December 30, 2009
| by Lisa Montgomery
Home control has always been about having your house work the way you want it to.
Want the lights to turn off automatically at midnight? The system should do that. Want the thermostat to bump up the heat before you come home from work? That should happen as well. Want every user of the system to have his or her own customized interface, tailored to that person’s wants and needs? Yes, even that’s possible today.
And it shouldn’t cost you a fortune.
Having a home control system automatically perform electronic tasks is a great convenience. And to best operate a system like this, you’ll need a user interface such as a touchpanel.
Like the dashboard of a car, the layout and labeling of the commands on the touchpanel should be easy to understand and provide the appropriate level of control. This will differ household to household and sometimes by the individual users within a home. For example, Mom might like to see just a few lighting control buttons on the screen, while Dad prefers to see every switch on the property.
You can further customize the interface by incorporating unique background colors, button layouts and labeling. The touchpanel in the living room might have an elegant red silk background while earth tones on the panel in the kitchen match the countertops. The added degree of personalization will require additional programming by a custom electronics professional (CE pro)—and in the past this could have cost you thousands of dollars.
Customization shouldn’t cost a fortune—and this belief has inspired several manufacturers to simplify their programming software, which proves a benefit to both the homeowners and the custom electronics firms serving them. Instead of spending hours writing complicated code to integrate a new Blu-ray player into the PLAY command of your home theater, your CE pro can just drag and drop the commands into the appropriate boxes in the programming software. This saves you a lot of money you’d otherwise pay for in programming time.
This new generation of software also provides CE pros with the tools to tailor the design of a user interface exactly to the needs, styles and tastes of every person who uses it. No longer does an installer need graphics design expertise to dress up the screen with special background colors, button shapes and animation.
Each member of your family can have his or her own personalized menu of commands, displayed in any color or fashion they prefer. For example, the kids can have a screen filled with bright primary colors and only those buttons that will get them to their favorite TV channels, while your more elegant page shows every channel in your lineup as well as buttons to let you tweak your surround-sound system and access the surveillance camera feeds.
“We supply the dealer with hundreds of different themes,” say Jim Carroll, president of Apple computer-based home control company Savant. Each theme comes with a specific style of button and background color. “The homeowner just chooses which themes they want, the installer checks the right box, and the user interface is generated.”
The personalized interfaces can be modified easily and quickly, too, so you won’t incur hefty programming charges should you want to add a new button or change the background color. “We can change the background in seconds, with no charge to the customer. In some cases, homeowners themselves can modify certain aspects of the design right at the touchpanel,” says Paul Foley, IT/project manager at Hermary’s, an electronic design and installation firm in San Carlos, Calif. The ability to modify the design of the user interface quickly is also a big plus should you sell your house.
Companies on Board
One of the biggest advocates of touchpanel personalization is CineTouch. Using a technology called Cast, the CineTouch software allows you to create as many as 16 operating profiles. You might have one for Mom, Dad, the kids, houseguests, babysitters and the in-laws.
By selecting your name on any touchpanel, the view and control of your home’s electronic systems change automatically to your personal preferences. You’ll see only the buttons that are important to you on a screen that incorporates the colors you like.
Lisa Montgomery has been writing about home technology for 15 years, with a focus on the impact of electronics on a modern lifestyle.