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Try Before You Buy: Using Free Apps to Get a Taste of Home Automation

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If you’ve been considering adding an automation system to your home, you may feel positively overwhelmed by the available options. Deciding which systems in your home to automate is a daunting enough task, but deciding between the myriad home control systems on the market can be equally intimidating. Of course, if you already have a good working relationship with a home tech specialist, the choice may be much easier, since they tend to specialize in only one or two brands of home control.

But if your home control playing field is still wide open, you may want to pick your brand first, and choose your installer based on that decision. You could always visit all of the home tech specialist in your area and experience their demo home automation systems firsthand, to get a feel for which system best fits your lifestyle.

Or you could accomplish much the same from the comforts of home. Unlike the pioneering days of advanced home control—when expensive proprietary touchscreens ruled, and every programmer had to design his or her own custom graphics—today’s network connected automation systems come with beautifully design, pre-configured control templates and mobile connectivity, so a Control4 system always looks like a Control4 system, whether you’re using a dedicated touchscreen or your own smartphone or tablet. Ditto URC, Savant, Lutron, and any number of other control systems manufacturers. You may find you prefer one systems look and feel to another’s so much that informs your buying decision entirely, and if you’re just looking for a quick sneak peek at those user interfaces to decide which graphics, button layouts, page navigation, and all of the other onscreen goodies appeal to you most—well, as the old saying goes, there’s an app for that.

Several, in fact.

Visit the appropriate app store of your mobile device of choice (iTunes or Google Play), and you’ll find that most control apps are free to download. Once you decide on a home automation system, there will likely be a one-time activation fee handled through your installer, but that doesn’t stop you from downloading and poking around in Control4’s MyHome app for iPhone, iPad, or Android and giving it a whirl. Granted, you won’t be able to actually control your lights, locks, security system, or home theater, but in Demo Mode you’ll at least be able to get a sense of just how easy it is to navigate such an advanced home control system, and there’s even a handy embedded video accessible directly from the app, to give you an even deeper taste of the system’s full capabilities.

Savant also offers several different control apps for its Apple-based automation systems, including the free Savant Lite for iPad and Savant Lighting for iPhone, the former of which gives you a hands-on taste of what it’s like to manage a whole home’s worth of lighting loads at the touch of a button, while the former lets to poke and prod at an entire virtual residence, complete with pretend Blu-ray players and satellite boxes, iPods, security cameras, energy management, and more.

Other companies handle your home automation app sneak peek a little differently, but the principle is the same. Lutron, for example, instead of including a demo mode for its $19.99 Home Control+ app, offers a free standalone demo app called Home Control+ Sales Tool, which lets you navigate virtual rooms, lighting loads, shades, and thermostats the Lutron way.

URC also the same approach with its Total Control Sales Tool and Total Control Sales Tool HD—for iPhone and iPad, respectively—which even goes so far as including mockup Pandora playlists to let you see what it’s like to navigate your online music favorites, in addition to home theater, security, comfort, and lighting control.

Once you’ve found an interface you like, you can also navigate to the “Where to Buy” or “Dealer Locator” link and find a local home tech specialist who can handle all of the hardware installation and programming required to put all of those pretty buttons to work.

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