December 1, 2012
By Eric Schechter
The number of things people can do with a smartphone is rapidly increasing and there are no signs of it slowing down. Today, more consumers are using their mobile phones not only to stay in touch with friends and family, but to also pay bills, make travel/entertainment plans, check weather forecasts and even play games. In fact, sales of these mobile devices (e.g. iPhone,® iPad,® BlackBerry, ® and Google Android™) are measured in millions per month.
In addition to gaming, weather tracking, social networking and GPS navigating, the trend of having instant information at your fingertips has also filtered its way into the swimming pool and spa industry by helping both consumers and service professionals maintain water quality.
The pool industry is keeping pace with this rapidly growing trend as there are now a number of ways pool/spa owners can use their smartphones as part of a standard water maintenance program. In fact, a study recently commissioned by the Association of Pool and Spa Professionals (APSP) documents a related trend, which shows people want products that are self-maintaining in every area of their life.
To understand what this means, take for example what is involved in an oil change for a base model, middle-range, or luxury vehicle. When servicing a base model car, for instance, the owner or service professional pulls the dipstick and takes a visual reading of the oil level, while most middle-range cars feature a check-engine light, and luxury vehicles, with more sophisticated diagnostic systems, will calculate and display how many more kilometres can be driven before it is time to change the oil.
Similarly, many pool owners and operators manually dip test strips into pool/spa water to read sanitizer and pH levels by visually comparing the colour of the test strip pads to a card or guide on the bottle.
For those who want a little more technology in their pool water maintenance regimen, the industry now offers smartphone-compatible test strip readers, which present a slick, yet, basic upgrade to using test strips in a traditional manner. And, similar to a middle-range vehicle, pool water care systems, which monitor water chemistry, are now capable of transmitting useful and specific water parameter information to a computer, smartphone or tablet. There are also high-end systems, which allow remote adjustment of some chemical levels by using both a monitoring system and a salt chlorine generator, chemical feed pump, or other automatic chemical dispensing system.
The following is a closer look at some of the products and systems available, which represent different ways of using mobile devices or computers as part of a swimming pool water maintenance program.
There are several apps (i.e. application software) on the market that make it possible to use smartphones or other mobile devices to read manual test strip results. For example, the iPoolTester from SanSoft Inc., and Insta-LINK® from LaMotte, are both available for download from the Apple App store, while the latter is also available via Google Play and Amazon App store for Android users.
These apps read test strip (or test kit) results and help determine the necessary steps to balance pool water. They can also keep an archive of previous test results to help users manage pool maintenance week to week and season to season. It is also possible for pool owners to e-mail test results to a dealer or other service expert for troubleshooting purposes.
One example of this is the iPoolTester app, which reads a dipped test strip by taking a picture of it. It then reads the results by matching the colour and provides dosing suggestions. It also has a manual mode, which allows users to match test strip colours by using a slider on the phone. It is also possible to manually enter values corresponding to liquid test kit results.
In addition to scanning test strip results, the Insta-LINK app offers additional features to those who subscribe to Insta-LINK Home, which is accessible on any device (e.g. smartphone, tablet, or laptop/desktop computer) with Internet access. This app can be programmed to send reminder messages and alerts based on test result trends, while its ‘problem solver’ feature can also be used to help pool owners and/or service professionals identify and resolve common water-maintenance issues. It also includes an ‘equipment manager’ feature, which keeps a log of the pool’s equipment (e.g. pump/motor, filter, chlorine generator, alternative sanitizing system, and/or automatic pool cleaner, etc.), allowing the pool owner/service professional to keep track of maintenance records, while also alerting them when service is required.
Those interested in taking an additional step along the continuum toward products that take care of themselves will find systems that combine sensors with today’s digital communication technology. For example, the next generation of GAME’s ePOOL water monitoring system applies an even greater level of technology to pool water testing. For instance, the system’s floating sensor continuously reads various water parameters (e.g. temperature) and chemistry levels (e.g. pH and sanitizer) and wirelessly relays the information to a computer running the ePOOL software interface. Upon logging into the program, it clearly displays either a green ‘OK’ icon or a red ‘NOT OK’ message to notify pool owners, at a glance, if their pool water requires attention. Should attention be required, the system will instruct users on what needs to be done to rectify any problems by calculating how much of a particular chemical is needed based on the pool’s volume and how far from ideal the reading is.
This device can also send notifications to the pool owner via e-mail or text message, allowing them to simply forward the warnings and/or instructions to whoever is looking after their pool, e.g. a neighbour while they are away or even to a service professional. It can also provide reminders when certain water parameters have not been tested within a recommended timeframe. For instance, it will display when total dissolved solids (TDS) were last checked, along with a reminder that they should be tested every 60 days. It is through these reminders the pool owner will be encouraged to go back to their local pool store.
While most pool owners can use the mobile water maintenance systems mentioned above right out of the box, stepping farther up the technology ladder in terms of pool water care involves more sophisticated equipment and, almost always, professional installation. At the upper end of mobile pool water care are systems, which sense the pool water’s needs, relay the information wirelessly and, with the right combination of equipment, remotely and automatically increase saline output (for pools with salt chlorine generators), dose the right amount of acid to lower pH (with a compatible pH controller), and remotely manage other pool functions.
There are several manufacturers offering mobile pool maintenance systems in this category. For instance, the latest generation of Pentair Aquatics’ ScreenLogic™ interface, which works with the company’s IntelliTouch® and Easy Touch® automation controls, can be used by both pool owners or service professionals on their computers or iOS (Apple’s mobile operating system) devices to access pool/spa settings locally or remotely. Users can also set up e-mail alerts for up to 40 different system parameters, including low salt levels (for pools with salt chlorine generators), high/low pH or oxidation reduction potential (ORP) values (for pools with chemical feed systems), and other factors related to the operation of pumps, lights, water features, and various other accessories.
ScreenLogic also maintains an archive of this data, which can be reviewed and analyzed on a mobile device or computer; PC and iPad interfaces also include a five-day weather forecast, which can be useful for predicting high algae conditions or other environmental changes that can affect water chemistry.
Another example is Hayward® Pool Products’ Aqua Connect® remote pool management system, which was designed for pool owners who travel frequently, have vacation homes or multiple pools in various locations. This system can keep track of more than 100 pool/spa conditions, parameters, and settings and similar to ScreenLogic, it can be monitored, controlled, and acted on remotely, allowing adjustments to be made from virtually anywhere.
Aqua Connect is also among the available systems that allow pool owners to have their pool service company monitor and maintain their pool with reporting, diagnostics, and adjustments being managed via computer or any Wi-Fi-enabled smartphone or mobile device. For example, homeowners can check their pool/spa while away from home or remotely alter settings such as turning up a spa heater and lighting before they arrive home.
Zodiac Pool Systems Inc., has also introduced a new mobile app to make pool/spa operation easier for pool owners/operators. The company’s iAquaLink™ app, in combination with an AquaLink® controller, gives the ability to monitor, adjust and program pool/spa functions from anywhere using a web browser or custom smartphone/tablet. The app, which is available for Apple and Android mobile devices, features an intuitive, user-friendly interface for easy operation, making programming of variable-speed pumps, cleaners, lighting, waterfalls, temperature control, and monitoring of system status simple.
Further, multiple pools can be controlled from a single app, which is capable of being used as the only user interface, or combined with one of the company’s wall-mounted or wireless AquaLink controllers.
The Internet helps people accomplish almost everything and anything these days with very little effort. In the aquatics industry, for example, mobile technology has revolutionized pool/spa operation and water maintenance for both consumers and service professionals in many ways by increasing efficiency and reducing the need for service calls. With a variety of options available, and new technologies being developed every day, it is easy to say the industry is keeping pace with what is possibly the most significant consumer trend of the decade. Yes, even the pool industry can say, “There’s an app for that!”
Eric Schechter is president of GAME, a swimming pool and spa accessories manufacturer in Scottsdale, Ariz. He is experienced in merchandise and event marketing, and has been a leader in the pool industry for 20 years. He can be reached via e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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