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Savant’s iPad™ App: The New Face of Home Control

Every so often, something comes along that really raises the bar. This one of these times. Although the debut of the Savant iPad app occurred a few weeks ago, we had an opportunity to interview Bob Madonna, Savant's CEO, in depth about home control from an iPad. Purchased through the iTunes Store, iPad owners can wirelessly control their Savant home automation systems. Says Madonna, "The iPad means opportunity for our industry, opening home automation up to a much wider market. It is no longer this scary, customized device just for the mega wealthy. We're in a new era". To appreciate how groundbreaking Savant's iPad App is, some recent history is in order.


The Platform and Backbone
With a telecom background, Bob Madonna is no stranger to programming. Yet, when he witnessed his custom installer compiling code for an hour and a half, just to operate his television, he knew there had to be a better way. Years before the iTouchTM and iPhoneTM debuted, Madonna, an engineer, established a strong relationship with the McIntosh/Apple camp. Savant's system is based on the MacIntosh OS, which provides powerful, stable processing. Hitching Savant's wagon to the Mac/Apple star has caused the company to be in the right place at the right time. The open architecture allows connectivity to many formats, including wireless Z-Wave and Zigbee protocols, not to mention RS-232 and other industry standards. Savant can control over two thousand 3rd party devices. Madonna knows of no product they have not been able to profile and operate.


The heavy lifting within this IP-centric platform is performed via Wi-Fi. Cat 5 wire is still required for the Savant's standard desktop and in-wall touchpanels, as well as the iPad when used in failsafe dock mode. However, running bulky RG6 coax for touchpanel monitoring of CCTV surveillance is not needed - the cameras are viewable over IP. HD distribution is conducted over fibre, mini RGB (330 ft. limit) or Cat5. Setup is completely different than in other control systems. Savant doesn't even use the term "programming" (as in ‘countless mind-numbing hours compiling code'). Instead, they talk about "configuring". Since pre-written code is included within the main software, a program called "Blueprint" self-generates a schematic of the home for all required subsystems. Madonna estimates a CEDIA-certified installer can be fully trained in Savant in about two weeks, including iPad interface. This represents five-to-ten times less than it would with other brands. Updates to the Blueprint software, profiling new products or any required changes are handled through the dealers. As we'll see, owners can also reconfigure their iPads to their hearts' content on their own.


Subsystem Interface
According to CEO Madonna, the system's web-based, open architecture allows for control of virtually any brand of subsystem (entertainment, pool/spa, security, climate, lights, shades). All functions and features within the subsystems are accessible. For example, if an alarm panel contains a text field in which to report security events (‘glass break Master Bath'), it will be reported and viewable on Savant touchpanels or iPad. The same is true of thermostats, gate access, weather stations and pool/spa controls. One of the most valuable features for homeowners is the ability to simulate an "at home" status while they are actually away. From the street, activities like lights turning on and off and shades rolling up and down give the appearance of a home being occupied. In other brands of home control, this activity-scheduling is a time-consuming task for a programmer and an expensive option for the homeowner. Not so with Savant. According to Bob Madonna, activity-scheduling is already written within their "Blueprint" operating software. Another test of real control power is the ability to manually operate a security camera's PTZ (pan-tilt-zoom) functions via touchpanel. Only a short time ago there was no capability for streaming video onto a wireless device. Not only will the Savant iPad App control PTZ camera functions wirelessly, but it will also control all functions within the DVR. 
The iPad App's control of entertainment comes as second nature within the Mac platform. Music, movies, TV, and PS3, Xbox360 and Wii gaming platforms operate with no latency. Since the system is IP-based, the interface grabs meta-data from sources such as Apple TV, Hulu and Netflix and streams video seamlessly. Energy conservation is becoming an increasingly serious topic and monitoring is taking its rightful place within home automation. With the use of metering profiles, the Savant system can scan power consumption of appliances, outlets and current going into each room.
Let the Magic Happen 
Based on the Mac operating system, Savant was fully prepared for this day. The App is completely native to iPad and there could be no more harmonious match. At the time of this writing over 3 million iPads have already been sold. Bob Madonna reminds us that within its first in 90 days, Apple surpassed the number of user interfaces of all other brands and models sold in all of home automation within the last 10 years. "With its iPhoneTM, iPodTM and iTouchTM products, Apple has already acquainted the population with how to operate home automation systems", says Madonna. "For those who are already Apple / Mac devotees, our iPad App is increasing the expectations of how a home automation system should operate." Installers who are planning extended stays at their clients' homes will have to make other arrangements: A homeowner can completely customize and reconfigure the UI (user interface) to suit personal needs. For example, icons can be easily removed from the UI's Navigation bar for non-included subsystems. Further, owners can restrict access to certain operations or content. By syncing to their computer, owners can add their own personalized page backgrounds. Although Savant created a consistent button layout and design, this can also be reconfigured by dealers through Blueprint.



TrueImage : Mind-Blowing 2-way Feedback
The lack of 2-way feedback on many touchpanels is a prime cause for consumer complaints. Without feedback, you cannot know whether your command was indeed sent, was received or whether the function was engaged. This leads to contradictory button presses, which confuse the central processor and lock up the system. Two-way feedback has typically only been offered as an expensive option. With Savant's iPad App, 2-way reporting is embedded with user-configurable color, image, and an audible beep if desired. But wait, there's more: Included within the iPad App, "TrueImage" represents an advance in personalized control that can only be measured in light years. It allows the user to control the subsystems within a chosen room (for example, a light or shade) by touching the devices on the photo of that room. Each touch allows you to dim and turn on/off lights, lower/raise shades, even adjust your audio and video components. Not only does the light in the room turn on or ramp up/down (if you press and hold the represented light), but it also illuminates in the photo itself, confirming your command. Well-photographed images of each room are loaded into the Savant's control systems' GPU (graphic processing unit) and interfaced to each subsystem. You can "swipe" through the scroll box across the bottom of the screen, selecting the current "master" room to be controlled, while all other rooms remain visible. TrueImage is available as an option. Room-to-room navigation and control is possible without it, but why wouldn't anyone want TrueImage?



Other Advancements
A true evolution in home control is the App's ability to display live video in wireless mode on the iPad, with stability. This means a homeowner can monitor the front door camera while lounging by the backyard pool. Until recently, this was not possible at any price. Apple's well-known finger functions, such as use of "pinch", "scroll" and ‘swipe' are also used to navigate through the Active Content", "Navigation Bar" and "Services Dock" on the tablet. They are craftily applied to other multi-page operations as well, such as monitoring multiple security cameras. Via the App you can access phone systems and make phone calls from the iPad. An audio mute function can be immediately accessed on the Services dock in the event a phone rings during your movie. An emergency "lights" on feature can be found there as well.


What's around the bend for Savant and iPad? Bob Madonna hints at a direction - developing other virtual environments similar to TrueImage. Let's stick around to find out. In the meantime, scroll, swipe and pinch your way to true control happiness.

The Savant iPad App costs $9.99 and can be purchased through the iTunes Store. (Search Savant Systems LLC). The Desktop Dock with charging cradle and power supply has an MSRP of $350. The In-Wall Dock comes with docking cradle and magnetic faceplate at an MSRP of $500). Both will accommodate landscape & portrait (horizontal and vertical) aspect ratios. iPads are available within a wide price range. The Savant App will function seamlessly with all models and no latency problems have been reported with any of the models of iPad, according to CEO, Bob Madonna.



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