This is the Smart Home Weekly for the week ending February 6th, 2015.
Overall there's been some interesting news the last week and a half. I'd say the biggest is news of impending new products from Dropcam (and their exec departures). Before we get to that, a few mentions of upcoming events and other cool stuff:
- We have a date for our Smart Home Panel at SXSW (the only smart home panel at the entire festival). It's Tuesday 3/17, 3:30-4:30 at the JW Marriott room 328. Hopefully the SXSW folks will update their site and app with the details soon, but you can read about it and who is on the panel here.
- I am hosting a smart home mixer at SXSW with a great partner. More details coming soon. Ping me if you are interested in coming.
- A couple great Smart Home Shows were published over the last week. Hear Lockitron's story about dropping their original smart lock for the Bolt and how Securifi is hoping to reinvent the router with the Almond+.
- If you want this weekly update via email, sign up here. Follow my smart home group on Linkedin where I curate these stories during the week before I write about them.
On to the news:
Intel Buys Lantiq
This past week, Intel continued to invest in the broader connected home with its acquisition of Lantiq, a broadband network processor company. With the acquisition Intel grabs a second former Infineon product group (the first being the mobile group acquired in 2011).
This acquisition by Intel has been written about as their entry into the “smart gateway” and as part of a move into broader “IoT” space. Maybe. Lantiq certainly has a large amount of design wins in the broadband CPE space in DSL and has a boatload of patents, so packaging the MIPS based silicon with other offerings from the company could make Intel a competitor to the Broadcoms and Marvells of the world in the gateway space. That being said, this is more of a buy of a core gateway/CPE silicon division rather than a IoT silicon company.
I’m also sure much of the next-generation gateways for service providers are going to incorporate some smart home and IoT intelligence - see Verizon/Greenwave CPE as an example - so I am sure Intel is thinking along those lines.
Takeaway: Intel is investing both in silicon as well as - as per usual for Intel - developing the broader ecosystem in pushing OIC. Expect more activity in time.
Dropcam Execs Leave The Nest, New Models on Roadmap for 2015
This past week news broke of some executive departures of Dropcam executives from Nest, who bought the network camera maker last year. These include former Dropcam CEO Greg Duffy and VP of Technology Yoky Matsuoka. Normally I would say this is pretty standard post acquisition churn since “acquired” CEOs often move on fairly quickly, but there seems to be a bit more going on here.
First off, this isn’t the first departure by a Dropcam exec (the VP of marketing Elizabeth Hamren left Dropcam in October), and now Techcrunch and others suggest that Duffy and Matsuoka’s departure was fairly sudden. According to reports, the departures (which left the place “in shock and disbelief” according to a tip) may have been partly due to a clash of management styles between the Dropcam and Nest team, and the departure of the Dropcam execs is the catalyst for a reshuffling of roles as Dropcam prepares to launch new products in 2015.
The news of new products is good since Dropcam has gone largely into stasis mode since the acquisition and just came off a surprisingly quiet CES. I'd written previously about how I was disappointed that Nest/Google killed Tabs, which seemed like an innovative product, and Nest told me since then they were evaluating their roadmaps. Apparently now they have their roadmaps set, and they include two new cameras for 2015.
According to Techcrunch, “...the company is reorganizing as it gears up to launch a raft of new products in 2015, starting with camera updates in two stages (or levels) that Nest is referring to as “Quartz” and “Black Quartz.” .
Takeaway: While the Dropcam/Nest marriage may not been entirely smooth sailing, the most important takeaway for me is there is a new product roadmap for 2015 with two new cameras. While I still wonder if the marriage between the two companies derailed some possible innovation coming from the Dropcam side in the form of Tabs, it will be particularly interesting to see what role Dropcam’s new products will play in Nest’s growing ecosystem.
Lockitron’s Bolt Smart Lock
Last week there was interesting news from Lockitron, who announced they had halted shipments of its crowd funded Wi-Fi Lockitron smart lock and were launching a completely new smart lock in the form of the Bolt, a smart lock that relied on Bluetooth smart.
As I wrote for Forbes:
...and while the company would eventually ship the Wi-Fi enabled Lockitron to 10 thousand or so backers of its crowdfunding campaign, today it announced it was pulling the plug on the original device and would soon begin shipments of a next-generation Bluetooth-only smart lock called the Bolt. The company also created a separate Wi-Fi to Bluetooth bridge that will ship with the Bolt to enable remote connectivity via the Internet.
So why the shift? According to founder Cameron Robertson, it was, plain and simple, the Wi-Fi.
“We migrated to a BLE-only solution in Lockitron Bolt because fundamentally we couldn’t get around how power hungry Wi-Fi is in non-ideal circumstances and the substandard customer experience this creates,” Robertson told me via email. “With Bridge we eliminate the hard problem of Wi-Fi power management and give users instantaneous remote control over Bolt.”
The Lockitron Bolt
Overall its a bold move, but it looks like the company made the right move since the original Wi-Fi smart lock wasn’t working well. The move is part of a trend I’m seen in product decisions being made by makers of ultra-low power smart home devices to avoid Wi-Fi and go with Bluetooth (or classic low power home automation radios like Z-Wave). The acquisition of CSR, a low power Bluetooth specialist, by Qualcomm after the big chip company’s earlier evangelism (including at CES 2014) of Wi-Fi for the smart home showed me that even some of the big players heavily invested in Wi-Fi see Bluetooth as possibly becoming a more logical technology for ultra low power wireless.
The Takeaway: The big question is whether Bluetooth’s transition to a native IP, mesh wireless technology will happen fast enough to counter Wi-Fi’s efforts to become low power. Of course, companies like Roost are interesting bets on low power Wi-Fi and and the IEEE low power spec, 802.11ah, is expected to be finished in 2016, so the story isn’t completely written yet, but right now the momentum seems on Bluetooth’s side. All this said. I think both technologies have strong futures in the smart home and IoT, and it’s just a matter of which radio technology will win those sockets in ultra low power point products.
Allseen Alliance Changes IP Stance
Allseen recently changed its stance on IP, in large part as a reaction to the Open Interconnect Consortium’s more open IP policy (which they openly tout when comparing themselves to Allseen). The two organizations are trying to win acceptance among key companies in the consumer IOT, and one of the key sticking points is intellectual property rights. To get big companies to agree to submit IP and also use that submitted by others, a fairly clear and open policy is required, as is the ability to guarantee members they won’t become part of a legal action by adopting the technology.
SmartThings Joins Z-Wave Alliance
The Z-Wave Alliance announced that SmartThings (and by extension, Samsung) is now part of the Z-Wave Alliance as a principal and board member. Overall this is a nice addition for Z-Wave, which becomes just a little younger and hipper with the addition of one of the newer generation platforms. Of course, while companies like Qualcomm, Broadcom and Nest have been fairly open in their criticism of the older low-power home automation technologies as they try to push the connected home towards technology in their own portfolios, the reality of the situation is Z-Wave isn’t going anywhere, particularly given that the technology has only been picking up momentum. Mark Walters, chairman of the Z-Wave Alliance, told me that the there are a cumulative 35 million Z-Wave connections in the market, 10 million of which shipped in 2014, up from 8 million shipped in 2015. Clearly the growth curve for Z-Wave is still on the way up as overall smart home and IoT momentum continues.
GE Working With Wink To Connect Old Refrigerators
Gigaom broke the news that GE would be shipping out Wi-Fi modules to connect older GE refrigerator models to the Wink smart home system. The 20 thousand or so modules will connect into 2009 and newer GE models via the RJ45 port. An interesting wrinkle to this is that while it’s clear GE still continues to help wunderkind Quirky/Wink, the industrial conglomerate sold off its white goods business to Electrolux last fall, which likely means models in 2015 and beyond will, likely, be part of the Electrolux corporate umbrella. That said, Wink told me at CES that they are not ruling out working with Electrolux in the future given the smart home company’s preexisting relationship with the GE white goods division. And it should be noted that the Wink/Quirky relationship is much broader than just white goods, and I think GE still sees its relationship with the younger company as fairly important one (as evidenced by this news).
SmartThings Hires Google Employee To Run Dev Program
SmartThings has always talked about itself as an open platform, and it looks like it's continuing to invest in that post-Samsung acquisition. The company recently hired former Google employee Dora Hsu to lead its platform efforts. Good writeup by Stacy (who's been on fire recently) at Gigaom here.
It's encouraging to see SmartThings investing in its app platform. I think there are a significant number of app developers looking more closely at the smart home and IoT (as evidenced by the Application Developers Alliance recent push to raise awareness about the growing opportunity) and so it's good that the company is building out a more robust toolset and adding executive horsepower to the effort.
Allure Sues Honeywell Over Smart Thermostat IP
One sure sign a category is getting interesting is companies start suing one another, and this past week Allure sued Honeywell over its smart thermostat patents. According to Allure (as per Julie Jacobson's writeup at CEPro): “The technology at issue can detect whether users are home or away through their smartphones and automatically adjust its temperature settings based on the users’ distance from the home,” according to Allure. “The technology is a critical element of the emerging connected home industry, enabling home appliances, heating and air conditioning, and security systems to be controlled based on a user’s presence at or distance from the home.”
This will be an interesting one to watch. Clearly Allure chose to sue Honeywell instead of Nest, which means they felt their IP position was stronger relative to Honeywell.