Control with a Personal Touch

Despite the soft housing market, builders continue to include high-end technology such as touchpanel remotes in the homes they build. According to the Consumer Electronics Association’s 2012 Industry Forecast, the touchpanel remote market will increase 4 percent from 2008 through 2012 — from 192,000 to 206,000 remotes sold. Touchpanels, also known as touchscreens, facilitate consumer personalization and convenience as technology advances and costs decrease.

Touchscreen remotes can control lighting, audio, video, security and HVAC systems. “All dealers have conversations with their homeowners so products are programmed personally for them. Everything is totally customized for the home-owner.

Touchpanels should complement a homeowner’s lifestyle,” says Jeff Singer, marketing communications director, Crestron Electronics.

These products can be simple or complex depending on what the client desires. “I compare it to photography. I’m a point-and-click type of guy when it comes to photography whereas some people want to control different settings on the camera. It’s all personal choice,” Singer adds.

Elan Home Systems also offers a range of system complexity for its customers. “The touchpanels are generally easy to use once set up but it depends on how sophisticated the homeowner is. For example, if the homeowner is an IT professional, they may want a more complex product,” says Bob Farinelli, president and CTO, Elan Home Systems.

Some manufacturers focus on keeping the product simple for users. “We want them to be easy to use. The products need to have the mother-in-law factor, meaning she can come over and use the touchpanel without instruction,” says Scott Stephenson, product manager, Colorado vNet. No matter how difficult the touchpanel is to use, the integrator should set up training or a discussion with the homeowner on how the product works.

To minimize the learning curve, it’s important to use the homeowner’s terminology for devices they will be using. “How I label the buttons is a big deal. Someone could make the assumption that a radio station is known as 92.3, but to the homeowner they know it as K-ROCK. The homeowner might think the radio station isn’t programmed because they don’t recognize 92.3 as being the station they’re looking for,” Singer adds.

Behind the Scenes

It’s important to know that some electronics systems are only compatible with certain remote manufacturers’ products.

“Right now we have chosen to work with the dominant manufacturers [in the industry],” Stephenson says.

For each third-party product, a driver or module is required for the touchpanels to communicate. This is part of the reason some systems work only with larger manufacturers because each driver program costs money to create. Crestron is one company that offers drivers, and therefore compatibility, with most manufacturers. “We have an integrated partner program with over 400 member manufacturers. Every time they come out with a new product, they give it to us and we write a program to [utilize] every feature and functionality of that product. We post that on our website free of charge for our dealers,” Singer says. “We provide the drivers to the integrators to make their jobs easier.”

Most touchscreens are IP-based products and can be updated when new technology is available simply by connecting to the Internet. “When it comes to an IP-based product, you can create new features for the homeowner without having to change out the remote,” Farinelli says.

Projected Trends

The future of touchpanel remotes is going in many directions. “Over time, it will be easier for the dealer to program and set up the systems because auto-configure options will be more available and standard,” Farinelli says.

Crestron is moving away from wireless and toward radio frequency. “Wi-fi has a 60-ft. reach whereas RF has a 1,000-ft. reach giving more reliability. There is also a lot of interference with wireless technology,” Singer says.

And with the growing popularity of the iPhone and similar products, home automation companies are seeing an opportunity.

“Trends are going to universal devices,” Stephenson says. “A homeowner can be at home sitting on the couch, controlling the lights and audio system with their iPhone. Then when they are at work and need to let a contractor into their house, they can remotely log into their home security system from their iPhone and allow that contractor into the house. We are going in the direction of creating interface applications for devices like the iPhone rather than creating a physical device.”

David Rodarte, president and COO of NuVo Technologies, also sees this trend of applications for remote devices. “Mobile devices are growing at a rapid pace. [Interest in] devices such as digital cameras is declining due to the consolidation of mobile devices. Smart phones are getting close to or able to act as whole-home automation devices and replacing the remote,” he says. “It’s about the word ‘my.’ Everything now is about my friends, my photos, my music — the intimacy of products that provide personal information.”

And as the price for technology decreases for most products, the same is true for touchpanel remotes. “The prices are going to come down for touchpanels. You will see more features and functions at a better value,” Farinelli says.