iPad and the Future of Home Control: a Q&A with Robert Bliss

by Dennis Burger on Jul 6, 2010 at 02:44 PM

To call the introduction of the iPad a revolutionary development in the world of home automation and remote control would have been an apt description back when the world “revolutionary” actually meant something. Whatever you want to call it, though, it’s undeniably huge: a 9.7-inch touch screen that retails for a fraction of the cost of dedicated touchscreen remotes and does so much more out of the box. It’s no wonder that some custom installers are a bit anxious about the iPad and how it will affect the sales of touchscreen remote control and home automation systems.

Robert Bliss Jr.—CEO and founder of Bliss Home Theaters and Automation Inc. in Westlake Village, CA, one of the most prestigious and successful custom installation firms in the US—is anything but anxious, though. He and his company are embracing the iPad fully and, as usual, staying one step ahead of the changes it’s surely making to the way people think about home control.

HomeTechTell: You and I were discussing an installation of yours a few weeks ago and you mentioned that you were replacing all of the Crestron touchpanels in the home with iPads. What is Apple’s new toy doing to the custom installation market?

Robert BlissRobert Bliss: It’s going to propel it forward. No doubt about it. This is the single greatest thing that’s ever happened to Crestron and the other control companies. People who didn’t realize what home automation was—the average consumer—they’re going to see people controlling their lights and shades and entertainment via the iPad in movies and TV shows, or maybe even at their friends’ homes. And they’re going to want to do it, too, not realizing that the iPad isn’t doing the hard work; the Crestron or Control4 processor and control system is. The iPad is merely a peripheral.

It’s a brilliant peripheral, though. I think Apple’s slogan is perfect: you already know how to use it. If I took someone who had never been in a smart home and gave them an iPad with a home control app, they would intuitively know how to control the lights, the shades, the distributed audio, the home theater, almost immediately. The only client training you have to do is reminding them to charge the thing.

HTT: I know this doesn’t really apply to the consumer, but as an installer, aren’t you worried that the iPad is going to eat into your profit margins?

RB: Well, there’s no denying that it does. But that’s the wrong way to look at it: I’m not necessarily trying to sell the iPad to the same guy who would have bought the TPMC-8X. The market we’re reaching for now is the guy who hears that you can control your lights with the iPad, but doesn’t know how. Suddenly, we’ve got a completely new sale for the home automation market. This isn’t an existing client; this is a new client. We’re putting iPads in homes that never would have had a touchscreen remote control before, and we’re also putting in the infrastructure behind it, and doing all the programming.

HTT: Is it easier to program for the iPad than it is for the touchpanel remotes of old?

RB:Crestron iPhone App It’s going to get easier. The new infrastructure that Crestron will introduce with its Pro3 Processor will allow many more people to be able to program for Crestron in the future. And maybe you could argue that that’s a bad thing for guys like me. We’ve benefited from the fact that it’s so difficult to master. But no matter what the market’s like, a good installer will always find a way to stay one step ahead of the market and provide things that others can’t.

HTT: Are the different control companies approaching this transition differently? Are some embracing it better than others?

RB: Absolutely. Control4, for example. Don’t think that Crestron hasn’t taken notice of Control4’s modules. Even someone who isn’t a super-savvy programmer can already program a Control4 system. They’ve made it so easy. It’s like working with an Apple computer: You’ve got these widgets and things you drag and drop where you want them.

And Crestron has said, “Whoa, we’ve got to start doing this.” But that’s the great thing about competition. Look at what the iPhone did for the cell phone market: It has pushed everyone else to create stellar phones. And Control4 is pushing everyone else to innovate in this space. They realized they had to blaze their own trail to stand out in the market, and they made an even more installer-friendly system.

HTT: You mention the iPhone—are you using it in installations the same way you’re using the iPad?

RB: The iPhone is a great little control device that really expands the range of home control. Say you’re just getting home and it’s dark: we have a button on there that fires up the lighting in the public area—different scenes depending on the time of day. Or, you can be three hours away from home and turn on your air conditioning system so your house will be cool when you get there. Moving home control to these Apple devices is really a game changer for our industry, and the installers who think about how to best embrace these new tools are going to succeed. The ones who worry about diminishing profit margins on the hardware won’t.

Control4 iPad App
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