As well as offering an extensive range of control solutions for the home automation market, Philips Pronto is also extending its reach into the commercial space. Rudy Musschebroeck, marketing manager for Philips Pronto, talks to IE Residential about the residential control market and the company's plans for 2010.
Q: In your view, has the residential custom installation market been adversely affected by the economic downturn? Has the effect been uniform across Europe?
A: Yes, of course, the residential CI market has been affected by the global recession. Although, as far as we can tell the traditional consumer electronics industry was certainly hit first and hit much harder than our own custom installation sector.
Without doubt, the problems have been felt more severely in Eastern Europe. Here, credit and payment issues have hampered business over the past 12 months. In contrast, the residential custom installation sector in Western Europe has held up well and is still performing above expectations.
We attribute this to the fact that our Pronto distribution partners have successfully positioned themselves as Pronto-based solution providers with strong support, service and aftercare.
Q: Are you seeing a desire for a greater breadth of functionality in residential control projects?
A: In a word, yes. As we use more and more technology in the home, the desire for better control of more applications and systems increases. We are constantly receiving feedback from the market pushing us to expand our Pronto range still further.
Breadth of functionality is important from two perspectives. Firstly, we are developing more two-way integration modules to allow Pronto users to integrate and control more products and systems, like, for example, a recently introduced module for the Sonos multi-room audio system. Increasing the breadth of functionality in this way will allow Pronto to address even more the demand for multi-room projects, beyond just home theatres. This will expand the market opportunity for our dealers.
Secondly, the market is also asking us to expand our product portfolio even further to accommodate the fact that Pronto is breaking free from the residential segment, and we are seeing more and more applications for Pronto control in commercial spaces.
Q: How are control system technologies developing to satisfy the requirements of the market?
A: These days the demand for two-way control is a major customer requirement. It's not enough to send a signal one way any more, and not receive any information back. Increasingly, people want not only to control but they also want to know what is going on in their system: browsing through content, checking status of lighting and HVAC across the house, viewing security cameras, etc.
From a technical perspective, WiFi and IP are the key technologies. Lately, we have seen more and more manufacturers going for IP-based systems using an open philosophy. This allows our Pronto control panels to directly interact with these systems.
The perfect example of this is our recent integration with Sonos. This innovation is thanks to the enhanced UPnP (Universal Plug and Play) / DLNA (Digital Living Network Alliance) compatibility, which incorporates an automatic product discovery mechanism, within our latest PEP 2.4 Pronto software. Dealers using Pronto can now integrate Sonos multi-room audio systems quickly and directly into a system without the need for special hardware, additional PC's or the use of a Sonos controller.
Another significant development is the familiarity people now have with touch screens, and the resulting demand for gesture-based control. We have anticipated this transition in how the user interface works and introduced a new Gestures feature in PEP 2.4 which will allow dealers to create iPod style interfaces for a range of common functions, including super-fast scrolling of song lists and sliding volume control.
Q: What benefits will these developments bring to integrators and dealers across Europe?
A: Integration is quicker and simpler. Alongside integration with Sonos, the direct UPnP feature together with automatic zone player discovery will ensure that the upgraded PEP2.4 software will enable Pronto to control and access content from TwonkyMedia-based equipment - one of the most popular UPnP servers on the market. Further partnership agreements for new Pronto modules are in development and will be announced imminently.
The net result of these improvements will mean less configuring and programming time and cost for dealers.
Q: Philips' corporate slogan is 'sense and simplicity'. How do you square the need to keep products simple to use with the need to keep developing them and adding functionality?
A: One of the keys to our success in keeping Pronto simple for both end users and installers is our ProntoScript technology. ProntoScript is the engine under the hood, enabling all the advanced control technology to be packaged in easy to use two-way modules.
Right now, over 150 modules from more than 50 partners are available to our dealers. This number is growing at a rapid rate. These modules make it very easy to increase the functionality of a Pronto control panel without requiring complex programming by an installer - simple configuration is sufficient, using our ProntoEdit Professional software, which recently was upgraded to become even more productive and efficient.
With all these two-way applications, our distributors succeed in offering a true one-stop shop for their installers by maintaining, and in many cases even developing themselves, a collection of two-way modules for all other systems which they supply in their brand portfolio. Simple.
Q: What can we look forward to from Philips Pronto at ISE 2010?
A: ISE is a very important event in our calendar. We will be showcasing all the latest integration modules in action, most for the very first time. These will include Sonos, Sonance iPort (iPod dock) - another very significant breakthrough, BTicino My Home - hugely important for the French, Belgian and Italian markets - and Russound, amongst others.
There will also be the opportunity to see all the Pronto controllers that make up our growing family of affordable, touch-screen remote controllers. We'll be talking with dealers about the exciting schedule of new products planned for 2010.
Plus, dealers will have the chance to attend one of our training classes, including the three-hour class for ProntoScript programmers.
Q: How do you see the Philips Pronto brand evolving in 2010?
A: With the new products coming up, 2010 will be the year when Pronto evolves further to become the control system of choice for the home. The improvements we are showing at ISE 2010 are a huge step forward. But watch this space; there's much, much more to come from Pronto in 2010.