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‘Connected Lifestyle’ Panel Probes App Revolution

June 26, 2011 By Nancy Klosek
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Companies catering to the custom segment have had to react quickly since cracks in the economy changed the game for their dealers and integrators beginning in late 2008. And last year, just when survivors on the supply and integration sides began to feel they’d started to get a handle on how to evolve their business models going forward, along came tablets, the app revolution and bigger bandwidth demand – and in their wake, another layer of challenges and opportunities.  What’s next? What do consumers want?  What directions will the market take? What do dealers need?

Those hot-button issues and others were addressed at the June 24 CE Week Lifestyle Technology Summit panel entitled, “The Connected Lifestyle: 2011 and Beyond,” on June 24 during CE Week in New York City.

The discussion was moderated by Maureen Jenson, CustomRetailer and E-Gear editor in chief, and the panel included: Richard Stoerger, vice president and COO, Audio Design Associates; Lesley Kirchman, senior director of corporate marketing, Actiontec; Steve Iommi, business development manager, Somfy; and Krista Bergman, national sales manager, BitWise Controls.

All participants agreed that the future direction of connectivity will inextricably be tied to how well they can educate dealers in teaching consumers about connectivity’s possibilities. There was also general agreement about the need to seamlessly integrate the products they make with familiar consumer interfaces like smartphones and tablets. 

Iommi, whose company recently introduced the mid-priced TaHomA system for control of shades, awnings, lighting and thermostats through iPads and iPhones, said it had been designed “to enable the end user. We have now recognized we’re solutions providers, not box providers.”  With the rapid rate of technology evolution today, he continued, “you don’t have a lot of time to change. You need to anticipate the long-range implications. You can’t be reactive; you have to be proactive” in product design. TaHomA, he said, “helps dealers get into a job in the first place and also provides them with an upgrade path.”
     
“Platforms change constantly,” said BitWise’s Bergman, whose company offers IP-based solutions and customization options for both tablet and smartphone interfaces. “We believe it’s important to evolve with them, to play with other manufacturers.”  She added, “Going forward, we will all need to be flexible. For us, it’s all about keeping an eye out for the next platform – keeping our finger on the pulse of technology.” That research has recently pointed BitWise at serving integrators who are making their livings by handling efficient and repeatable installations – “dealers who get in and get out of the job. By attaching to the iPad and Android platforms, it gives our dealers new revenue opportunities.”
     
Kirchman, who works for a supplier of modems and routers, said her company, too, “has had to move to becoming a solutions manufacturer. Our new products need to be as flexible as possible – they are not just simple modems but gateways,” and their role in the connectivity chain will become more crucial “as more and more devices come onto the network. We have to ensure that the consumer has a good experience. What works for us is teaching consumers how to use our products through how-tos and YouTube videos. What’s important is giving people informational content that solves a problem and doesn’t try to spin them.”
    
Stoerger, representing the only audio equipment supplier on the panel, came at the discussion from a CE perspective. “ADA is the evolving dinosaur in this room,” he observed. “It used to be about content, but now it’s about content delivery. Control, for me, is a moving target that has evolved over time, from rotary dimmers to touchscreens to the iPad. We have to realize that for the high-end customer, the user interface begins as a toy and then evolves to a method by which to create a necessary function. We are on the bleeding edge of these technologies, and have a very talented engineering team. But my goal is to make sure we stay true to our core values of high performance while making sure we can play with all those cool widgets.” Stoerger said that while he sees the content delivery aspect of the market as “as speedy train,” there is ample opportunity in the market to cultivate an appreciation among connectivity hounds for high-fidelity music reproduction.  “I do think solutions like iPad will continue to rule – at least until we telepathically control things,” he said.

All participants said they value the input of their dealers and end-users in product development and design. “We engage customers in actual development of new products,” said Iommi. “Dealers love to feel special; face time with them means everything. And we always have comments we read thoroughly from people who buy apps, ” added Bergman. “We constantly monitor what people are saying,” said Kirchman, “and spend time doing a lot of research. We’re always polling our end-user base and carrying what we discover through to our product roadmaps.”

Stoerger added, “I am having more dialogue with customers than I ever did before. Most manufacturers, unless their stuff sucks, enjoy the one-on-ones with individual customers who have bought their gear. It’s a very new dynamic, and one we didn’t have 10 years ago.”
 

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