A big part of the appeal of high-end, professionally installed smart home platforms like Control4 is that they typically come with on-demand access to technicians who can help you reconfigure your setup and keep things running smoothly. Now, however, the smart-home-as-a-service provider wants to help its customers call those technicians less often.
The problem comes when customers simply want to fine-tune their system or make a small tweak to the way their devices operate. "In the past, that would require a phone call to a dealer or integrator," Control4's Director of Product Marketing Brad Hintze told me. "That's a hassle to homeowners."
Control4's answer: new, expanded controls for the company's 4Sight subscription service. Using a web interface on a PC or mobile device, customers can now create and edit their own automations by way of a new rules engine called "When >> Then."
Similar to IFTTT ("If This, Then That"), When>>Then will integrate with over 10,000 Control4-supported devices and allow users to create rules that dictate how they operate. First, they'll select the "when" (a specific time, a button press or a sensor detecting motion, for instance), then choose what should happen -- the "then" (a light turning on, or music starting to play, perhaps).
Control4 tells CNET that it's all about making things more efficient for its network of technicians, and ensuring that customers feel empowered to make the sort of fine adjustments they've long been requesting. "One of the hesitations they have around professionally installed home automation is giving up control," Hintze said. "This puts them back in control."
It should also help Control4 keep up with the rapidly growing field of DIY-minded competition, most of which already offers users some degree of customization by way of an app or an integration with a popular platform like Apple HomeKit or Amazon's Alexa. Control4 has long drawn on its dealers to provide that same sort of customization by way of hands-on tech support, but that advantage could decrease as people grow increasingly familiar with smart home tech and comfortable with programming gadgets themselves.
Available today, the new When >> Then engine will require no new hardware, and arrive to existing 4Sight subscribers as a software update. Other upgrades coming with it include a new intercom app that will let customers receive video calls from their front door camera and access quick automations for things like lights and locks mid-conversation. Support for two new streaming audio services -- iHeartRadio and Spotify -- starts today, too.