The iControl Revolution: More Than Meets the Eye

September 10, 2014 | Comments

When was the last time you left home without your phone? Did you panic the moment you reached for it and realized it was still sitting on the kitchen counter?

Since the iPhone hit the scene in 2007, the smartphone has evolved into a constant companion that helps us navigate everyday life. Along with this ubiquity comes the expectation that smartphones (and tablets) can do just about anything, including control AV gear and home systems such as heating/cooling, security, and more.

Indeed, today's do-everything smartphones go far beyond the voice communications for which phones were originally designed. But it turns out that a certain level of expertise is necessary if you want to bring smartphone control to your home in a way that is intelligent and reliable.

In other words, following the wrong path can lead to a frustrating experience that falls considerably short of your expectations.

Apps: The Pros and Cons

Off-the-shelf apps designed to control an AV receiver, TV, thermostat, security system, or other device can be powerful tools -- but they are generally limited to controlling a specific device or subsystem. Unless your phone or tablet is integrated into a home-control system, you won't be able to take advantage of automated routines or "macros" that execute a string of commands (such as turning several components on or off) with one button press or finger tap.

To avoid these sorts of limitations, technology professionals turn to mobile-device-friendly control systems that enable personal smartphones and tablets to operate a variety of home devices and systems from a custom-built user interface that can be integrated with tabletop or wall-mounted touch screens or keypads and hand-held remotes programmed for specific applications such as home theater or window/shade control.

Device-specific apps also fall outside of the conditional logic you get with a home-control system where a specific activity (or condition) triggers another, such as a foyer light or whole-house music system that automatically turns on whenever the front door is opened.

And because the touch screen itself can be awkward when it comes to activities like channel surfing, home-tech pros are big advocates of using remote controls with "real" buttons you can feel in the dark to complement phone- and tablet-based control interfaces.

Some installation pros even choose to offload the processing and programming to servers in "the cloud." The advantages of doing so include:

  • Taking some of the processing burden off the smartphone or tablet
  • Making it easy to upload custom programming to new devices when a phone or tablet crashes or is lost or stolen
  • Facilitating remote troubleshooting and programming, which increases system reliability and saves time and money when new equipment is added or the system needs to be fixed or updated

If reliable, seamless control of systems and devices throughout your home is appealing to you, do yourself a favor and consult a home technology professional to get the lay of the land before venturing out on your own.

To learn more about home control systems and options, consult a CEDIA professional. Click here for a list of CEDIA-member home technology professionals in your area.