The iPad and Apps

Controlling your house has never been easier, when you can do it from your smartphone or tablet.

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People love their iPads (and other types of tablets) for many reasons: to watch movies, to play games, to connect socially. For the owner of a smart house, the iPad can also be the primary interface to an automation system. Just as you would scroll with your fingertip to catch up on the latest Facebook posts, you can swipe your way through interactive home automation menus to monitor and manage lights, thermostats, A/V equipment … just about any electronic device in your house. As long as there’s an app for a system or product, you can control it from your iPad, or any iOS device for that matter. And Android users don’t worry. Manufacturers are continuing to add apps that support this operating platform, too.

The Impact
No other technology has had such a dramatic impact on the home automation market as the iPad. Once its popularity had been well established, manufacturers of all types of electronic products and systems began offering downloadable control apps for iOS devices. The iPad quickly became the interface of choice of many homeowners and custom electronics (CE) professionals, stealing from the dedicated touchpanel the long-standing title of coveted controller.

Manufacturers have embraced the iPad craze by developing apps for single products like electronic door locks, swimming pool pumps and home theater receivers, as well as for complete home automation systems. Apps are prolific throughout the spectrum of electronics hardware for the home, and downloading them is uber-affordable.

How this impacts you, as a user of a home automation system, is profound, in that it requires no significant change of habit, routine or lifestyle in order to interact with the electronic systems in your house. By using a device that you’re already familiar with and comfortable using, the addition of a home automation app won’t really affect you much at all. You won’t need to train yourself to rely on a new piece of equipment, like a touchpanel; you may not even need to buy anything but the app if you already own a few iPads. Dedicated touchpanels can cost upwards of several thousands of dollars, so being able to use an iPad(s) as your home control interface can amount to a significant cost savings.

The Next Step
Nowadays you’d be hard-pressed to find an electronic product or system that doesn’t have a complementary control app. Although a lot of people like using apps on their smartphones and tablets to manage their home, some users find the process a bit cumbersome and awkward. Like any app on your smartphone or tablet, you’ll first need to launch it in order to use it. This might not be a big deal if your iPad is dedicated to controlling your house, but if it is also used to play games, music and videos, the constant closing down and launching of apps could get extremely annoying. And if your household is the type that carries off the iPad to watch movies, or takes it hostage for marathon Skype sessions, tracking it down could defeat the whole purpose of having a home automation system.

For these reasons, CE professionals often recommend using a combination of interfaces, like an iPad or two, which can float around the house or can be secured to the wall, along with some wall-mounted keypads and maybe a small dedicated touchpanel in a high-traffic room, like the kitchen. A traditional wand-style remote is often recommended for the theater or media room.

Another important choice you’ll need to make: Would you like one app that’s able to operate every electronic system and product in your house, or would you like to use multiple apps, one for each product or system. A CE pro can offer his professional recommendation, based on the scope of the project, your budget and your expectations. There are pros and cons to each approach. The multi-app approach can be an inexpensive way to dip your toe into automation; however, it could end up feeling clunky and inefficient as you launch one app to operate the lights, close this app then launch another to adjust the thermostat, and so on. Offering greater fluidity of operation is an app that provides a common user interface for all products. These apps are typically only available from manufacturers of turnkey automation systems.

The Bottom Line
Together, the iPad and apps have made automation a reality for many homeowners, who just a few years ago would have never dreamed they’d be unlocking the front door or turning off the lights from their tablet or smartphone. The ability to use a familiar and affordable device to interact with a home’s electronic components is pushing automation to the mainstream, where it’s become a capability that’s no longer intimidating and scary, but easy and fun. It’s time you give it a try (see sidebar for good starter apps).

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