Let Your iPhone Take Full Control
Many manufacturers are developing apps that make Apple's ubiquitous mobile device a touchpanel controller for automation, lighting, distributed audio and more.
iphone control
Apple’s iPhone is doubling as a new type of touchpanel controller these days.
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December 31, 2008 by Lisa Montgomery

Apps for Sale, or Free
To make the iPhone’s transition into the role of home control device as painless as possible, software applications from manufacturers including Savant Systems, Crestron and Exceptional Innovation can be downloaded from Apple’s iTune’s app store. Crestron’s app and Exceptional Innovation’s Lifeware app are free to home systems installers; Savant’s offers its app to consumers for $199. Other manufacturers, including Control4, plan to make their apps available on the popular web site, too.

Once the app is downloaded into the iPhone, the device is ready to communicate freely to the home control system to monitor, manage and control the lights, thermostats and other equipment from anywhere inside our outside a house. No web connection is required, which makes for a seamless interaction with the home, says Jason Leonardilli, Exceptional Innovation director of international projects. 

Despite the push by some companies to create native, downloadable applications, other home control companies are perfectly comfortable utilizing the web to link systems to the iPhone. “Manufacturers are able to customize their iPhone interfaces to the nth degree by developing special software applications, but those apps will need to be downloaded,” explains Robert Noble, chief technology officer at AMX. “It’s just one more step people will have to take, and we feel people just want the setup to be simple. The web connection allows us to keep it simple.” 

Subsystem Approach
The first wave of home control focused iPhone apps are being developed mainly by manufacturers of integrated systems—systems designed to operate a wide range of electronic devices like lights, thermostats, swimming pool pumps and more. A recent app developed by Lutron Electronics, however, focuses only on the control of a home’s lighting. The free downloadable utility turns the iPhone into a control interface for the company’s popular HomeWorks lighting control system.

With some setup by a HomeWorks dealer, the iPhone display could present a virtual keypad that resembles any or all HomeWorks keypads that are installed in the home. If it makes more sense, a dealer can customize a keypad that presents only those buttons that a homeowner might need to use during his or her commute to and from work, for example. A button labeled HOME, for instance, could tell the HomeWorks system to turn on the lights on the front porch, hallway and kitchen. An ENTERTAIN button could prepare the lights for an impromptu evening with friends, and an AWAY command could ensure that all the lights are off as you leave.

Remote access and control of its HomeWorks system is nothing new to Lutron. “Our HomeWorks processor has always supported ‘web keypads,’ which are a capability that lets homeowners access the system through a web browser,” says Phil Scheetz, Lutron home systems marketing manager. “The native iPhone application basically takes that same information and reformats it so that it fits perfectly on the screen of the iPhone.”

Scheetz believes the iPhone is a device perfectly suited for controlling a house’s lights remotely but says that there’s also an opportunity for it to play a huge role inside the home. “It might not replace keypads that are installed in the wall, but consumer might choose the iPhone over a small touchpanel,” says Scheetz. “I could see parents letting their kids use their iPhones rather than spending the money to put a separate touchpanel in each kid’s room.”

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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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