Chances are good that unless you're quite wealthy, home automation was something that you either A) couldn't afford or B) hadn't heard of until just a few years ago. The icon of home automation, the touchscreen, was historically a prohibitively expensive device, and the controllers - the brains - at the heart of most home automation systems were no more attainable.
The emergence of the smartphone put touch screens into the hands of a much wider range of homeowners, though, and the appearance of single-point control solutions - apps to control specific thermostats, or security systems, or home theater components like surround-sound receivers and media players - has introduced new users to the concept of advanced remote control. So it's no surprise that one of the biggest trends in the home automation market is...
Smartphone and Tablet Integration
Some home automation companies have given up completely on producing dedicated touchscreen remote controls, because so many consumers already own their own touchscreens. And even the companies that do still manufacture dedicated touchscreens are putting more and more emphasis on integrating iOS and Android devices with their home automation systems.
Interestingly, this has led to a trend away from ultra-personalized touchscreen user interfaces, for which installers had to design and draw literally every button, and toward beautiful out-of-the-box templates that still allow for a huge amount of customization, yet provide a consistent graphical interface across all platforms.
One thing that smartphones and tablets allow that dedicated touchscreen remotes couldn't is on-the-go access to the automated systems within the home. With today's home automation systems, you can fire up an app on your phone when you're leaving the office (or airport, or night on the town) and turn on lights, fire up the home entertainment system, disarm the security system or even activate automated routines that combine some variation on all of the above with one button-press.
It used to be the case that, when planning a home automation system, you had to decide up-front whether you wanted a one-room (e.g. home theater) control system or a whole home's worth of connected automation. Which isn't to say that you couldn't start small and add on, but in doing so, you were likely to end up with a bunch of small, disconnected systems throughout the home.
These days, a CEDIA home technology professional can design a one-room system around smaller controllers that don't cost much more than a nice universal remote control. As the system grows over time, these can be programmed to take on a more participatory role as the distribution point for a much larger - and completely integrated - whole-home solution. In other words, the device you buy now to control one room doesn't become obsolete or superfluous if you decide to truly integrate every system in your home from top to bottom.
Smart Energy Usage
The move to "smart meters" was touted as a way of empowering consumers and better informing them about how and when they're consuming energy, and a number of home automation devices take that information to extreme levels. But most consumers probably aren't that interested in studying graphs and charts in order to use energy more responsibly. That's why many home automation companies are designing systems that communicate with the smart meter, and integrate the information it provides, but don't overwhelm the end user with data overload.
If you're interested in designing a home automation system - and in saving energy - talk with your local CEDIA member installer about how much information you would like access to, and how passive or active a role you want to take in living more energy efficiently.