The pocket-sized connected home
Editor / Provider: a&s Editorial Department | Updated: 12/20/2013 | Article type: Tech Corner
Mobility has become a key selling point for connected home systems. With the popularity of smart devices, consumers have translated their need for on-hand convenience into all aspects of life, including connected home systems. To keep up with consumer demands, the security industry has come up with ways to put connected homes into the pockets of consumers in the form of mobile apps.
The mobile digital wave and smart networking have contributed to a new trend in connected homes — the mobile connected home. Mobile support has already become a basic requirement for connected home systems. Now, with these systems being able to connect to mobile devices, connected homes have made the leap from conceptual idea to tangible mobile remote controls into the hands of users.
From Keypads to Touchscreens
Having made the move from analog intercoms to video door phones to smart systems, connected home servers (processors) have become complex electronic devices. Available connected home servers can be split into 2 categories. The first can be wall-mounted or embedded in a video door phone. This type often uses TFT touchscreens with built-in camera lenses and can be used for home automation functions such as access control, intercom, security, and lighting control. The second is an independent server that is paired with a wall-mounted touchscreen. The server and home equipment can then be linked via wired or wireless connection.
Regardless of whether it is an integrated or independent server, it should be low in power consumption and high in stability, unlike PCs which have an endless amount of functions that can affect efficiency and stability.
Therefore, most industry experts believe that independent control systems are more logical and better suited for professional use, as intercom and control interfaces on touchscreens can be customized and servers can independently process the power supply and high voltage.
Remote Controlling Made Easy by Wireless and Mobile Communication
Wireless communication is another key to extended equipment control for connected homes. Both WiFi and 3G have become a part of daily life. Being able to connect to these wireless communications has expanded the possibilities for servers to remotely control.
Connected home servers need to support one of the several different communications protocols on the market — among which are ZigBee and Z-Wave. These protocols allow for even more flexibility in regard to controlling home appliances and are particularly useful for homes that do not adhere to a specific communications interface. Because of this, connected home systems need to provide even more wired and wireless applications for engineers and construction companies to more easily introduce into digital homes.
The mobilization trend has made the average remote control obsolete to modern users, no longer meeting their needs. The ability to remotely control with mobile devices has helped more people accept and understand the concept of connected homes — it has also become a main selling point for construction companies. As a result, the majority of manufacturers now provide apps that complement their system.
Bringing Android and iOS into Connected Homes
Generally, connected home servers used Linux Embedded or Windows Embedded Compact, also known as WinCE, operating systems. In order to allow servers to connect to external networks and allow for more flexibility with functions, connected home and software manufacturers are capitalizing on the mobile trend by using the Android and iOS platforms. Both Android and iOS platforms can be used for apps and remote controlling of surveillance equipment, turning them into user interface platforms for connected home servers and helping to open up connected homes to the masses.
Due to the openness of embedded systems, more connected homes are using embedded operating systems. The openness of these systems gives software engineers the freedom to customize a system to meet specific needs. Software engineers can remove unnecessary functions, as well as optimize original source codes for their operating system, allowing the different requirements of different users to be met. However, the popularization and openness of these systems also make these servers more susceptible to malware. Therefore, it is important to remember that in regard to network security there are risks to connecting connected home servers to external networks. As a result, servers normally seize external network information from networks that have already been authorized.
Furthermore, servers furnished with USB and Micro SD slots are more susceptible to viruses and security breaches. To address these problems companies have made adjustments to I/O interface designs that not only make them easier to use, but guarantee security as well.
Android Versus iOS
The bulk of home control apps support the Android operating system; however, there are many apps for iOS too.
Making connected homes available to all levels of society is the goal of C.Y. Chang, President of Infairy Technology, a Taiwan-based company that has been devoted to the connected home domain for 10 years. Affordability and accessibility are two of the most important factors for Infairy. To accomplish these things, Chang emphasizes software over hardware and has chosen the Android platform as their main solution.
Choosing to use Android and Java, companies and developers are able to easily customize their free codes to fit their individual needs. Because Android is open source and supports Infairy's open source design, it is more befitting than the iOS platform. While the openness of the Android platform is an advantage to Infairy, Jarrod Bell, Co-founder of CommandFusion notes that while their software supports automatic scaling of the interface, the openness and “very diverse range of screen resolutions and pixel densities make it more difficult to design an interface that will work on any Android device.”
Although the home automation software provided by CommandFusion, an Australian-based company specializing in automation software and hardware, runs on both iOS and Android platforms, Bell points out that “iOS devices feature a limited range of touch panel resolutions, making it easier to configure the user interface in our app to work on any iOS device. For this reason, iOS is a simpler platform for integrators to use when it comes to developing touch panel control interfaces.”
Mobile Devices to replace Fixed mounted Interfaces
Most companies also provide web platforms to apps for increased compatibility. Thus giving users the ability to control their homes from any location via a network browser, whether it be a PC, laptop, tablet, or mobile phone.
“There is no ‘one-size-fits-all' [system] definition but rather a way to meet the needs for a variety of lifestyles, while having a convenient and reliable solution,” said David Gottlieb, Global Marketing Communications Leader for Honeywell Security. There is of course one trend many companies are getting in on — remote control and access via smartphones, tablets, and computers.
A Honeywell solution will allow homeowners to control everything from lifestyle features, the security system, cameras, etc. directly from their mobile devices without the controller.
The current trend is moving away from fixed mounted user interfaces, with an increased preference for complete mobile access using a mobile device or tablet,” notes Tom Cunningham, Director of Product Marketing at Legrand Home Systems. “Using a smartphone or tablet device, customers can view live camera feeds, select and play music, adjust the volume, or control lighting levels in their home from any location.”
Crestron's mobile app enables users to use mobile devices running on Android or iOS to take full control of all the technology and systems in their house. “Users can monitor and control lights, media, climate, security, and more from a mobile roadband or WiFi connection,” according to Phoebe Chu, Assistant Marketing & Communications Director of Crestron Asia.
All About Apps
The importance of app software for connected home systems is a focus of both Infairy and CommandFusion. The app developed by Infairy takes a different approach to connected homes. Bypassing complicated installation and wiring problems for installers their app can be loaded onto any Android-based smart device via internet connection — no need for special panels.
Having encountered problems with wireless protocol compatibility in the past, the software development kit (SDK) provided by Infairy serves as a medium allowing different devices to talk to each other and work independently, regardless of protocols. This allows the system to link to different systems with different standards, as well as follows Infairy's open source design. Infairy freely provides their SDK and source codes to manufacturers who can then customize the codes to fit their needs. The flexibility of apps is also seen in CommandFusion's app. Bell explains that their app “can integrate with any IP enabled device or system, so long as the third party equipment has a way to be controlled via IP, our app can directly communicate with the equipment.” It was also noted that CommandFusion's app can simultaneously control any number of IP-enabled third party equipment without the need of any extra hardware.
The ability to pocket one's home control system is not just convenient; it is also a cost-effective way to enjoy the luxuries of a connected home without losing out on the functionality of full-blown home automation system. Now, app-based connected home solutions, like Infairy's offering, are able to provide more than just home automation and fire and safety; they can also supply energy management and living conveniences, such as weather forecasts and healthcare consulting.
As the worldwide market for smart connected devices continues to grow, the security industry must continue to capitalize on this trend of mobility, not only to keep up with consumer wants, but also to keep competitive in a growing market.