Sling Founder Brings Android to Home Control

Crestron automation app on Android-enabled Samsung Galaxy Tab during CEDIA Expo.

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A few early-release Samsung Galaxy Tabs will be hand-delivered to CEDIA so Blake Krikorian can demo his Android app for home automation.

Over the past three years, Apple and its iOS have completely disrupted the home automation business, bringing affordable, multipurpose machines to an industry built on higher-priced, single-purpose touchscreens.

This week at CEDIA Expo 2010, the big event for custom electronics professionals, home systems integrators will be scouring the show floor for new iOS controls apps; iPad mounts, docks and smart sleeves; competitive products that stack up to the iPad in terms of price, performance and aesthetics; and business models for this enigmatic platform.

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And, quietly, the relatively new Android platform from Google will make its mark on the home-control industry.

Sling Founder Brings Android to Automation
For the past 18 months, Blake Krikorian, founder of Sling Media, has been working on an Android-centric home-control interface as part of an extensive home remodel project, he told CE Pro in an exclusive interview.

Specifically, Krikorian has developed an Android app for Crestron, the home control system that powers his own house. Codenamed R2, the solution will be demonstrated at the Crestron booth at CEDIA Expo.

Already the Krikorian household has numerous iPads and iPod touches for remote control of lights, shades, security, audio/video, thermostats and other Crestron-enabled smart systems.

But that’s not enough for the perpetual tinkerer and problem solver who always wants more – like the ability to watch the San Francisco Giants while traveling, which was the genesis of the Slingbox.

For example, he says, “I just wanted the iPad to let me bypass the slide-to-unlock bar so I could immediately control things with one button. Apple doesn’t give you the flexibility to do that.”

An Open Platform
Krikorian thinks the iPad and iPhone are “fantastic mass market products,” but the locked-down iOS limits their use as home-control devices.

Ideally, a home-automation screen should always be at the ready – in “supervisory” mode, as we say – so it can respond automatically to various triggers such as the press of a doorbell or the tripping of security sensor. In either case, you might want the screen to light up automatically with images from one or multiple surveillance cameras.

You can do that with an Android device.

“If someone rings the doorbell, I want all of these displays to pop up,” Krikorian says. “I couldn’t do that unless I had an app running in the background all the time.” Which you can do with Android.

And that brings us to multitasking, a feature famously supported by Android.

While Apple is making strides in this area, the multitasking functionality of the new iOS 4.1 is “limited at best,” Krikorian says. For example, he notes, “In most cases, you basically have to close one app to get to the control app. And then you have to close down that app to launch another. The additional friction caused by those unnecessary steps detracts from the convenience I am trying to provide.”

With Android, on the other hand, you can mute the television via the home-automation app, without closing your e-book for example. And, if you want to see a guest at the front door the moment he presses the doorbell, you can make that happen with Android, even if you’re currently engrossed in said e-book.

These features are easily achieved via any respectable home-automation touchscreen. But the trick is to make them doable with an off-the-shelf multipurpose device such as an iPad or Android tablet.

What lured Krikorian into the Android camp – besides his long-time friendship with Android founder Andy Rubin — is that the open-source platform has no “gatekeeper for any new functionality,” he says. A developer can dig down deep and make changes to the source code to suit his apps.

Krikorian enjoys the flexibility to customize his Android desktop with “widgets,” just as he can do on his PC screen. An Android widget displays an application’s most important functions or timely information at a glance, on a user’s desktop.

In the case of home control, instead of just putting the shortcut to the Crestron app on the desktop, he suggests, the homeowner might want to populate part of the desktop with some of the most-used commands or important status updates, for example, MUTE, CHANNEL UP/DOWN, PLAY MOVIE, INTERCOM, LIGHTS, GOODNIGHT or SECURITY STATUS.

CEDIA: Control a Home with Samsung Galaxy Tab
Krikorian has arranged to have a few pre-release Samsung Galaxy Tabs hand-delivered to him in Atlanta, just in time for the CEDIA Expo.

The hugely hyped 7-inch tablet is one of many large-screen Android devices expected to flood the market in 2011.

Krikorian already has the 5-inch Dell Streak to showcase the new app, which will also be demonstrated in the Crestron booth at CEDIA.

“Whether or not you’re interested in Crestron,” he says, “these are cool things you might want to see.”

Crestron CTO Fred Bargetzi believes Krikorian is the first developer to deliver an Android app for Crestron. He likes what he sees so far.

It works pretty much like Crestron’s own iOS app, he says. Basically, a dealer programs Crestron par usual, and simply “flips a switch” to create a companion app for Apple or Android, Bargetzi explains.

Krikorian says his Android app “works with the existing [Crestron] development tools that dealers know and love today – VTPro, System Builder, SIMPL …. Really, they don’t need to learn anything else new or different” to coax an Android app out of Crestron.

The Crestron Android app “will probably be priced like Mobile Pro,” Krikorian says of Crestron’s Apple app. That one sells for $99 (per device), and there’s also a free version with limited functionality.

Beyond that, Krikorian really doesn’t really know where he’s going with this thing.

His development company the id8 Group – from which Sling Media sprang – “goes through hundreds of ideas and dozens of prototypes,” he says. “Maybe one makes it. While I initially built this app for myself, I found that it is just too cool not to share with others.”

So will there be more development around the smart home?

“I can’t help myself,” he says. “I just can’t stop. I have been coming to the CEDIA show on and off for the past dozen years as a spectator. With this Android app for Crestron, it’s a blast to actually be contributing something instead of just drooling over cool products from other folks.”

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