“Let there be light”: The importance of control from the beginning
Biblically and historically, controlling our environment has been important since time immemorial. This is doubly true for our homes, where a balancing act has always taken place. Archaeology tells us that cave-dwelling people would hide animal bones and tools at the back of their caves, while art was shown at the entrance, where it could be seen in the sun or firelight. Ever since then, we’ve struggled with the balance of beauty and functionality in the places where we live, hiding ugly tools, from flint scrapers to dish washers.
The smart control revolution
In recent years, home automation has enabled us to put entire processes out of sight and mind, while adding new functionalities to make our homelives more beautiful and enjoyable. While most systems can be kept discreet or beautiful, the control panel has always been a challenge. Adding more functions to a system has historically required larger, more obvious controls. Humanity is only just getting to grips with the touchscreens and voice controls that stop this from being the case.
Against this background, Ekinex has taken a huge leap forward in efficient miniaturisation.
Small is beautiful – The Ekinex Signum
Small control panels require great design, and in this, Ekinex’s new Signum virtual switch is some distance ahead of the competition. It’s the first touchscreen that is light switch sized and that can control most of the functions of a modern smart home.
The size is important because it makes the switches easy to retrofit in almost all homes and, perhaps more importantly, users are familiar with switches of this size and form in this place.
Functionally, the switch can be used and customised easily, the latter with the help of a relatively simple mobile app. At the top level, the switch can have between one and four touch-screen buttons, which can lead to different controls or more sub-menus. Each menu selection can enable control of anything from lights to thermostats to audio and door locks. These are just a few picks from a list of dozens of functionalities which can be integrated with a huge range of systems and assigned on the mobile phone app.
The big leap forward - The end of the form/function choice
It’s important to communicate why getting all relevant functionalities into something the size of a light switch is such a big deal. There was a time early in the smart home revolution when all clients and designers had to pick between form and function. There were large smart home control panels that controlled everything but looked like a computer monitor on the wall of each room. Then there were small switches that were limited in what they could do. Any compromise between the two extremes was awkward and difficult to use.
For a while now, companies have been trying to get as much functionality as possible into the light switch space without sacrificing ease of use. Those 74 square centimetres have seen varying degrees of success, notably from Ekinex, as well as Zennio, Jung and Rithium (formerly Violet).
That said, we at Baker Stone are fairly confident in stating that the Signum is the first smart home control panel where the mission can be considered accomplished. It fits in the space, it’s easy to use, it’s attractive and it can control everything you would want to control from this part of a smart home. What’s more, the switches can be reconfigured by the user or administrator without a huge expertise requirement after setup. If the user adds a sound system to their lounge, they can pop in a Spotify controller next to their light and heating controls.
The physical space on the touch screen is limited to around one third of the device’s width. This could be seen as the one flaw of the switch. It’s probably done for the sakes of simplicity and aesthetics, as well as to build similarity to light switch. However, further limiting the space available on a screen that is already necessarily small is a strange choice, to say the least. Aside from this subjective weakness, the Ekinex Signum is a very strong contender that stands head-and-shoulders above the competition.
The task of smart home designers and integrators like ourselves is to ensure that the old tools and processes aren’t replaced with a new set of ugly devices. To this end, we love innovations like the Ekinex Signum, which are attractive and effective, making our job a bit easier.
While voice and mobile device controls are nice, pushing a button is going to remain the most natural way to control a home for some time yet. That being the case, we advise professional designers and homeowner users alike to think about their control panels as a core part of the system rather than an afterthought. Ask if you want discretion or high-visibility, ease of use or comprehensive functionality.
New technologies like the Signum mean that you can have your cake and eat it more than ever before.