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Ten years ago, all of the talk was about convergence in technology — the coming together of the worlds of IT and more legacy industries. This had very little to do with the end user, who simply wanted a system that worked and in many cases was happy with using multiple user interfaces to control multiple systems. Today, the ultimate manifestation of convergence is the touchscreen smartphone, which is now in the pockets and hands of the majority of our clients.

Many companies have seen this trend as a threat due to (together with tablets) margins on proprietary touchscreens being eroded. While this, of course, is true, the opportunity arises from embracing this ongoing convergence and adding systems control to phones and tablets. The obvious way to do this is by simply using an “app” to control an individual system. Given that most of us consider ourselves integrators of some kind, yet another opportunity arises for us to create a far more compelling user experience than simply using a collection of apps to control multiple subsystems. This is almost like going back to the old days of having a coffee table full of remote controls for the TV, cable box, DVD player and amplifier. What we really need is a way to turn that smartphone or tablet into a universal remote control.

The past 18 months have seen many solutions come to market that do just that. While there always will be a place for full-blown system control that uses centralized control processors and highly advanced custom software and user interface layouts, the new wave of systems designed around using phones and tablets as the user interface is, with a few caveats, becoming compelling. Let’s get those caveats out of the way first.

The first is that phones and tablets do not have hard buttons for instant access to commonly used functions such as mute, volume, channel up and down, and menu navigation. These functions when on a touchscreen need to be looked at to be used, which is less convenient than your thumb simply knowing its way around some buttons. The second caveat is that phones and tablets get taken from rooms — not an ideal situation when you want to turn on the TV. And your kids are playing Angry Birds on the remote control...

The advantage of these new systems is that they offer massive functionality for relatively little money. They do this by leveraging the existing Ethernet and 802.11x wireless networks and using converters that sit on the network to transmit commands to and from components. If the component is IP-controllable then communication is native, but if it is RS 232 or IR controlled, then these converters allow components anywhere in the building to be controlled. Because all of the control is being driven from one app, unlike using multiple apps you can build macros to enable multiple functions on multiple devices to be triggered from a single button press. You can also create graphically rich environments to allow the user to browse media or view IP CCTV cameras.

Where budget allows, more advanced systems can be installed where the flexibility and power of full-blown control systems comes into play.

For smaller, more budget-conscious systems, however, this new wave of mobile device-specific control system will allow you to deliver some very advanced functionality for relatively little cost. You also will be able to make money on designing and installing the robust Ethernet and 802.11x wireless networks that any modern control system relies upon.

 Embrace this opportunity to find out about these new forms of control, and use them to give your customers an even more converged experience from their smartphones and tablets. You can learn more about mobile device integration from CEDIA’s new white paper series. CEDIA members may download the white papers for free; non-members may purchase each white paper for $9.99. Visit www.cedia.net/marketplace to learn more.