Feeling Appy

Have a smart thermostat? There’s an app for that. Has your front door been fitted with an electronic lock on the front door? You can control it from an app, too. Want to stream music to the loudspeakers in your house? Just peck at the app on your phone. It seems that for nearly any type of electronic component there’s an app that can be used to monitor, manage and control it. And, many of these apps can be downloaded to your smartphone or tablet free of charge.

Feasibly, from one smartphone you could launch several apps individually to control electronic components throughout your entire house, and, in fact, some people are starting to do just that. But as appealing as it sounds to simply use an app to control the lights, another for the thermostat, and an app to operate the audio system, it’s far from being a perfect solution. For starters, it can be rather inefficient and awkward, requiring a user to launch one app to control a certain device, back out of that app then launch another app to control something else, and so on. Also, because each app was designed by a different manufacturer, you’ll be dealing with inconsistencies in the layout and look of the individual control menus and icons.

As you continue to grow your app-controlled house, you may get to a point where it would be more convenient, efficient and effective to unify all of the various apps under the auspices of a central home control system. The biggest advantage of laying a control system over the individual apps is the ability for the various components to seamlessly interact with each other. For example, one command from the central control app on a tablet could tell the lights, the thermostats, and the audio system to all adjust for your arrival home from work. Furthermore, various electronic components can be automated to self-regulate according to conditions like the time of day, occupancy in the home and even the position of the sun.

Another benefit is a consistent user interface, where the controls you see on your phone or tablet to monitor and operate the lights look similar to the controls you use to set the thermostats or security system.  This approach is often preferable as it facilitates a more seamless operation of the devices in your home. So before you load your phone with multiple individual app, consider the merits of tying them all together under the command of a central control system.

In The Mood

Whether you’re settled in for the evening with a good book, hosting a cocktail party for friends, watching a movie with the kids or planning a romantic rendezvous at home alone with your spouse, your home should reflect the mood of the occasion. At the very least, you’ll want to adjust the intensity of the lights—bright for a party, dim for a movie, for example.

Depending on the situation, you may want to open or close the window shades, play music, maybe even activate the gas fireplace.  It’s a process that could take several minutes to do manually as you stroll from switch to switch, window to window, and fiddle with the audio/video system.

This tedious, multi-step procedure can be reduced to a single touch of a button when handled by a home automation system. Within seconds, the system has issued a string of commands to several devices to completely transform the environment.

A professional home systems designer can program the software of a home automation system to create any variety of different moods, or scenes, that you’d like. It’s a chance to mold the automation system to your unique lifestyle, hobbies and favorite activities, while enjoying the greater convenience and comfort that comes from managing your house from a single handheld remote, tablet, smartphone or wall-mounted touch panel.

And just like your moods can change, so can the settings of your home automation system. With a few tweaks of the automation software, a home systems designer can craft a special scene for the holidays, a special birthday or for someone who’s staying with you as a houseguest.

Think about all the special moments you’d like to experience in your home, and share your ideas with your home systems integrator. It’ll put you and everyone else in the house in the right mood.

Going Pro

Visit any electronics superstore and you’ll see a bevy of products just begging you to take them home and install them yourself. It’s tempting, certainly, to tackle the setup of a music system, programmable light switches and a basic automation package, and in many cases, it’s the most affordable way to add technology to your home.

But take note: No matter how handy you happen to be nothing beats the results you’ll reap from hiring a professional integrator to design and install your home’s electronic systems. He has the training and experience to select the right type of system for your family and to install it in a way that fits your lifestyle perfectly. He’ll be able to optimize the capabilities of the system, ensuring that you get the most bang for your buck. Here are five other reasons it’s worth hiring a pro, especially if you’re thinking about home automation

1. Customization: The magic behind any home automation system is in the programming, and this is the forte of a professional integrator. They have the tools and the training to customize an automation system’s software so that the operation of lights, A/V equipment, motorized shading and other equipment is synched perfectly, and to personalize the system’s user interface (the menu of commands that is displayed on the screens of tablets, smartphones and touchpanels) to be easy for everyone in your family to understand and navigate.

2. Integration: An automation system’s job is to tie various products together so that they operate as one: the lights dim while the gas fireplace activates and the shades lower, for example. Getting these products on speaking terms, or integrated, often requires special equipment and the programming skills of a professional.

3. Project Management: The integration of electronics into your home will often involve professionals besides the systems integrator. Interior designers, builders, cabinet makers and other trades can play a crucial role. A systems integrator can ensure that all the various trades are communicating and working together to achieve a common goal.

4. Maintenance: Technology moves at a fast pace. A systems integrator will ensure that your home’s electronic systems stay fresh by updating the software when necessary and notifying you of new products as they become available.

5. Peace of Mind: System snafus are bound to happen when there’s technology in your house. A systems integrator can remedy the problem—the fix is usually a simple reboot which he can issue remotely.

Beefing Up Your Home’s Wi-Fi Network

It’s a critical first step when adding electronic control systems to your home.

In the early days of Wi-Fi, the technology served mainly as a convenient wire-free connection between your home’s router and laptop computer. While it’s still the go-to communications platform for this type of application, Wi-Fi over the years has become even more prolific in the home as you can now find the technology in products ranging from surveillance cameras and light switches,  to complete home automation systems. And if a device isn’t speaking Wi-Fi, you can bet that it’s able to communicate via some other type of wireless communications language like Z-Wave or ZigBee.

Now that so many different types of products communicate wirelessly, establishing a rock-solid network in your home has become absolutely crucial to the success of any home electronics project. That router your cable or phone company set up for you simply won’t be able to handle all that additional communications traffic. You might experience lag as you stream music, or worse yet, the commands you launch from your iPad to the lights, thermostats and other equipment may not even make it to their intended destinations. These hiccups might not be the end of the world, but if they happen a lot, it may be annoying enough to make you want to rip out all that new gear.

While you’d ordinarily need to call in an IT specialist to beef up your home network, increasingly, home systems integrators are becoming proficient at network installation and facilitation. The same person who designs and installs your home theater gear, lighting system and home automation system should be able to also set up a home network that’s fast, reliable and able to handle any technology you throw at it. When you’re shopping for a firm to outfit your house with electronic systems, be sure it has the IT factor—professionals who are skilled at setting up enterprise-grade networks.

Press Coverage: New York Times – How Smart Could I Make My Dumb Manhattan Apartment?

SOMEBODY in my apartment is not very smart, and since I live alone, it is obviously the machines.

Here is how clueless they are: If I hit the remote for the Bose CD player in the living room, the Bose iPod dock 10 feet away turns itself on. The DVD player, VCR and cable all have their own remotes, which refuse to communicate with one another. The radiator and air-conditioning units must be adjusted with a lever, and they have only three settings: Comfortable, until you get into bed; Too Hot or Too Cold, as you are falling asleep; and Shoveling Coal on the Titanic, at 3 in the morning. And while I have never left the house with the gas on — a fear that apparently is passed down genetically — I worry, as I grow older, that this might happen.

Press Coverage: Hampton’s Magazine – Bankers Buck the Boardroom, Do Business on the Beach

From a story printed August 24, 2012: Sagg Main beach, Monday, 7 AM. Amid the joggers and dog walkers taking advantage of the quiet are what looks (from a distance at least) like people absorbed in very serious reading. The text in question must be weighty given the concentration on their faces (e.g., furrowed brows despite the Botox). One might even conclude they were praying.

They’re not. Upon closer examination, it’s not a well-worn novel you see in their hands but an iPad, BlackBerry, or iPhone. And what is it they’re reading? The latest Bloomberg feeds, of course. A morning stroll before the US stock markets open at 9:30 am is the ideal moment to catch up on financial news and prepare for a day of trading—by the pool. Dan Levine, CEO of CytexOne, a top technology company with headquarters in Manhattan that caters to a broad range of customers, including NYC-based bankers and Hollywood stars with Hamptons homes, says technology is now so effective that a banker could, on occasion, go missing from the office for a week and no one would notice. “You can now transfer work calls from your mobile using the office system,” he says. “Your PA might never figure out that you were on the beach.”

Press Coverage: New York Times — Nobody Home But Us Gadgets

A NEW condominium conversion in southern SoHo celebrates 19th-century craftsmanship on the outside and 21st-century precision on the inside. At 34 Greene Street, the Sorgente Group has combined two 1873 buildings that once housed a printing company into a seven-unit condominium with a common lobby. The developers have restored the handcrafted cornices of the facades and wired the interiors to allow the electronics to be programmed from anywhere via Sorgente’s parent company, based in Rome, specializes in “historic and trophy properties” and owns controlling shares of the Chrysler and Flatiron Buildings. No. 34 Greene Street is Sorgente’s first downtown residential property; records show it was acquired for $14.8 million in June 2007.

The units, said Veronica Mainetti, head of the developer’s United States activities, are designed to appeal to Europeans seeking pieds-à-terre. They include bidets and Italian travertine in the bathrooms, programmable radiators and Miele kitchen appliances. Roman cobblestones line the lobby. Some units include the original brick walls.

Press Coverage: New York Sun — Developers Use Technology to Distinguish their Properties

Originally Published in the New York Sun, October 18, 2007

Technology is the latest amenity New York’s condominium developers are using to wow potential buyers.

Many developers are installing building integration systems that allow residents to communicate with the concierge, valet, doorman, and others by using an interactive touch screen. Also offered are home automation features that control lighting, temperature, blinds, music, and video. Techno-savvy buyers expect, and even demand, a high level of automation in their new homes, and many are plunking down hundreds of thousands of dollars to obtain it.