September 11, 2015 – By Julie Jacobson, CE Pro Magazine
CEDIA Expo 2015: Relative newcomer Clare Controls makes one of the only custom-centric smart-home controllers with native Z-Wave; offers unique blend of pro features and DIY capabilities.
Clare Controls home automation system is professionally installed and programmed, but user configurable. The modular hardware makes sense and it’s come down significantly in price. Clare supports Z-Wave natively and recently introduced its own ClareVue Z-Wave line to integrate more deeply into the Clare ecosystem.
Clare Controls, maker of home automation systems for both mid-market and high-end applications, has come a long way since we first introduced the company in 2011 as an Apple-based, cloud-enabled IoT system provider. Today, it seems to be the only professionally installed system that supports Z-Wave natively, and it has one of the most app-like apps we’ve seen in the custom integration category.
If Clare makes it – and it should – the company will be one of the precious few home automation and multiroom A/V companies that successfully cracks the market for professionally installed systems.
The company was founded four years ago by Brett Price, president of the Sarasota, Fla.-based integration firm Tempus Electronic Lifestyles, one of the largest Crestron dealers in the state. Unlike other dealers who have tried unsuccessfully to manufacture and market a better mouse trap, Price actually has the funding to make this business viable.
And now he has the people, too. This year, Clare hired some established industry professionals from home automation competitors and partners: Jeff Zemanek as VP sales (from Lutron),Delia Hansen in business development (from Crestron) and Chuck Parelli in sales (from Savant).
Over the past two years, Clare has improved both its hardware and software, which is quite a feat considering four years ago Price really didn’t want to make hardware. Back then, an Apple Mac Mini was running the show.
“We’re a software company,” he explained back then, just like all the other home automation companies that eventually learned they had to offer hardware for the most elegant user and dealer experience.
Now Clare has a range of stackable hubs for home automation and A/V control (Z-Wave, IP, IR, serial, relay), as well as multiroom digital audio based on CobraNet.
The company also has introduced its own subsystems, including ClareVision cloud-based surveillance, A/V switchers, HDBaseT extenders and amps. Most recently, Clare launched its own Z-Wave switches private-labeled from Cooper Wiring devices.
On top of these developments, Clare has come way down in pricing after starting out at the very high end of the custom-installation market, competing price-wise with Crestron and Savant before those two companies had lower-priced lines (Pyng and Smart Host, respectively).
Last year, Clare introduced the more affordable CLIQ.lite, and today dealers can get in the door with a CLIQ.express controller that might “retail” for less than $500 if retail prices existed in Clare-ville. A maxed-out CLIQ.host controller with a full suite of I/Os (IR, RS-232, IP, relay), plus Z-Wave and CobraNet, would go for less than $1,500. That includes a software license that allows for virtually unlimited system expansion, no hidden fees.
In the end, what really makes Clare pretty special are a few seemingly trivial things that are actually quite unique for professionally installed smart home systems. CE Pro recently visited Clare offices in Sarasota with tour guide Delia Hansen. Here are a few things we learned.
Clare’s iOS and Android apps are truly native.
In building its ClareOS automation platform, Clare started from the iOS and Android apps and all of the related tools provided by Apple and Google, respectively. That means users engage with the UI just as they would with the familiar Apple and Android ecosystems.
For example, to move a DEVICE, SCENE or ROOM from one “page” to another, simply press and hold the icon (watch them all jiggle) and then swipe it over to a new page, just as you would do to move a Netflix app from one page of your iPad to another.
Users can create folders for devices and functions as they might do on an iPad or Android tablet when organizing entertainment and productivity apps, for example.
The UI is organized by user, not by room or function. Each user creates their own pages, folders and desktops to suit their respective needs. The teenage son, for example, might want a home page comprising the front door camera, lighting scenes for his own room, music preferences for the kids’ zone, and TV controls populated with his favorite channels.
This native-app paradigm makes the system elegant from the user’s perspective, but also for the integrator. The apps are not simply UI emulators, dictated by complicated programming on the back end. You don’t have to program any given icon as a press-and-hold element, for example. It just is.
“Ours is a true app,” Hansen says. “Others are not apps, they’re just UI emulators. There’s no UI generation with us.”
Oddly enough, none of today’s most popular custom-installed control systems in the U.S. support Z-Wave natively … except for Clare, which builds Z-Wave technology into its CLIQ hubs.
It is true that many of the other control systems accommodate Z-Wave via external gateways, but integration tends not to be as elegant as with native support.
In the case of Clare, Z-Wave devices are treated like any other product on the network, so they are enrolled into the Clare program just like an IP camera, for example. Individual lights can be incorporated into scenes and schedules that include A/V and temperature controls. A button press on a Z-Wave keypad could trigger an audio event.
More importantly to integrators, Z-Wave devices can be viewed in a single dashboard alongside IP/Wi-Fi devices. Clare is continuing to improve its troubleshooting engine such that integrators can see all network connections and examine mesh performance in a single view.
In the words of Hansen, “That’s kind of a big deal.”
To integrate Z-Wave even more tightly into the Clare ecosystem, the company worked with Cooper Wiring Devices to create its own line of dimmers, switches, keypads and other Z-Wave controls under the ClareVue brand. While any (most) Z-Wave devices will work with Clare, ClareVue products enroll automatically and provide system visibility to more functions and troubleshooting services.
Plus, says Hansen, pricing for ClareVue is “very competitive” with other Z-Wave devices on the market, “so why not?”
Consumers can create schedules and scenes.
User personalization has been a key tenet of Clare Controls since it launched a few years ago. At that time, users could rearrange the desktop and pages of their Clare apps, which was pretty novel deal back then. But now homeowners can do much more.
In the new ClareHome Premium (formerly MyClareHome) service – introduced last year and currently in beta testing – users can create their own schedules and scenes from their smart phones and tablets, starting with four product categories: access control, lighting, security and thermostats. Other subsystems will be added to the service in due course.
The Clare apps are integrally linked to Clare’s Fusion programming platform for installers, so any on-the-fly changes to the app are reflected almost immediately in Fusion, and vice versa.
That means users can enjoy a level of ownership of their systems, while integrators maintain full visibility and access.
“This is a big deal,” Hansen says. “Changes are reflected two-way. If you make changes to an app, it changes the programming, and vice versa. Not many others can do that.”
Clare hardware makes incredibly good sense, both in its industrial design and pricing. The CLIQ controllers are modular—just stack them on top of each other to add I/Os and functions to the system. Pricing for the system is just as modular and totally not confusing. For the client that wants everything right now, sell them the Cliq.host – less than $1,500 including the unlimited CLIQ.license.
Otherwise: CLIQ.lite + CLIQ.license = CLIQ.host; CLIQ.express + CLIQ.connect (I/O module) + CLIQ.license = CLIQ.host.
Clare was a pioneer in cloud-based system configuration, solving the age-old problem of multiple integrators within a single company using different versions of software. With Clare, programmers could collaborate on projects knowing they were working on the most current versions.
The problem was they could only work on those projects when they were online. Today, dealers can do their programming offline and then upload to the cloud when they’re back on the Web.
Infostream and dealer branding.
Press the “i” button in the top left corner of the app, and you’ll see whatever messages your dealer (or home builder) wants you to see.
Clare product line manager Tyler Leppek says Taylor Morrison, the national home builder that uses Clare in some of its projects, has been thrilled with the “i” button. Since Taylor Morrison executives receive bonuses based on customer satisfaction, they’ve been communicating regularly with clients via this “Infostream” feature.
When new messages are added to the stream, a notification pops up in the app. Hansen suggests dealers alert clients to new features, and issue subtle sales messages like, “Hey, do you have a garage? We can control that.”
By the way, dealers can program their own watermarks to appear on their customers’ UI.
Home builder programs.
Like the other guys, Clare is pushing its solution to home builders, finding success in several new residential communities. The marketing department pumps out materials for builders to use in their model homes, and dedicated sales reps call on local builders.
Video distribution too.
Clare has been working on some video matrix and HDBaseT extender products that bring a unique feature set to integrators. CE Pro will provide more details on those new products at CEDIA Expo.