Searching for Connection
For now the smart-home frontier is more like the Wild West, with many developers creating their own operating systems independent of one another or compatible only with certain brands. It’s somewhat good for innovation but sort of bad for the consumer, because it’s hard to make sense of the overwhelming number of products and which ones have the ability to coordinate with others.
For example, you might own a smart thermostat, a smart light dimmer package and a smart door lock, but all three could have very different systems that don’t necessarily communicate with one another. So, you’re left to toggle between different apps, interfaces and panels to control them all. As a consumer, you have to do some serious research before buying smart-home products if you want them to be compatible in the future. For now it can be like having a separate remote for the DVD player, TV, stereo, ceiling fan and so on. At some point you just say, “Well, how is this smart?”
That’s why a large appliance company like Bosch is sending its CEO of software innovations to CES to take part in a panel discussion titled “The Evolution of the Smart Home,” along with executives from Lutron, Yetu and Lowe’s. These companies are betting big on the future of home automation and plan to discuss whether a connected home is ready for broader consumer adoption. “The evolution is occurring,” says panel speaker Michael Pessina, president of Lutron, which focuses on electronic lighting and shading control. “The key thing is figuring out a way to make it simple.”
Pessina points to platforms such as The Home Depot’s Wink, with which Lutron is compatible, Lowe’s’ Iris and even Staples’ Connect as major drivers for promulgating connected-home technology and making it affordable and available for the masses.
Additionally, several companies plan to make announcements at CES about integrating their products with those from companies like Nest, the thermostat developer that wasacquired by Google in the beginning of 2014. And as Apple and Samsung also look to capitalize on the growing connected-home buzz with HomeKit and SmartThings, respectively, things are bound to get patchier before they get smoother.
In November Bosch, ABB and Cisco somewhat acknowledged the ironic disconnect between emerging connected-home appliances and announced plans to develop and operate an open software platform for homes beginning in 2015. “For a home to be ‘smart,’ it is crucial that all the appliances and systems in the home — e.g., washing machines, heating units, lamps and window blinds — can simply and securely exchange data with each other as well as with smartphones and tablets,” Bosch said in a statement announcing the partnership.
Taking It to the Masses
During CES, though, just stroll through the exhibit floor hosting the smart-home category and you’ll get a taste of what the companies are hoping will catch on. Lightbulbs, door locks and doorbells, video cameras, thermostats, solar energy storage and even ceiling fans — all controlled from smartphones or wearable devices. (Bosch created the graphic shown here to show homeowners the possibilities of a connected home and what it means.)
Giudice points out that Lowe’s is continuously trying to broaden the compatibility of its Iris-enabled products with other products, such as ZigBee, which is known as the only open, global wireless platform for connected devices.
To better communicate compatability among products under the Lowe’s roof to consumers, Giuidice says the company puts a logo that reads “Works with Iris” on various products.
What’s to Come
Here’s a look at some of the other smart-home products on exhibit in Las Vegas this week.
The units retail for $299, but the company has a deal going right now on IndieGoGo through which you can buy one for $149.
Elgato has a suite of home tech devices, and this year it’s launching Eve, shown here. The Eve line of products gathers data on air quality, temperature, humidity, air pressure, energy, water consumption and more to give you insight into how you’re using your resources, and how you can adjust your lifestyle to save money and energy.
Unikey’s and Kwikset & Weiser’s lock, called Kevo, allows users to unlock doors using just a phone. In fact, you just need the phone in your pocket, then touch the lock and you’re all set.
The mobile app lets you send or disable e-keys to your friends, family or other visitors.
In another effort to make the technology more appealing to the average consumer, companies are focusing on offering options with broad aesthetic appeal so homeowners can try to make devices part of the decor and not have a living room that looks like the bridge on the U.S.S. Enterprise. For example, Lutron has more than 30 colors and five metal finishes for its products, as well as more than 1,500 fabrics for its wireless window shades.
Bosch’s Nefit Easy, shown here, lets users control their heating systems via their phones.
But while the market seems to be exploding with connected-home tech products, executives like Lutron’s Pessina are quick to point out that there are still kinks to work out. After all, technology isn’t always perfect. Take your phone, for example. It sometimes freezes, runs out of battery power or behaves like it’s possessed.
When it comes to the home, Pessina says people are extra sensitive about having things work right. “It’s your castle, the place that’s supposed to be there for you,” he says. “So if we can make things work all the time, provide the right experiences and make the connection simple, then mass adoption could potentially be right around the corner.”