Home Control Interfaces Get Personal
You can have your home automation interfaces customized -- without breaking the bank.
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December 30, 2009 by Lisa Montgomery

The real beauty of the software, which is designed to run exclusively on AMX home control systems, is that it can display different screens on different touchpanels simultaneously. So while Grandma chooses a movie from her uniquely designed favorites page, you can do the same on your customized favorites page, as can the kids and your spouse. “Both power-users and technophobes can use the same system without limitation or confusion,” says John Nagy, CineTouch director of product management.

Pick a Palette
Also minimizing the level of graphics design expertise to customize their user interfaces are Control4, Exceptional Innovation, HomeLogic, Savant and Remote Technologies Inc. (RTI). Each company’s programming software comes with a variety of preconfigured designs. “We’ve invested heavily in professionally designed graphics at no charge to the consumer,” says Pete Baker, vice president of sales and marketing at RTI. “Using a feature in our Page Wizard software, the installer can choose from a collection of custom graphic suites. Once they’ve selected a design, the installer can always modify it if they wish.”

Savant takes the personal approach a step further. In addition to having touchpanel screens that are unique to each user, the screens can be unique to the environment. Using the company’s new TrueImage Control technology (below), the touchpanel in the living room can display a color photo of your own living room (your CE pro imports the digital pic into the software). Touching the lamp on that image lets you turn it on or off, or bring up a more detailed control menu. You could control the TV, the motorized shades and the thermostat in a similar manner.

Exceptional Innovation (EI) also offers the opportunity to import digital pictures into your interface. Through a tool called Visual Project, a photo of your room, or of the individual objects you’ll be controlling, can be used as graphics on the user interface. “The installer can implement those into the user interface without having to draw out every device,” says Steve Cashman, EI’s chief strategy officer. “When the interface is able to show items you’re familiar with, it becomes a more personal experience.”

In the case of home control manufacturer Control4, getting personal could be as simple as downloading an app from a manufacturer’s website. The company’s second-generation operating system (OS 2.0) supports this feature, adding a degree of customization that requires very little programming.

“In the past, installers had no choice but to use our own unlock and lock icons on the user interface for controlling Black & Decker electronic locks,” says Control4’s Eric Smith. “Now installers can just go to the Black & Decker website, download the control app, and incorporate it into the user interface for a totally different look. The user interface basically generates itself.” In another example offered by Smith, a user’s Facebook page could be displayed as the main screen of the interface in the den, while a Google calendar app could be on the interface in the kitchen.

Form and Function
Still, CE pros remain cautious about customization. “You walk a fine line between style and ease-of-use,” says Michael Pope, president of Audio Video Interiors, Medina, Ohio. “If the user interface becomes too customized and has too much going on, it can be cumbersome to use.”

For this reason, many CE pros offer their customers a choice of two or three basic preconfigured designs. “Most of our customers seem fine with our choices because it’s an efficient use of their money,” says Pope. However, there’s always the opportunity to tweak that standard template to make it your own. Want your own page of lighting controls? It’s possible with a bit of extra programming.

It’s tough enough for an adult to sift through an enormous video library, let alone a 3-, 5- or 8-year-old. The CE pros at Vivid F/X, Alberta, Canada, designed the screen of the MX-980 Universal Remote Control to take the kids directly to their favorites. The train button (above, “Kids TV”) tunes the TV to Playhouse Disney; the popcorn bucket takes them to a menu of kids’ movies.

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Lisa Montgomery - Contributing Writer
Lisa Montgomery has been writing about home technology for 15 years, with a focus on the impact of electronics on a modern lifestyle.

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