Smart Home Weekly (10/11/14): Apple TV w/HomeKit, The WeMo Coffeemaker, Best Buy's Connected Home

Welcome the Smart Home Weekly for the week ending October 11th.  Like I said last week in the podcast, this final quarter stretch of 2014 promises to be a barnburner in the smart home, with lots of activity as new products are introduced, retailers get ready for the holidays and everyone gets ready for CES.

So enjoy.  Also, after you read the news, make sure you register for our coming live smart home/IoT roundtable with the CEO of Zonoff and GM of Lowe's smart home on October 30th.

So lets get to it, shall we?

Apple Injects HomeKit Into Apple TV  

Apple Insider discovered something interesting this week when they found out that the latest release of Apple TV's software included built in support for HomeKit.

This news combined with the coming Apple event on October 16th - which just this week Apple mailed out invites for with the tagline "it's been too long" - make for some interesting speculation.

Now, we know that Apple will likely introduce some new Macs, and it's been a reeaaalllly long time since they've updated the Mac Mini (2011 was the last update), so it might just be that's what they're referring to. But it's also been since 2012 since they've introduced new Apple TV hardware (though they did a slight refresh on the 2012 model in January 2013).

The Takeaway

I've been writing about how I felt the Apple TV made sense as a hub for much of this year, and when Apple announced HomeKit it made even more sense. That's because architecturally, having a mobile iOS device as the central hub of a smart home meant that consumers would find their smart home network "headless" when the device left the home. Of course, while a HomeKit network could work as a decentralized network, having a fixed hardware device acting as command center would enable many more user scenarios.

So while it remains to be seen if Apple officially taps the Apple TV as its fixed controller in its smart home architecture as it moves forward, this week's news make it seem much more likely, and it's good to see the broader tech press starting to wake up the potential of Apple TV in the smart home

Best Buy And Other Retailers Beefing Up Smart Home Sections

While we've known for some time that Best Buy was going to roll out its expanded smart home stores this quarter, this past week saw the first ones actually show up. NextMarket had some friends in the field who sent us pictures of the first store to see the expanded sections, and from the looks of it, there are quite a few lines.

The newly expanded section spotted in the field include end caps for Philips Hue lighting and Dropcam, smart lock, connected camera and security sections, as well as expanded inventory of the PeQ smart home systems, Nest thermostats, Logitech Living Harmony remotes and more. 

Stacey at Gigaom reports that new smart home end caps have also been spotted at Target, with Wink getting some special attention.  

The Takeaway

It's October, and that means that retailers need to be road-ready come Thanksgiving to start pushing smart home heavily for the holidays.  Best Buy's expanded sections have been rumored for some time, but it's pretty surprising to see the scope of the new sections.  You can see the retailers focus segments online, where they highlight lighting, security/cameras, locks, themostats, plugs/controllers and home networking.  Those make sense and each are anchored by the big sellers in the space (Philips - lighting, Nest -thermostat, etc) so I think Best Buy sees that the current "hits" in the space and have positioned themselves well for this coming retail season.  

WeMo Mr Coffee In Stores This Week

(Correction: Actually, the WeMo is in stores on October 28th.  Belkin announced availability on Friday, but the date they set was a few weeks forward in October.) 

I just talked to Belkin (keep an eye out for the podcast) and they told me the WeMo powered Mr Coffee just debuted on store shelves on Friday.  The device was announced at CES 2014 when Belkin unveiled its partnership with Jardin, the company behind the Mr Coffee as well as the Crockpot (the WeMo crockpot shipped in August). 

Overall, Belkin has remained pretty active this year as they've expanded beyond a line of smart switches and lighting controllers to their partner devices, which also includes a new line of smart light bulbs which the company made with Osram Sylvania.

The Takeaway

CES 2014 marked the unveiling of a broader vision for Belkin's WeMo, and I expect that 2015 will be an equally big event. The company is managing to get all of its announced products out in time for the holiday season, and I expect in 2015 we'll see a broader line up of partners for WeMo across different areas of the smart home, including possibly integration of WeMo with wearables.

Echostar Launching Own Line of "Sage" Smart Home Products

Dave Zatz has some details on Echostar's smart home gear, which the company is calling Sage. The first word of Sage came out of the IBC show in Europe in September, and the company is looking to integrate Sage hub functionality into new set top boxes, and plans to include WiFi, Bluetooth smart, Z-Wave and Zigbee radios. 

The Takeaway

I've felt the TV "stack" is a logical place for smart home control, in part because it's central in most homes but also because it has a high degree of interfaces already there, it has a screen and nearly every service provider and CE company have a play in the living room already.

Echostar, which is the hardware division spinout from the DISH empire, could be a fairly formidable player in seeing smart home technology through the service provider channel, most obviously first and foremost with DISH.  The smart home cloud software and cloud is build on top of the company's Sling core, which has had some decent success as an ingredient brand largely due to how aggressively DISH has pushed it to its video customers. If DISH does the same with Sage, I think that point solution providers would be wise to start making calls to Echostar to integrate with Sage.

This Week in Standards

A couple interesting moves this week on the standards front.  First was the AllSeen Alliance's smart lighting group, which will "develop ways for IP-enabled, multi-color and energy-efficient LED light bulbs to work in creative new ways with each other and things including televisions, home security systems, home appliances, smoke detectors and door locks."

The group, which is being chaired by LIFX CTO Marc Alexander, will develop a focused "Lighting Service Framework" (LSF) which will "enable new levels of interoperability between connected devices and lights, but also provide third-party developers building applications a way to discover and control lighting in an open, common way across manufacturers."

This makes sense as a focus area since smart lighting is probably going to be the most widely adopted category of smart home end device products over the past few years. and the lighting industry - at least those who are part of AllSeen - realize that creating standard frameworks makes sense rather than technology fragmentation which would slow down adoptoin. 

The second piece of news on the standards front was word of discord over at still new Open Internet Consortium (OIC). Gigaom reports that Broadcom has broken away from the group, which is fairly significant since they were a founding member. The breakup apparently has to do with IP licensing provisions, it's a hit for the OIC in that Broadcom is an important player in wireless connectivity silicon and a fierce competitor generally with Intel, so seeing the two together in one consortium was impressive. Now, it makes one wonder about the future of OIC in the face of continued progress from the likes of Allseen.

This Week In Updates

A couple product updates this week. First was Revolv's October update, which featured a new thermostat UI which sprang out of work done by the Revolv team as part of the Nest partnership program. The UI is the new default for all integrated connected thermostats. The company has also integrated now with the Danalock from Polycontrol (some belated news there: Danalock is now finally shipping in the US). 

In other update news, Smart Home Ventures announced an update to its app and web interface. The specifics of the update include:

  • Added ability to activate a PEQ device from within the mobile app allows users to easily set-up and expand their smart-home network from a smartphone or tablet.
  • Upgraded customization lets users personalize their PEQ dashboard layout to fit their smart home needs.
  • Updated functions on mobile device and tablet add pinch-to-zoom feature on live camera feeds.
  • Ability to test-drive the PEQ app enables anyone to download the app and experience a PEQ home virtually.

This Week In Startups/Crowdfunding

MaxMyTV, the company which has been making the rounds talking about its Android-based TV-centric smart home hub, has launched its Kickstarter campaign. The HomeTech.FM boys talked to MaxMyTV if you want to hear from them, but it looks to me like the campaign is off to a fairly slow start. Crowdfunding campaigns are are charted like U's, meaning much of initial activity is at the front end, the dip is the long slog through the middle, and then usually there's a pop at the end. With only about $7 thousand of the $250,000 committed after a few days, it looks like the company may be missing out on the necessary early "pop" needed for a successful campaign. 

Another interesting new campaign is that of Coinguard, pitched as a "new Internet of Things solution for personal home security. Instead of trying to detect home intrusions like traditional security systems, CoinGuard is a small coin-sized wireless device. Sensitive to movement and vibration, it is simply placed on or with the valuables that it protects. If disturbed, it transmits a notification to the homeowner’s smartphone or other web connected device for immediate action."

I continue to see home security/personal security solutions becoming more affordable using IoT technology, and Coinguard is representative of that trend. 

That's it. The podcast edition of the Smart Home Weekly is coming within a day or so, so check back for that.  Also remember to subscribe to the newsletter via email or RSS. 

And here's the audio version above for those who like to listen!



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