Home Automation Has Evolved!
Monday 23rd May 2016
– By David Alexander, Senior Technical Support Engineer
Home automation is always evolving with the arrival of new technologies and products. The ‘stuff’ that happens under the hood is one of continual progression in working with new protocols, integration and computing efficiency. The most obvious changes are always closest to the user with their interface. This year is certainly an important one as Savant have provided the next major evolutionary step with 8.0 featuring the Pro 8 App and the Pro Remote user interfaces.
In the last decade of supporting home automation products, I have always been able to benefit from having a system to use in my own home. Whilst my humble abode may only have the requirement for a one-room-solution to control all the products you might find in any average home today, an automation solution will always improve and simplify the experience of my home entertainment system.
In 2007, before the availability of Savant in the UK when I was supporting a legacy product line, the first system I installed was a rather cumbersome box which was the brains, with control ports for serial and IR devices and a wired touch panel. Put simply, the system offered pre-programmed macros to turn products on in the right order, perform audio video switching and control the volume – but to do this required an enormous amount of coding. It also didn’t look aesthetically pleasing in terms of both the product hardware and the visual display but worst of all you had to get up each time to use it. A wireless solution was out of the question as a decade ago wireless touch panels cost the same as the average car!
April 2010 was the last major evolutionary step with Apple releasing the iPad – and in February 2011 along came Savant! The first all-Apple system, leveraging the reliability of the Mac Mini as a platform for the Savant Host with the affordability of an iPad; and gone are the days of coding thanks to Savant’s RacePoint Blueprint configuration software. This was certainly a game changer at home, giving wireless control of the home entertainment system using my own iPad or iPhone and adding new features such as metadata control of my personal iTunes collection proved to be a major boost to the experience. Summer nights of sitting in the garden, controlling the system and choosing music was too easy.
Many people, however, would argue that an iPad or iPhone is not always the best primary home automation user interface for reasons such as having to keep it charged, or having to unlock the device, type in the pin-code and then open the App. With this in mind, the perfect accompaniment to a Home Automation system is an all-in-one remote, which Savant delivered in the form of the Universal Remote in September 2013. Features such as a 1.5” colour screen for service selection and metadata feedback, and an array of hard buttons designed to handle almost any service type made it very useable.
The Universal Remote was certainly an eye opener, because from the box the deployment process is as simple as attaching the remote to your home WiFi, selecting your Savant Host running a configuration, choosing the location of the remote, and you have control; no additional programming required. This concept inspired the creation of the Savant App released in November 2014 with 7.0. Known today as the Pro 7 App, it raised the user experience bar yet again; being a true App and not a touch panel crammed into an App. It offers users the ability to personalise the App at any time, by adding their own room images taken with the very same device or from a photo library, adding TV & Radio favourite channels and creating scenes from scratch or capturing the current moment – so that the system can work harmoniously with their lifestyle. 7.0 even made remote access easier with the cloud based service Savant Plus negating the need for any advanced network setup on the home router.
This month saw the arrival of 8.0, the Pro 8 App and the Pro Remote at home. The Savant Pro Remote breaks the mould, as it was designed from the ground up employing the expertise of Ammunition Group; a design house founded by Robert Brunner, previously Apple designer from 1989 to 1996. It features a 2.95” curved colour touch screen and a polycarbonate case for added strength and reduced weight. The remote is perfectly ergonomic, being comfortable, light, balanced and placing everything within easy reach. For communication, Bluetooth Low Energy (BLE) is used to talk to the charging base, which in turn connects to the home WiFi. This enables a fantastic battery life as a WiFi connection uses the majority of energy in battery powered devices and as a consequence they have to be put into a deep sleep to preserve battery life when not in use. The Pro remote is a real turnkey solution as the setup couldn’t be simpler; just connect to the charging base’s adhoc WiFi to provide your home WiFi details and in RacePoint Blueprint place the remote in the zone the it will be used in and then provide a unique identification number.
The 8.0 user experience is unrivalled, with the ability to activate scenes and recall favourites created within the Pro 8 App; as well as introducing control through short voice commands. A feature of the Savant Pro 8 App now shared with the Pro Remote is the ability to customise by adding product specific commands to the services, such as Sky’s Box Office command.
Savant is even solving my horticultural issues as last year a basic off-the shelf water timer wasn’t flexible enough to cope with the unpredictable British weather. Using a Savant relay service to control an electronic water valve, I can turn the irrigation on and off from the Pro 8 App and manage it using scenes and schedules. Savant Plus remote access means that no matter where I am with WiFi or mobile signal I can check the weather at home and enable the right scene.
Whilst the improvements to the Pro App are certainly marked, the Pro Remote has completed a decade of waiting for the perfect user interface in the form of a luxury product making for a solid user experience.