Another week in smart home has wrapped up, and much of this week's news has as much to do about what wasn't announced as what was.
That's because Apple's October 16th event came and went and we are still without a new Apple TV.
I bemoaned this fact on Twitter, and someone responded suggesting that Apple will likely have an Apple TV/HomeKit event early in 2015. Maybe, but I think if the company wants its partners to bang the HomeKit drum at CES (Apple doesn't beat any drums at CES, wisely choosing to create their own "news" with special events), they'll have to have some new HomeKit news before the end of the year.
So we'll see where they go with this, but in the mean time, let's look at the rest of the week in smart home...
Bluetooth Had a Big Week
Ok, this past week was big for the Bluetooth smart home. Three announcements of note happened, collectively showing how Bluetooth is becoming an ever more important smart home technology.
Let's look at each individually.
August Launches Smart Lock, Danalock Coming Next Week.
After a year of anticipation, the August Bluetooth smart lock has finally started shipping. The company has been the highest profile of all the smart lock startups this side of Lockitron, in part because of the attachment of well known designer Yves Behar. Sixty thousand preorders doesn't hurt publicity either.
And while August has gotten most of the press, they're not the only Bluetooth smart lock coming this month. Danalock, made by Danish company Polycontrol, will ship in the US on October 21st through Amazon and will soon to be followed in brick and mortar at Best Buy.
I think smart locks are going to be one of the most popular smart home point products in coming years, in part because they deliver obvious value.
Here's what I had to say about that in a piece for Forbes:
So why are folks taking to connected locks? In large part because, like thermostats and connected cameras, they’re easy to understand: you use your smartphone as a key. But also because they represent a huge advantage over traditional locks in that you can send someone a electronic key or monitor who is going in and out of your house.
Easy to understand, they're affordable, and everyone needs locks. These are some of the reasons I see the market reaching $3.6 billion worldwide by 2019.
Oort Launches Bluetooth Smart Home System
The next piece of Bluetooth news was from Polish startup Oort. Oort came to the Big Apple this week to announce availability of their new Bluetooth-centric smart home.
The product lineup is as follows, as per Oort's press release:
- SmartHub – The heart of oort’s intelligent ecosystem, a gateway between smart devices and smart sensors that lets users control all networked devices with an easy-to-use app or web browser. Through the mobile app or web browser users can control, monitor and analyze their home or business’ devices from anywhere in the world and define set actions between devices.
- SmartFinder – A beacon that lets users instantly locate lost items with their smartphone. It includes an audio beep that can be deployed via the mobile app or web browser to make it easier to find an item and to aid the visually impaired.
- SmartSocket – A wall plug that can automate, track and measure the power consumption of all connected electronic devices.
- SmartLamp – An intelligent energy efficient LED lamp that can change colors and brightness on demand and be tracked via the oort mobile app or web browser.
- DeveloperKIT – A complete development kit that will speed development and integration of third-party devices and accessories. It includes an oort SmartHub, four beacons and the necessary software.
I had a chance to talk to Radek Tadajewski this past week for the Smart Home Show podcast, and it was an interesting conversation in part because Radek hightlighted what makes Bluetooth such a compelling smart home radio interface, such as low power and instant recognition using standardized software profiles (GATT), as well the coming use of mesh networking technology.
Bottom line, while Oort is only a startup among many in this space, by being the first completely Bluetooth centric smart home system I think they'll be an interesting company to watch. I'm particularly interested in seeing how Bluetooth beacon technology will be used, which will enable proximity/geo based actions such as light-on/off or door lock/unlock simply by a person's proximity to a beacon in the home.
The solution is also the first to utilize Bluetooth mesh in a smart home system that I am aware of, and I think Bluetooth mesh could have potentially disruptive impacts on existing radios like Z-Wave and Zigbee long term if it works well.
Qualcomm Buys CSR
I don't know how I missed this news the day it came out, but when I saw Stacey's writeup yesterday about Qualcomm's buy of CSR, I was at once both surprised and a bit "well, that makes perfect sense."
Qualcomm has been very acquisitive in the connected home silicon space, buying Atheros a few years back to bolster its Wi-Fi portfolio with the MIMO centric offerings of Atheros. Buying Atheros also brought Intellon and HomePlug into the portfolio, and the company also bought Wilocity, a 60 GHz chip specialist this year.
So what does CSR bring Qualcomm? Well for one, CSR was the first silicon provider to deliver Bluetooth mesh technology, and while CSR's implementation is proprietary, the company has seen significant design wins for its Bluetooth Smart silicon in large part because of its mesh. When the Bluetooth SIG finally releases a version of Bluetooth with mesh, CSR could give Qualcomm a real leg up.
And as Stacey writes, Bluetooth isn't native IP, but I think as is evidenced by the coming 2Gig third generation smart home control panel, most of these Bluetooth implementations will be besides a Wi-Fi or other IP technology, and eventually Bluetooth devices will speak IPV6. It's also understood by smart home gear makers that by putting Bluetooth into smart home devices, this enables fairly seamless integration with standard profile categories like wearables, phones and other devices.
But this week wasn't just about Bluetooth. In other smart home news...
Bemo Smart Phone Thermostat
Bemo, a company which just launched its Kickstarter campaign, wants to use old smart phones to make them smart thermostats. The company is providing some mounting hardware and some software to enable a user to take an old Android of iOS device to turn it into a smart home thermostat. Makes sense given that smartphones have enough built in processing as well as well understood software stacks to make this work technically, and consumers themselves will have no problem understanding how the device works since, well, it's already their device simply put into a new context.
This is a novel approach and one that smartly utilizes existing devices so the consumer doesn't put their existing phone out to pasture. Reduce, reuse, recycle. At the same time, I'm a bit skeptical that many consumers will want a smartphone device on their wall. While it looks ok if you just teleported to today from the past, most people today will look at a smartphone-based thermostat and go "that's a smartphone glued to a wall". Sad but true.
The Ubi Voice Control Hub Launches
This week, Ubi, a voice-control "computer" from the Unified Computer Intelligence Corporation launched for public availability. According to Technology Review, the Ubi "is about the size of a smoke detector, costs $299, and is made by a two-year-old Toronto startup called Unified Computer Intelligence Corporation (UCIC). The company has raised almost $1 million—$230,000 of it through Kickstarter—and has already shipped more than 2,500 early versions of its device."
Out of the gate, the device primarily allows the user to voice initiate messaging such as SMS and emails, access web information (which is then "spoken" back to you by the Siri-like female voice) and can play music. The company is also working to integrate Ubi with a number of smart home platforms like Smart Things, Nest, WeMo and others, which could make for a compelling alternative to the native voice control like that of Google's or Apple's.
I think a discrete voice control device for the home that becomes the key interface makes sense, particularly if it has advantages over multipurpose voice controlled devices which only offer voice interaction as one among a punch list of features. Google and Apple will have voice control, but as has been seen with things like the Xbox One, voice control as "just another feature" can be compelling, but also be clunky as it's often one among many priorities that a given device is achieving.
Long term, I expect voice command and interaction will probably get better and so that provides a challenge to any standalone device such as this (the classic "information appliance vs. Swiss army knife" debate), so we'll see. But for now I see the Ubi as an interesting product to watch.
That's it for this week.
Before I go, I wanted to make you aware that I'm starting a fun new promotion with the Smart Home Show, as I've asked a few of the smart home companies I talk to if they'd be interested in giving away some smart home gear and some are excited to participate.
The first company is Oort, the Bluetooth-centric smart home company which started shipping this week. I'll be giving away an Oort system to a listener of the Smart Home Show, and all you need to do to enter the giveaway is go and give the Smart Home Show an honest review on iTunes. If you don't use iTunes, you can do it on Stitcher. And like I said, you don't have to give a 5 star review (but if you want to, that's fine too!) You can also tell me if you like or hate my intro music (it seems to be split pretty evenly in those two camps.
Once you give a review, just send a screen shot of your posted review to firstname.lastname@example.org. You only have to do this once, and you'll be entered in future giveaways as well (more chances!).
Update: Listen To This Write up Below in Podcast Format: