macros in motion based on phone geo-location using services like IFTTT, imagine if a control system interface could (with prior agreement) change the information it presents and change the way it looks based on the preferences set in the current user’s phone? The phone could even pass information on the last control app and function in use so a larger, more detailed interface on a wall display could show extended options.
Interfaces Within Interfaces
While we currently live in a world of individual, largely disconnected apps, I think we can expect more and more apps to talk to each other. ‘Works with Alexa’ and other such programs already let us use speech to turn on lights etc. But what if those systems allowed more configuration of the destination device? What if each app for the device to be controlled presented a fuller API for other, controlling apps to use?
As an example, what if, while watching a YouTube video on your phone, you could move the content to your TV while offering control of the TV withing the YouTube app? If the TV was turned off, you could automatically turn it on, and it could then allow you full control of the TV’s volume control etc. all within the YouTube app? While we see part of this scenario in TV control apps from some manufacturers, these operations tend to involve a lot of app switching for the user, especially if using devices from multiple manufacturers.
More Element Automation
Looking at the trends in other interfaces (such as websites and apps) we see un uptick in what we might term ‘micro animations. As an example, when you correctly add text to an input field on a website you sometimes have a ‘tick’ that appears as if it’s being written by hand. This serves a couple of useful roles. Firstly, the movement, being within an otherwise static display, draws the eye to that field. Secondly, the positive action of the ‘tick’ being ‘written’ by animation affirms that the input was correct and has been accepted by the system. A useful piece of positive feedback for users.
Unlocking phones with your face is now an established technology. At time of writing, I do not believe the technology behind this function has been opened for use by other apps. However, in my mind, this might be a next logical step. This may allow control system manufacturers to use third party facial recognition to open a control system interface, set or unset security systems or set system or UI preferences according to the user’s identity.
While I think the future is ever improving for the users of residential control systems, the user experience offered by other devices (like our mobile phones) will drive the expectation of our users higher and higher. There are other markets where all the above suggestions are already in play. It just remains to see if our own market embraces them and if it can overcome the extra privacy and security barriers some of the suggestions entail.