Founder,, Sonitrol of South Central Ontario

Author Bio ▼

Colin Bodbyl is the founder of and Chief Technology Officer at Sonitrol of South Central Ontario. He has over 10 years' experience in the security industry specializing in the design and installation of physical security, IP CCTV, video analytics, and access control systems. In 2012 Colin developed to connect with other integrators and end users through his unique video blogs.
July 3, 2013


State of Physical Access Trend Report 2024

Security: Is There an App for That?

It seems like every week I see a new app launch from surveillance and security manufacturers. While many are simple, run-of-the-mill apps that help end users more easily connect to their systems, others are significantly more complex and feature rich.

There are two classes of apps for the security industry: those designed for end users, and those designed for integrators. Apps in the security industry still appear to be early in the adoption phase. While the creation of sophisticated apps is not a problem, the adoption rates are patchy at best.

Security apps today are much like websites in the late nineties. Businesses were beginning to invest in websites but were reluctant to jump in with both feet due to the high costs and low return on investment of the time. Today, it’s hard to imagine a business card without a website on it, especially in the technology sector.

Manufacturers in the security industry have by in large accepted the fact that they need to get into the app business. Many of them, however, do not understand how the app business operates, and because of this, are making one or more of these three critical mistakes.

Charging for apps
Whether the app is designed to assist integrators in specifying a product, or for end users to view their surveillance cameras remotely, manufacturers who charge for apps that are proprietary to their products are making a big mistake. They cannot view an app as a revenue-generating tool.

Instead, they must focus on the brand awareness created by the app. Manufacturers need to understand that their proprietary design apps for integrators are essentially digital brochures for their products. In the same way, end users who download their apps for viewing cameras or controlling their alarm systems become walking billboards, bragging to friends about what their app can do.

Apps with no pre-programmed demos
If smartphone compatibility is important to an end-user, they will research the different apps available before making a hardware purchase. There is a major marketing opportunity missed anytime a user downloads an app to test functionality and is blocked from doing so by a login screen. It is absolutely critical that manufacturers include a pre-programmed demo site with every app. It not only allows end-users to test the app with a live site, but also makes it easy for sales people to demo a system.

Relying on third party apps instead of creating their own
The biggest mistake manufacturers can make is to be lazy, and, instead of creating their own app, rely on an existing (compatible) app from a third party. This is a huge problem in the surveillance space as there are dozens of camera viewing apps designed by third party developers, but written to a specific manufacturer’s brand.

Nothing is more unprofessional than a manufacturer recommending an app that they did not create and have no control over in terms of quality or pricing. When users spend thousands of dollars on a surveillance system, the least they should expect is a genuine piece of software to operate it.

There are however, a handful of manufacturers in the security and surveillance industry that demonstrate a clear understanding of the app business and the value it brings to their product lines. They are quickly gaining a loyal user-base as other manufacturers fall behind. Like those businesses in the nineties that refused to invest in websites, those who neglect the app industry too long will find themselves left behind.

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Tony Dobson
Tony Dobson
July 3, 2013 3:44 am

Hi Colin,
Apps with security systems is something I haven’t looked at as yet. “end users to view their surveillance cameras remotely” ….. is this secure?
Thought provoking blog as always Colin, thanks.

July 3, 2013 11:23 am

I would wonder at what size of a security operation would trying to manage or manipulate it through an app would it be come too cumbersome to manage.  I could see if I had only one or two cameras and just wanted to check in but some outfits have dozens of cameras to manage.  This could in some ways be a boon for the lone worker scenario where you would like to get an idea whats around the corner without going around the corner first.  

July 4, 2013 8:46 am
Reply to  JonathanL

I wouldn’t say these apps become too cumbersome with bigger systems. A well designed app simplifies the viewing process and, though they’re not appropriate for guard stations, apps can be a very useful tool for people like facility managers who need to quickly see whats happening from anywhere in a building.
I don’t think apps are good for searching through recorded video unless you’re really in a pinch. For more advanced functionality users will always need to have a thick client software.

July 4, 2013 2:25 pm
Reply to  Tony Dobson

Tony I agree with you. The security or surveillance cameras which are remotely controlled are not very secure as I have read about few articles giving links to sites where we can find security cameras who are niot very secure. If they are vailable on net this easily then I think other cameras can be accessed by hackers with ease too. I think we need to look into the ity aspect of them before their use.

Robert Grossman
Robert Grossman
July 6, 2013 9:09 pm

Another way that manufacturers are getting around providing their own apps is by touting web functionality — “Just use a browser,” they say.
I think this is short sighted as well, as we add the overhead of the browser to an already data intensive process. Sure, you’ll see an image, but you’ll ultimately get frustrated by the latency, blame it on the camera (or video management system) and move on.

July 9, 2013 4:26 am
Reply to  Tony Dobson

Hmm. I’d think they’d take the extra measures and make sure these apps would be secure, or at least communicating on a secure channel.

July 9, 2013 4:28 am

In some ways, using a browser would seem more convenient to some, but again, there is the security issue. It definitely is short-sighted and a lazy way to go about it. They’ll have more problems on their hands when there’s a breach though.

October 4, 2013 3:10 am
Reply to  JonathanL

For some basic applications the apps would probably suffice, though the security concerns would have to be ironed out. For large/ complex systems, I’m not sure the app route is appropriate.

Rob Ratcliff
Rob Ratcliff
October 31, 2013 10:59 am

Gets you around the App Store rules and regs, and is much easier for cross-platform development, I suppose is the reason. But, I still agree with you, Robert.

Chris Carter Brennan
Chris Carter Brennan
October 31, 2013 6:20 pm

You may not realise but some “Apps” are not apps at all. They are mobile optimised websites. Even the largest social media App was “just a mobile optimised” website until around 3 months ago, rather than a IOS or Android App. Many Apps start this way so that changes can be made quickly. Security of connectivity (user and data) will be criticial to their proliferation in our industry.