Apple to release home automation product this week. What does this mean to the professional AV industry?

consumer products can create misguided perception and expectations in the professional industry



Home automation is needed now more than ever.

The internet of things has created a problem. How do we get all our network enabled devices working together in the home? No one wants to use five different Apps to turn on the lights, unlock the door, turn on the TV, control the climate or check the energy consumption status. What is missing is a single platform to make home automation a seamless experience.

We have been solving this problem in professional AV for a long time and some AV automation companies such as AMX and Crestron have branched out into the home automation markets. This however, has never really taken off due to the high cost of their proprietary hardware and the requirement for a specialist programmer to setup.  

This week (or sometime in the near future) Apple are likely to announce their home automation platform. It is still unknown what this will entail but one thing is certain to be true: the high barrier of entry imposed by AMX and Crestron will be removed. It will be simple enough for anyone to setup and will connect multiple network enabled devices in the home to one centrally managed platform. 

Effects on the Professional AV market. 

Anyone working professionally in the AV industry knows the problem that consumer products can create: misguided perception and expectations. The best example of this is 'the home theatre syndrome".  On an individual level, all enterprise customers are also consumers. ‘Home theatre syndrome' is when they have been to their local electronics store, purchased a flat panel display for their lounge room for under $1000 and are then understandably confused when you quote $3000 for a commercial display for their corporate meeting room. Ultimately, they think you are ripping them off.  They do not understand that the commercial display is rated for 24/7 use for 5 years, has standard control protocols and that their consumer displays would only last a couple of months in the corporate environment. 

There is also an expectations gap due to consumer technology. I do not necessarily think this is detrimental as it is only calls for improvement in the professional AV market.  Apple is an example of this, first with Apple TV and now with home automation. When the enterprise customer is at home they can wirelessly present their MacBook or iPad to their TV through AppleTV. It is easy and eliminates plugging in an HDMI cable. They then want this functionality in their corporate meeting rooms so they hire an AV system designer who informs them that the only thing close to providing this functionality is a $15,000 hardware product and you'll need one in each room. Apple TV cannot be used as there is no way to manage it across the network in multiple rooms.  The customer is not happy as the industry is way behind the consumer market (although WebRTC is likely to change that soon). 

I've provided both these examples as I believe Apple's home automation product will create a similar problem. It will be easier to setup than enterprise control systems and the cost is likely to be significantly lower. The customer that crosses over to the enterprise will now expect the same in their workplace, University or retail chain. 

However, the difference is that unlike Apple TV there is an enterprise equivalent of Apple's home automation. We have been selling it for four years. It's a web based control system that is easy to setup, brings every component together through one HTML5 user interface and most importantly scales to 1000s of rooms/buildings from one web-sever. 

ACA is excited to see Apple push the home automation industry forward and make people think differently about automation and control in the enterprise space- this is where we come in.

Will ACA ever move into home automation?  Yes- but we'll keep it web-based, control every home from our cloud servers so it is completely device agnostic and scalable.  We'll keep you posted on this as we continue to move quickly in the enterprise markets.  

Jon McFarlane.