Smartphones, wearables, voice and gesture control vie for marketshare amid entrenched touchpanels and keypads. Lets weigh pros and cons of each.

The most important part of any home technology system is its interface. If a user is confused on how to operate his lighting, music, television, alarm system or shades, the chances are he or she will discontinue using those home technologies. And, even worse, they will inform all of their friends that home automation is a waste of time and money.

So, integrators who provide a poor interface for their clients are hurting themselves and the entire industry in the future. But fortunately, new interfaces are making home automation interaction even more exciting and more frequent than ever. From touchpanels to voice control and even gesture control, interfaces are front and center for consumers. The best wholehouse automation, multiroom audio, or home theater installation can be dragged down by a horrible, clunky interface that is not intuitive or, worse, inhibits the homeowners from using the system. Just ask tens of thousands of residential burglar alarm system owners who don’t activate their alarm system because they fear the “pressure” of using the delayed entry keypad. But the way homeowners interact with their technology is everchanging. The keypad of yesteryear was replaced by the touchpanel of today, which is being replaced by the smartphone of tomorrow, and on and on. But are the days of all these interfaces obsolete, only to be replaced by … no physical interface at all? Or will the future be smart homes that contain multiple types of physical interfaces — keypads, fobs, smartphones and tablets — coexisting with voice commands and motionsensor- based “sentient” control? Let’s take a closer look at what’s in store for the once and future interface.

Lets highlight the pros and cons of various technologies and the future of the human interface.

 

Voice Control

Can voice control make the leap from limited use gimmick to mainsteam?

The smart home is becoming very important and voice is going to become very important as the interface for the smart home. Imagine a day when consumers will simply be able to tell their set-top box which TV show they wish to watch and/or record. People have grown accustomed to simply “asking” their smartphones for assistance or directions these days instead of typing commands. However, everyone has also experienced a botched voice command on their iPhone for Siri. But perhaps a dedicated voice command environment for home control can improve results in a home, the ambient noise levels could likely be lower than out on a sidewalk or in a car where an iPhone or Android phone commands are issued. There’s so many situations where there’s background noise or other people talking that may make the application of that voice control impractical. However, experts believe that as we continue to listen to the needs of the consumer, and the technology becomes more refined, there will be an application of voice control in the homes, in certain situations, and it’ll probably just be another element of an optional control for people to make their lives more convenient.

 

Gesture Control

Gesture control has been hyped in the gaming community with the advent of Microsoft Kinect Controls, but what are its prospects in home automation?

Gesture control will have limitations for people with handicaps and for older Americans. There is also a cost element. Experts believe, it is unlikely that gesture control will ever become mainstream because it requires a camera and they do not foresee set-top box and TV manufacturers adding the cost of embedding a camera into those components. Google’s Nest has already had an unwanted experience with the technology. The company had to deactivate the “wave” feature in its Nest Protect smoke detectors that was designed to silence an alarm with a simple wave of the hand just below the unit. The company discovered in its lab that in certain circumstances, fire smoke could actually emulate the Wave feature and mistakenly silence the alarm. Fortunately, this never happened in a real home. Obviously, knowing this is an issue of safety and security, life safety, it’s critical that they were fortunate to be able to do a firmware upgrade, and turn off that feature until they get it right. It’s a powerful feature, but unless done right, especially as it relates to life safety, it’s not worth taking a risk. They are working diligently on making sure it will be right, but they won’t release it until it’s there, for sure.

 

Occupancy Control

The ultimate interface might be no interface at all, but rather a reliance on sensorbased occupancy control.

Today, the technology really has evolved where we can expect very reliable control based on occupancy. For specific areas in terms of lighting and shading, where you’re apt to leave the lights on, like children’s rooms, utility rooms or bathrooms, it’s very common now to design systems that include occupancy in certain areas that just anticipate your move through motion detection. As a result, it manages the electric load, and fundamentally saves energy and makes things more convenient. Control4 is definitely experiencing growing demand for occupancy devices, both standalone and integrated, as part of control systems in residential and commercial environments.

 

Dedicated Touch Panels

Whether the dedicated touchpanel is from a certain manufacturer or if it’s an actual iPad mounted on the wall, aesthetically it’s nice to have that versus a bunch of light switches, and a thermostat, and alarm pad, and all the different wall clutter that can happen with all the different interfaces you need to control the different systems. So if you’re in the kitchen, your automation system knows that. So instead of having to choose a room of music you want to turn on, it already knows you’re in the kitchen. So it automatically, as soon as you open the app, it sees you’re in the kitchen, pulls up the lighting for that room and adjusts the temperature. What if  someone can’t control the house because their cellphone was broken or the tablet was left at the office?

A lot of people are still comfortable in this day and age with an actual handheld remote that’s always going to be in the room however some are activating the tablets and smartphones to control the home.

 

Smartphones

People are on their phones while they’re watching movies. They’re on Facebook. A lot of people don’t sit and watch a movie. They have their devices in their hands, So to be able to use that for everything else I think is pretty handy. “People don’t want to go in and out of one App to another, which is why the control systems are so important. But there is one big growing problem with having the smartphone as the primary interface for home control. Because so many homeowners are dropping their landlines, that means the smartphone is now their sole means of telecom. That means it is often not available to be used for home control and life safety. What if you are on a 45-minute phone conversation that you really don’t want to interrupt? Experts believe the solution is open APIs from all manufacturers that will allow a single App to control everything.

 

Smartwatches

The latest interface to hit the market is the smartwatch. It’s portable but small. Like voice control, this wearable technology is one that’s been glorified on the big screen, but the question is will it catch on in real life?

 

Keypads, Fobs and Remote controls

Will any of these interfaces go away? It’s unlikely. Fobs and keypads are entrenched in the security industry, especially since Baby Boomers have an affinity to them. Likewise, the TV remote, or the universal remote, is too ubiquitous. Some may say it is a body part of some homeowners(until it gets lost under the sofa cushion).

 

So What’s the future of Interface?

Perhaps the only true answers to the question of which interface will ultimately win out are “All of them” and “None of them”. The final solution will be based on convenience. Some think budget, not convenience, will be the ultimate decision- maker, with clients who use custom installers at the top of the luxury pyramid (touchscreens, voice, gesture) and the interfaces changing as you go downmarket (keypads and smartphones). Still, the age of the end user could play a significant role. Baby Boomers are still tied to keypads due to familiarity, their children may prefer touchpanels, and their grandchildren gesture control. “Look at how long it took us to be able to control the TVs and devices we have now. It took years for the code to get written. Seamless interfaces could take a while, but it will be really good when it gets all together.