Staying Connected Via Apps
The key to apps is managing the differing mobile platforms and features needed to keep everyone happy.
There is no end in sight to the skyrocketing growth of mobile apps. Mobile apps specifically add portability — a key benefit that enables consumers to monitor and control their systems from any place, via any device, at any time. Today more and more end users also expect apps. According to recent research reported on by ClickZ more than three out of every four consumers surveyed believed that every single brand and organization should offer a mobile app. Today, a growing majority of security providers are offering some type of smartphone or tablet app.
“Our customers light up when we mention the smartphone integration with their security system. Consumers have proven that they are willing to pay a premium for these devices, and we’re finding that they are also willing to pay a little more in their security monitoring to enjoy the level of customization and control that we can now offer them,” says John Pastore, founder and president of Crime Prevention Security Systems, Gainsville, Fla.
Mobile apps and interactive services are transforming the perception of security systems in the home, says Rebecca Davenport, director of product management, mobile products, Alarm.com, Vienna, Va.
“The traction mobile apps have gained for controlling and monitoring security and related services reflect their ability to keep customers engaged with the system on a regular basis. Mobile apps have also transformed consumer perception of what security means from traditional arming and disarming to an expectation for day-to-day property awareness and peace of mind,” she describes.
Today’s systems have indeed moved beyond alarms, and mobile apps’ ability to let homeowners check in on their homes, loved ones, and belongings when they are not there increases peace of mind exponentially.
“A homeowner’s primary concern tends to be the safety and security of their loved ones, which is also the perfect reason to make one’s home a smart home. Safety is no longer just about alarms, but surveillance in and around your home, sensors that detect water in the basement, text alerts that notify you if an unknown code has been entered into your door lock, or an email that says the garage door was left open. The abundance of applications has made it easy to manage and secure your home on your terms,” says Ross Livingston, senior product manager at Control4, Salt Lake City.
Many of these functions can be defined as “just-in-time” services. The Pew Research Center’s Internet & American Life Project documented the increasing use of mobile phones to perform what it defined as “just-in-time” services: providing needed information right away and allowing access/reactions to something unexpected. In the security industry, this could include arming a system the homeowner had forgotten to arm, or unlocking the door for a forgotten service call or unexpected family member. A new nationally representative survey by Pew found 62 percent of the entire adult population performed a “just-in-time” service with their mobile phone in the last 30 days.
The new applications for mobile management on Android and iOS devices have made it simple to control and manage the home, and the devices and appliances within it, from anywhere, at any time, Livingston confirms.
The challenge is keeping up with mobile platform demands as end users are switching mobile phones (and therefore often switching mobile platforms — from iPhone to Android, etc.) more frequently than ever before.
Americans actually change their phones the most often in the world according to data from Recon Analytics that showed Americans change their cell phones every 21.7 months.
With consumers continuously switching mobile phones/platforms, dealers looking into adding mobile apps need to carefully consider which platforms to offer so they can reach the broadest audience possible.
“In general, dealers will look for control partners that provide the widest range of features. That is one criterion. Other important criteria are how easy the system is to install, how reliable is it, how easy the manufacturer is to work with, and how platforms are handled. When you are in the ‘Wild West’ of platforms and you have Android dominating and iPhone as the benchmark and Windows Mobile coming down the pipe — and even interfaces for computers whether it is Windows and Mac devices — all these things are going to either limit or open up the market a dealer can serve. For example, if a homeowner has a system that only works with an iPad, but not with Android, what will the Android user do? ELAN’s strategy is to continuously evaluate and maintain interfaces with the top selling platforms, getting rid of that situation,” shares Joe Lautner, manager of business development and project management, ELAN Home Systems, Carlsbad, Calif.
Sometimes switching platforms can incur additional costs for homeowners and dealers, but various manufacturers like Home Automation Inc. (HAI), New Orleans, try to eliminate that.
“We work to make it easy to switch platforms because dealers don’t need to worry about buying site or device licenses or worry about breaking a monthly contract. We believe the app should be available on whatever device is necessary, without device or site licenses. Simply purchase the app for the new device from the App Store and you’re good to go,” shares HAI’s Greg Rhoades, associate director of marketing.
Dealers need to investigate costs and which pricing format (licenses, etc.) will work best for them.
Davenport advocates that security dealers ultimately benefit by choosing to provide technology solutions that are device and platform agnostic.
Lisa Ciappetta, senior director, marketing, Protection 1, Romeoville, Ill., confirms that same mentality at the company, ranked No. 4 on the SDM 100, and also suggests working closely with the source — the mobile device providers.
“Our industry needs to keep in touch with mobile device manufacturers and make sure we are prepared as new versions of existing software are released and consumer trends shift toward new devices,” Ciapppetta says. “Today most security suppliers release their apps on multiple platforms, so if a consumer decides to switch their mobile platform, downloading an app compatible with their new device should not be a problem.”
Keeping up with evolving mobile platforms and end users’ expectations is complicated by the requirement that apps stay intuitive.
Byron Wendling, technology manager, touch screens and user interfaces, Crestron, Rockleigh, N.J., says, “Our app is available across all platforms — Android, Apple, Mac and PC — because we understand that homeowners may not be platform loyal. While doing that, we’re also focused on keeping the app consistent and intuitive so homeowners and their families can navigate the system no matter what their technical aptitude is.”
Crestron also suggests increasing simplicity by offering one app to do multiple functions.
“Our app is an entire home dashboard which includes security features. We recommend an all-inclusive dashboard instead of using brand X app to check on the security/alarm system, then brand X app to check on the lights,” Wendling explains. “With Crestron, it’s one company, one call, one app to make the experience seamless, intuitive and consistent. There is no better peace of mind then to check on the entire house through one app.”
NAPCO Security Technologies is focused on simplicity for the user, but is also consciously avoiding oversimplification of the app.
“Rather than oversimplifying the consumer mobile app interface and reducing it down to basic functions such as arm and disarm, NAPCO chose to provide full keypad control. Any function that the customer can perform standing in front of their keypad, they can do on the MyRemoteKeypad mobile app, even down to changing user codes, etc.,” explains Tom Karl, vice president, business development, NAPCO, Amityville, N.Y.
It also allows the dealer to access dealer programming and remotely make changes to the panel program from a mobile device, providing yet another method of servicing the customer, Karl says.
Like platforms, new features also are continuously being added, which increase value and usage.
Ultimately, mobile apps are an enabler for interactive services so dealers should focus on applications that increase the consumer’s daily usage of the system, Davenport advises. More consumer engagement with the system will ultimately equate to greater visibility.
“From Alarm.com’s perspective, mobile app features should all tie back to providing the customer with greater visibility into both alarm and non-alarm activity at the home — and the ability to determine between the two,” Davenport shares.
Ciappetta shares Protection 1 must have a multi-purpose app, capable of intrusion system management, video, and home control.
“With the number of competitors in the marketplace we must ensure that we have an offering with the latest competitive features. We also require an app that is easy for the consumer to use, to both avoid excess incoming customer service support calls and to ensure ongoing use,” she explains.
Every dealer will weigh different factors when choosing a mobile app.
“When making decisions on the apps Vivint offers we look at a variety of factors, but the primary driver is meeting the needs of our customers,” says Craig Pyle, director of product management at Vivint. “We’re mindful of the types of features that are most practical and useful for mobile devices, balancing core functionality with usability. An iPhone app allows the user to change the mode or set point temperature of the thermostat, but setting a heating or cooling schedule is a task better suited for a computer. Additionally, while iPhone and iPad use the same platform, they are unique devices. We introduced an app specific for iPad to take advantage of the unique user experience that comes with a larger screen size.”
Randi Elrad, founder and vice president of sales for Crime Prevention Security Solutions, shares the importance of helping homeowners “catch the vision” by describing the features.
“We tell the story of what a ‘Day in the Life’ with our mobile security solution, InterConekt, would look like,” Elrad describes. “We talk about the late rush to work, and being able to arm the system and lock the front door from the car before pulling out of the driveway.
“We continue with a scheduled service call with the cable company, for example,” Elrad adds. “They often give a four hour window of when they are going to arrive. With the mobile app, when the repairman calls their mobile phone, without hanging up the customer can disarm the system, unlock the front door, turn on the light in the living room, and let the service provider know they are watching the work on their cell phone, thanks to the integrated security. The stories sell because we’ve all been there before. The technology lives up to the promise.”
That’s the promise of peace of mind, the ability to stay connected, and, in a lot of little ways, have access to those “just-in-time” services that simplify life.