The Masked Installer on The Death of Pronto

The Masked Installer mulls the recent death of the Philips Pronto and considers how much a certain Cuppertino tablet was to blame.  He considers the Control System alternatives and ponders what it means for the Custom Installation industry…

“Philips withdrawing from the control market by closing the Pronto operation is quite a surprise and it’s got us thinking again about where the Control System market might be headed.

We’ve never done a lot with the Philips Pronto.  We’ve got a couple in projects and we’ve even got an old monochrome unit back at the house in the discarded kit mountain (for details of the discarded kit mountain please contact the editor and I’m sure we can sort something out).  Lot of dealers rave about the Pronto and I’ve seen some lovely work done on it – A NetStreams DigiLinX controller that put NetStream’s own touch panel to shame, a really nice module to control the DF Solutions range of servers, Sonos control etc.  Yet with all that and despite what looked like quite an active pipeline of development Philips have decided to pull the plug.

Philips Pronto

It doesn’t look like a panic exit.  Philips have been trying to restructure, sell or relocate this operation for two years.  Having failed to find another route they’ve simply closed the doors.  And in doing so they’ve posted a big message to the Custom Installation industry that says “We don’t think this is a market that’s worth pursuing”.

Finding numbers in the Custom Installation industry is tricky.  It’s not easy to get to market share figures but gut feel says that the Pronto range did pretty well.  It was a big player in a relatively small pond.  From our point of view it knocked spots off the hideous offering from Nevo and in terms of its extensibility it was ahead of RTI.  We didn’t embrace it because it was getting close to AMX in terms of what it could do but had a development environment that even its own mother would struggle to love.  We saw it as a threat and it’s a real surprise to see it go.  Now it has gone we need to understand what it might tell us about the Control System market.

In pulling what appeared to be a successful range with a strong customer base, Philips appears to be telling us that the Control System market isn’t an attractive enough proposition.  Other companies are telling us similar things.  Control4 have pulled their range of wireless touch panels and if you’ve used the Control4 iPad app you’ll probably agree that’s a sensible move.  The iPad is a game changer; I suspect we’ll never sell another AMX 5200i even though the price of the Touchpanel Control app for AMX is knocking on for what we’d pay for a Pronto 9600.  People want and expect to be able to control their smart homes through the iPad and provided it can be done in a way that we think reliable enough, we’re happy with that.  We won’t make money selling iPads (or the app) but we’ll command a margin for doing the difficult stuff – make it work, make it work reliably, hide the ugly stuff and make it look and sound beautiful.

Interesting times for Custom Installers.  I’m sure AMX, Crestron, RTI and Control4 are busy working out just how they stay relevant.”

The Masked Installer

Masked Installers Previous Posts : Universal Remotes on Amazon

7 Comments on "The Masked Installer on The Death of Pronto"

  1. Good comments and I had been pondering this myself after visiting the Grand Designs show at the NEC. There were multiple companies selling home automation and all of them used their own propriatary touch screens. I just couldn’t see the point in spending £900+ on an 8″ touchscreen when an iPod Touch or iPad could do the same job plus a lot more besides, and it looks far nicer ! Would would have thought that we would be classing an Apple product as cheap ?!

  2. The Masked Installer | November 5, 2010 at 5:50 pm |

    There are apparently a number of companies interested in talking to Philips. It may be that we’ve not seen the end of the product range. Time will tell.

  3. Johnston McCulley | November 6, 2010 at 7:31 am |

    Does anyone ever consider the fact that it is easier to address a bug or design flawn to a small business opposed to a large like Apple?
    Let alone whether they will listen to that small minority of installers?

    What if a new OS update comes along and your control app is not working anymore? Who will your customers call, Apple, or… you?

  4. FWIW, on the few occasions we’ve found an app’ or driver not to work after a system update, we (as a customer) found Apple very responsive – the (printer) driver was fixed, & an update sent to us, within hours, for example …

    the iPad’s user interface, apps, development environment & SDK, must a hard act to beat, cost & performance wise, even without user-base considerations …

  5. The Masked Installer | November 6, 2010 at 6:54 pm |

    There are plenty of supplier companies in the Custom Installer whom manage the trick of being both small and inflexible.

    However Johnston McCulley raises a valid point although I’d have a slightly different take on it. A closed environment such as AMX’s or Kaleidescape’s or indeed that of the Pronto is easier to support. Relying on a platform that can be affected by a myriad of other external factors is by definition fraught with issues. It’s not going to stop end users wanting to run control systems on their wonder tablets however.

    So it might be that the controller is treated in the same way as the other Consumer Electronics devices that Custom Installers work with but don’t support. We don’t support customer PCs, printers and scanners even though they sit on our networks. We tell customers we won’t support AppleTV even if we integrate it. And we wrap iPhone and iPad apps up in big caveats because they are less supportable.

    Ignoring it however just doesn’t feel like an option.

  6. I had a mono lcd pronto a few years ago. It sat on my shelf because it frankly was too complicated to configure. There was too many options!
    By comparison, my Harmony remote was configured for all my devices and activities in the software before the remote even arrived. I’m on my second one now and use them for everything.

  7. I have a Pronto 9400 and use it as an enthusiast. The customising aspect is what makes it great. The ipod/ipad ideas are great, but one big problem – tactle feedback. As Pronto versions have changed (I had the original Black and White one), hard buttons increased. It is absolutely invaluable to have hard buttons that you can press for volume, channel, cursor and very importantly mute. Not having to look at the screen – especially if you’re fast forwarding/rewinding through part of a programme is very useful.

    I hate the Logitech Harmony for the very fact that it fences you in and makes you rely on a web app.

    The pronto is quite straight forward once you get familiar with the basics. The scripting is the more challenging thing, but that’s something to do at your own choice – the remote can be very functional without it. Also, I’ve changed layout of on screen buttons and functionality of buttons, added and removed devices as my equipment has changed. I’m very sad to see it go. I’d really like to see some sort of android device come out with good set of hard buttons (software shouldn’t be an issue, there’s already applications on the ipad to show for that). Some sort of hard button attachment for the ipad wouldn’t be bad either. Until we get the morphing polymer remote or some tech that allows you to feel your way around the touchscreen without looking, I feel what is available is lacking.

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