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Smart Home OS 3 from Control4 puts homeowners and installation professionals in the driver’s seat of today’s connected world

Customizable “operating system” for smart homes simplifies today’s complex universe of devices and services

Imagine the truly “smart home” of the future as seen in science fiction films – a fully connected environment with climate control, automated lighting, ambient music, and security, all seamlessly functioning together. That long sought goal has finally become reality according to Control4 Corporation.

Following over 15 years of development, the Salt Lake City, Utah firm  has released the latest generation of its Smart Home OS system. Unlike other similar systems which primarily integrate devices within a narrow category such as home entertainment, heating and cooling, or entryway and perimeter security, the firm says its centralized smart home controller puts virtually every device in use in the home at one’s fingertips.

“Every home is a mix of products from a variety of companies, and the Smart Home OS embraces this reality, providing broad choice rather than creating a collection of tiny walled gardens that limit homeowners,” says Control4 Senior Vice President of Products and Services Charlie Kindel. “There is a delight, almost a sense of magic, when technology comes together and genuinely enhances our lives, and right now, only Control4 Smart Home OS 3 can deliver on that promise for the home”

He points out that with 13 billion smart devices and IoT appliances expected to be in use by 2020, the need to corral their functionality into a single interface was essential. The sheer volume of hardware connectors, communications frameworks, and protocols, requires a holistic approach which up until now seems to have eluded Control4 competitors and even Google Nest and Amazon Ring. ”The Control4 Smart Home OS is designed to remove complexity,” Mr. Kindel adds.

How large has the universe of residential security and smart home products offerings become?

Control4 Chairman and CEO, Martin Plaehn, says the Smart Home OS3 system offers support for more than 13,500 third-party devices and 7,500 Control4 SDDP-embedded products.

He adds that using the firm’s mobile app, wall-mounted touch screen, and smart television interface, homeowners have one-touch control and total visibility of the home’s entire infrastructure – ranging from security, lighting, climate control, electronic devices, and more. A function he calls “Favorites” allows the consumer to create a custom arrangement of icons of their most used services for easy access. Each room can have their own Favorites prioritized list of services, all easily customized and reorganized or deleted with drag and drop ease.

Although the Control4 mission is to provide users with the ultimate in control over the active devices and services in their homes, Mr. Plaehn says ensuring the system is brought online successfully requires the expertise of professional installers.

“We have relentlessly built a network of trained professionals, and today Control4 has more than 200 Control4 Certified Showrooms where consumers can walk in and experience OS 3,” he states. At the same time, he adds, “only a family knows the nuances of their day-to-day lifestyles and the Control4 Smart Home OS3 empowers families to make their smart home experience uniquely their own.”

Privacy Concerns Surrounding Smart Speakers Prompts California Legislation Aimed at Giving Consumers Control Over Voice Commands

Few issues have exploded across the tech industry and into public consciousness with the impact of privacy. All of the top consumer-facing firms have experienced embarrassing episodes of unintended consequences (Alexa speakers within earshot of a Super Bowl commercial ordering pizza) and flagrant privacy intrusions (Google search serving up ads moments after listening in to conversations with Google Home device). Your smart television is already “talking” with any cellphone, laptop, smart speaker, tablet, or IoT appliance within range, whether you like it or not.

With consumers outraged and legislators at both federal and state levels pledging to rein in the most egregious practices, the issue appears to have reached a boiling point.

Over the past month Facebook, Alphabet (Google), and Amazon have announced initiatives to quell growing concerns, regain public trust, and created some rare positive news coverage. This past week Amazon debuted a new feature in Alexa which enables users to delete recordings of their voice commands, an improvement over the previous delete settings available only on the Alexa website and through its smartphone app. The move comes on the heels of an April 2019 report Bloomberg which exposed to the public that Amazon employees had been listening to recordings of user’s voice commands, a practice not disclosed in the privacy policy.

Last month at their annual developer’s conference, Google CEO Sundar Pichai detailed privacy tools focused on addressing several of these hot button issues, including online activity, location tracking, and data collection.

In his presentation Mr. Pichai said the changes would improve privacy across their primary platforms, including Nest, Chrome browsers, the Android smartphone operating system, and Google Assistant. Although the updates are claimed by the tech behemoth (current market cap, $723 billion, 2018 revenues of $163 billion), are intended to “stay ahead of constantly evolving user expectations,” many industry analysts expressed skepticism.

Since its inception in 1998, Google’s ad-driven business model has yielded the bulk of its revenues and clearly company leadership is reluctant to weaken its ability to efficiently reach consumers with highly targeted content.

The degree by which lawmakers are dissatisfied with perceived foot dragging on the issue was brought into focus with a legislation tabled by the California Assembly on May 28th. With bipartisan support in the face of vehement opposition from the tech industry (Google, Amazon and Facebook are all headquartered in California), Assembly Bill 1395 would force smart speaker manufacturers to include an “opt-in” function to request permission to save voice command recordings. If passed by the Senate this summer, the sweeping law would affect all models of Amazon Alexa, Google Home and any voice command technologies included in smart phones, tablets and other devices.

Author of the bill, Assemblyman Jordan Cunningham (R-Templeton) said technology firms have become too intrusive and that the public is often unaware of the degree their privacy has been eroded. ““That trust has been breached. We need to restore it,” he stated. “They can and do record conversations that are private within our home. They have the capacity to have those conversations shared and sold without our consent.”

Siding with the industry in opposing the proposed legislation is the California Chamber of Commerce, pointing out that existing laws require manufacturers to secure recorded information and that the devices don’t eavesdrop on conversations until they are “woken up” by the user. Technologists also expressed concern that functionality limitations so broad could hinder the learning abilities of smart devices which improve accuracy as they adapt to unique speech patterns and accents of its owner.