Crestron introduces OS 3 to integrators

John Clancy, vice president residential at Crestron

Last Wednesday, Crestron held a training event in London to familiarise integrators with the new Crestron Home OS 3.

OS 3 was originally announced at ISE in February of this year, a complete rebrand of Pyng. The new system is designed to deliver sophisticated new page designs, dynamic room controls and icons, as well as a host of new features to enhance the user experience. 

Upon the release of this new product, I talk exclusively to John Clancy the vice president of residential within Crestron about the home automation market as a whole.

What are the biggest trends and developments you're seeing at the moment in the home automation market?

Voice was the big thing a few years ago, and it’s still important. It’s very easy to integrate voice and I think it’s still a big thing. I don't think it replaces anything; I think there's still a use case for a keypad and a touchscreen and a remote control and a mobile app. But I think it's additive to a typical system. Personally, I don't use it a lot in my own home. But when I come in and my arms are full, I can say, ‘Alexa, turn the lights on’, or ‘Alexa, I'm home’, that makes it really easy to interact with your home. Although voice integration is not the big buzz it was a year and a half ago, it is still very important. 


But looking at what’s to come, I see two things that will be of huge importance. I think one of them is security, and I don't mean security systems, I mean the security of the platform and preventing unwanted hackers into your home automation system. But unfortunately, I think that will take something bad to happen for people to do a anything about it. All of a sudden, everyone's awareness will be raised about how secure their homes are. 

It's something that separates us from everyone else, because the products that we use for the home are essentially the same products that are used in corporate America, as well as government military facilities. So the capabilities are there. And what we did, even with the launch of OS 3 is that those capabilities are there, and we forced them on for the first time. Even customers or dealers who are upgrading systems from OS 2 to OS 3, all of a sudden, you could be locked out of that system if you don't adhere to our instructions, because for the first time, we're securing that system. What we are trying to do now is raise awareness with our dealer base that these are important things that should really be considering because there is potential liability there on the dealer if they should leave something wide open. 

Secondarily, I think the other big thing that is on the cusp of happening is the use of AI or machine learning. We are doing this right now internally with a few demo projects that we're doing with our CTOs home. Every event on the system is essentially a log, and now that that data is captured, the machine can recognise patterns. Without taking over, it can offer suggestion. So it might say, ‘I've noticed that Monday through Friday, your light in your bathroom comes on at 5:15 in the morning, and then your light in your exercise room comes on, and then your music comes on in your exercise room. Would you like to automate that?’ And you also have that option to turn it on or turn off. Things like that really add value to these types of systems. 


What regions are you finding are particular growth areas?

Our biggest market is the US. But I see the greatest potential for growth in Europe, which is why we have all of a sudden focused so heavily on this market. The UK is our second biggest market and I still think there's room for growth there. But I think, Crestron in particular had not given much attention to the residential space in the rest of Europe. And that's something that we are literally just starting now. We now have a dedicated sales team for the residential business in Europe. 

The other emerging markets for us are Asia Pacific, Australia, and New Zealand. These are areas where all of a sudden there is wealth and we play at that higher end so I think there's a fit there for us.

What is your stance on DIY smart homes and off-the-shelf devices? Are they affecting businesses such as Creston?

As a former integrator, and this was just coming into play when I left that business, but I think in most cases it's causing confusion for the buyer. The buyer is overwhelmed with commercials and advertisements, and I think now more than ever, they're confused about what they should put into the home that they're building. So I think that's opened doors for the integrator to become more of an educator, and to provide knowledge and help them select the right system for their home. 

But, on the other side of that, is it’s actually raised the expectation. When you see what a Ring doorbell does, and what Sonos does, everybody wants that. It's helped us to elevate our game to make sure that we're competitive with the feature set, but also to pick our partners wisely. We do work with Amazon and Sonos because they deliver a feature set that is kind of expected in this day and age. Yes, we're big in this world, but microscopic compared to Amazon, so it's really helped us to elevate our game and deliver these expectations to our customers. 


You mentioned your partners there, how do you choose your recommended partners?

In a lot of cases, I will identify, or our team will identify, someone of interest or a business of interest that can be collaborative or additive to what we deliver. In many cases, especially nowadays, the partners are reaching out to us. And, all of a sudden, I would say in the last year, I have been contacted from 50 or more companies that want to work with Crestron. And that's great but we choose selectively. There has to be an added value. There has to be something there that we don't already do. And it has to be something that the market is actually looking for. 

It started with Sonos as our first real entree into this a few years ago, and mainly because of their audio distribution product, but we also wanted to try something different. They decided they would focus on this channel and they created this API to allow for integration for the first time. Every partner of theirs gets the same level of integration, which is quite limited in terms of control. But what we were able to work out is the fact that we're the only platform that can run their app on our touch screens. So yes, the API is limiting, I can only choose from my 32 songs in my favourites, I can't search and browse. But if I'm using a Crestron touchscreen, I can open the Sonos app on there and do all the searching and browsing that I want to. And that’s the sort of thing that adds value to what we deliver. 

You've been in this role for three years now, how have you led the development of Crestron’s residential business over that time? 

I will use my personal experience, I was a programmer for a long time, and yes, I am a competent programmer, a gold master programmer of which there's probably only 40 or so on the planet. But I understood how difficult it was to do the simple things, and I knew how unsustainable that was in the future. That really forced us to double down on this platform and simplify our deployment. Yes, there will always be that custom side, there will always be that multi billionaire who has to have the things that no one has even dreamt of, and that's okay. That's a place where we fit uniquely. But that market is very fine, and for us to really grow our business, we had to expand our capabilities, and that really meant simplifying our deployment, that ease of deployment via a programmer. That was my main focus.

The quality of our products was never questioned. I think the fit and finish of some of our products needed some work. We first came out with our new remote controls two years ago and then last year, we shipped our new keypads. I really needed to focus on making sure that the products that we were making, looked and fit into the spaces that they're ending up in. Combining those two aspects of delivering what we define as a high quality user experience, while at the same time simplifying our deployment, that's really been the two main focuses for me over the past couple of years.

Do you interact closely with your dealers and end users to get feedback?

Yes, but honestly, this platform was Crestron’s first interaction with end users. This wasn't developed in a cubicle in New Jersey by an engineer, there was real thought behind this and we involved many end users, end users of Crestron systems as well as competing systems to talk about what this should look like, how it should work, how it should feel, how many button presses it takes to turn the lights on. And watching that and interacting with them in ways that Crestron have never done before. Watching their eye movements, counting the time it takes them to turn the lights on. We would ask them to do a task, and then watch them execute that task, and use that to think about what we can do to make it easier and simpler? That type of interaction is critical, and it won't end. I think some light bulbs went off at Crestron when we first started to do that. 

Dealers are different. We definitely take feedback from our dealers, but dealers want to sell what they want to sell. And quite often, they're not looking ahead. They kind of get stuck in their own way sometimes. Their input is valuable, and we definitely take that. But it's a balance between what we think, what our captive group of end users think, and then what our dealers think, and then we try to balance that.

Tell me a little bit more about the recent marine development and why you decided to focus on that space?

This is a space that we've played in for a while and we really wanted to quantify that. We know that we have a significant market share in the superyacht world. Whether it’s 80 or 90 per cent, we really don’t know. The first step with launching the marine division is to begin to quantify what that figure is. I visited the Monaco Yacht Show last week, and just about every boat I visited or talked to the captain of, above 50 metres had Crestron on it. And that's great, but how do we maintain that or grow that? And why isn't it 30 metres and above? Why is it only 50 metres and above? We do have a solution there, so now it’s looking at how do we expand that part of the business in the market? So we’ve put some dedicated focus on that. This is a place where maybe Crestron Home may never fit as a pre canned solution, it’s just not going to play there, at least for the foreseeable future. But it's a place where we play because of the customisation aspect, because it's Crestron, you can do anything and everything you want to, it all depends on how much you want to spend, and how much effort you want to put in programming. But the superyacht is a market where cost is not the limiting factor. A few million dollars on an electronic system on one of these boats is smaller than what they spent on the carpet. It's a different world, and it's a world that, I think, keeps us at that higher end or the perception of who we are at that higher end. I think it's really important from a perception to maintain that.


What kind of response are you getting from the transfer over from Pyng to OS 3?

We’re known for being this custom brand, and our dealers have done well with that. This is something new. But obviously, it's a proven market; our competition has proved that you don't necessarily need custom, you need quality and you need to be easy to deploy. I think our dealer base needs to know that this should be additive. I'm going to ask them to change their business, they obviously employ programmers, and have, in some cases, hundreds, if not thousands of systems already deployed in the legacy way. But they need to look at this as something new and different, and a way to expand their business. And that's really my message. I'll never get them to change tomorrow and I'm not asking them to, I'm just asking them to take a fresh look and go after their competitors in a different way and our competitors in a different way. And I think that this really opens that up.