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Installers Turning To Apps For System Setup

DENVER — Home-automation and multiroom-audio suppliers turned to apps years ago to offer convenient system control from smartphones and tablets, but now a handful of companies have turned to apps to reduce the complexity of system configuration by installers.

Crestron and Control4 unveiled home-automation systems that use apps for system configuration; SpeakerCraft unveiled the $2,000-suggested six-zone MRA-664 multiroom-audio controller/amplifier with app setup; and sister-brand Niles recently shipped the six-zone Auriel MRC-6430 multiroom-audio controller/ amplifier with app setup.

In some cases, suppliers are appealing to their existing base of A/V and home-automation integrators to help them raise margins, reduce end-user costs, or take on bigger jobs by making installs go faster and smoother with technicians who don’t have to be trained as rigorously as before.

Other suppliers view simpler setup as a way to appeal to the growing number of security installers and electrical contractors who are diversifying into home automation and multiroom audio but lack the programming expertise to configure systems via laptop programming.

“We have always worked hard to drive down the total cost of an installation, including programming,” said Joe Lautner, director of the Core Brands control segment. But now, “there are more companies in installation now, and they aren’t the core CEDIA group. They need simpler systems to install.”

Mass-market home-automation products appearing in big-box stores are stoking demand for more affordable home-automation systems, and installers that aren’t A/V-installation specialists are poised to capture some of that demand, he said. Those installers “serve clients who want the oil changed for them,” he said, drawing a contrast between installed systems that can be set up via apps and the self-installable systems sold at big-box retailers. “It’s a way to reach consumers who are now aware of home automation and want a step up [from systems sold by big-box retailers.]”

In launching its Pyng app and hub, Crestron isn’t looking to broaden distribution beyond its current dealer base. Crestron’s iOS tablet app and hub enable system setup, and consumer control, of wireless lighting products and motorized shades that incorporate the company’s proprietary wireless InfiNet EX technology. The products are targeted to luxury homes.

The app and hub, available for shipping, promise to change the way dealers go to market and interact with customers, said marketing VP Sean Goldstein.

Because the system does not require sophisticated programming experience, more employees will be capable of going out into the field to configure systems, enabling installers to do a lot more jobs more quickly, he said. That will also help improve profitability, as will the need for fewer truck rolls to change system configurations, he said.

Customers will also be happier because they can get their system installed faster and can make basic changes to the system themselves without waiting for someone to come to the house, he added.

The system will also encourage existing Creston A/V installers to add lighting and shades to their portfolios, said Tom Barnett, marketing communications director. And it will help dealers take on bigger jobs because of the efficient configuration process.

Besides raising margins, the system can also make installations more affordable, said Evan Ackmann, lighting and energy technology manager. “If it took two weeks to do one system, you can now do five per week, and the dealer doesn’t need a certified programmer with a laptop.”

For its part, Control4 developed its Composer Express app for iOS and Android smartphones and tablets to reduce the configuration time of systems running its new OS 2.6.

Setup time for most one-room home theaters can be reduced by 70 percent, the company said. The apps will also enable technicians to set up hundreds of devices in complex whole-home installations in a few hours instead of a few days. Techs would walk around the house with their Wi-Fi-enabled mobile device, install devices, and use Composer Express to auto-integrate the devices into a Control4 system.

Besides speeding up configuration, the app also makes configuration simpler so that entry-level technicians will be able to do a complete system configuration, Control4 added.

The app can be used with new systems running Control4’s new OS 2.6 to configure Control4 devices, Zigbee devices and third-party devices.

With the Composer Express app, “Control4 Dealers can now locally train and deploy a new tier of Control4 technical staff,” said Paul Williams, Control4 support and training VP. “Creating a new tier of technicians who can be self-taught through online training allows Control4 dealers to utilize their more skilled and experienced Control4 tech 1 and tech 2 certified technicians for larger projects, so they can complete more smarthome installations per month and contribute more efficiently to top and bottom line business growth.”

The apps also access an online library of thousands of devices such as light switches, dimmers, keypads and sensors for integration.