On-camera apps and user expectations

Ever since the earliest days of mobile computing and smart devices, many in the security world have looked towards the ‘App Store’ model as a potential path for the technology sector. Adding functionality as and when needed makes sense in terms of system costs, flexibility and bespoke design. A lot of people support the idea. However, it could quickly turn sour unless the idea reflects the users’ expectations.

The idea of cherry-picking technologies to add to system devices is not new. In reality, past attempts at it were clumsy, although the general idea has been included in a number of VMS offerings with some success. Anyone with any business sense has to tip their hat to Apple, and the others who have copied their approach with the App Store.

Today, it is estimated that more people use their smartphones for data transfer and management than for making telephone calls. The options open to us are immense, and it’s the sheer depth of available Apps that allow this. The smartphone might be, to all intents and purposes, a well functioned telephone, but it’s the Apps which make it invaluable to so many of us.

The idea of adding functionality to security devices makes sense. In fact, it makes so much sense there’s no point in repeating the positives here. Manufacturers are quick to tell us that the process is just like adding an App to a smartphone. It all sounds very promising.

A recent issue of Benchmark included our first group test of camera Apps, looking at people counting. This was interesting for two reasons. Firstly it gave us an insight into the range of additional functionality on offer. Secondly, it allowed us to experience the App model in action within the security industry.

What makes Apple’s App Store – and the Android, Microsoft and other variants – so easy to use is that you visit one site, download the App you want, and you’re in business. Many paid-for Apps include either a free Lite version which you can upgrade once you’re happy with it, or a link to a full demo site. There’s also the option to obtain a refund if an App simply doesn’t deliver what it promises.

All of the suppliers run a pretty tight ship too. Apps must meet their criteria, and they have to be proven stable and safe. It ensures that the smartphone manufacturers’ brands aren’t damaged by errant developers.

The security approach is very different. Camera manufacturers list compatible Apps. In general, there are no download links or actual Apps available. There’s no licensing information. Okay, Axis does offer demo licences for some of its supported Apps, but in general the installer or integrator is left to fend for themself.

Contacting the App developers directly throws up some interesting issues. Very few offer simple-to-access demos, and many don’t even have information about the Apps. A number are overseas, so there are language problems, and the support materials aren’t ready for some products. We had to wait two weeks while one company translated a manual, and it turned out to be out of date. A few developers wanted to charge additional fees to implement their Apps, while one wanted full details of an application site and end user contact information before even supplying a spec sheet.

Every single App developer we approached delivered a different response, with some being on very frustrating to deal with. There was no uniformity, very little consistency, and the process was generally one that we’d not care to repeat.

Whilst it is true that the security industry is unlikely to ever see operations as slick as the Apple Store and Android Store, such interfaces represent peoples’ expectations for such an approach.

Benchmark is the industry's only publication for installers and integrators which is dedicated to technological innovation and the design and implementation of smarter solutions. With an unrivalled level of experience in technology-based systems, Benchmark delivers independent and credible editorial content.

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