This is the smart home weekly for the week of February 22, 2015.
Stories I look at this week include the possibility of HomeKit missing its mark, ADT's attempt to separate the security men from the boys with a new ad campaign, Bosch's continued growth in IoT and smart home, and the rant about Nest Protect from a Google employee.
You may notice I'm trying something new with the newsletter. Normally I combine all the week's stories in one post, but that means the newsletter gets pretty long and each story doesn't have its own link. While I am still going to have a unified weekly post with all the stories (you're reading that now), I've also decided to post each individually with its own link. Links to each individual story are at the end of the story. But again, if you like the single newsletter with all the stories in one post, don't worry. Those will continue.
Also, we are sending out invites to the SXSW Rocks The Smart Home mixer this week. Since I don't know who is going to SXSW, I've decided not to blast my entire list with an evite (I am very respectful of my subscribers email inbox and consider your subscription to the newsletter as an honor!), so if you are not sent an invite and would like to come, please email me. Smart home industry folks and fanatics are given first priority (I say that because I've started to get random requests for invites from SXSW party hoppers).
Lastly, if you haven't subscribed to the newsletter via email, please do. Also, after a break last week, we'll have more Smart Home Shows this week.
I wrote a piece for Forbes asking the question, what if HomeKit fails? It’s not something I think is altogether likely, but given the Herculean task of aligning all the various agendas, technologies and product ecosystems that Apple is trying to bring together with HomeKit, there’s a chance that HomeKit could disappoint when it’s released in the coming months.
In the piece, I outlined four possible reasons for a less-than-satisfying launch for Apple’s smart home framework:
HomeKit Doesn’t Make The Smart Home Simpler: Apple’s motivation behind HomeKit is it wants to make iOS devices the central control point for the smart home. In other words, make switching costs to another operating system even higher. Most of us are ok with locking ourselves further into the Apple ecosystem, but a part of the bargain is that we get something in return. If Apple’s effort here is something akin to, let’s say, iTunes for most of the past decade (a pretty clunky piece of software), then there’s a chance it could actually be more difficult and consumers decide to stay away.
Apple Brings Closed Approach To A Market In Need of Openness: Apple likes to own the “full stack”, which often means creating their own ecosystem and inviting others to join. In the smart home, such an approach is impossible since openness and interoperability across various device types is required. Apple likely can create a de facto standard with HomeKit, but ultimately it needs to play nice with other technologies (as it has shown it is doing with Insteon).
Reliance On Siri Proves Annoying: It’s clear that HomeKit will make fairly extensive use of Siri, but most voice control integrations with our in-home lives so far have proven either super annoying (read Xbox One’s Kinect voice commands) or not ready for primetime (like Amazon’s Echo). Siri is further along than both of these with iOS, but I’m not entirely convinced Apple will get a voice-controlled home right out of the gate.
HomeKit Proves Too Limited: From what I’ve heard, Apple has had quite a steep learning curve with the smart home. There are a significant number of moving parts and the industry’s evolving very quickly, so it’s probably right to expect the first version of HomeKit will be fairly limited in nature compared to what the vision eventually calls for. But if the goods delivered don’t meet the high expectations and deliver consumers, the high burden Apple is putting on HomeKit partners could cause some to see the price of entry as too high and pull support.
I think Apple and HomeKit will likely grow awareness of the smart home and bring the mass market into home automation. However, Apple can't perform miracles, and like in the TV space, where it’s been nearly a decade and Apple still hasn’t solved the equation, there’s no guarantee the company can wave a magic wand and “solve” the smart home.(story link)
So did you really think ADT was going to take all this DIY security action sitting down?
The country’s biggest residential security services company is fighting back, and that includes a new national TV ad campaign which asks the question, “What good is a smart home, if it’s not a safe home?"
The campaign, which features Pulp Fiction tough guy actor Ving Rhames, highlights the smart home features available from ADT such as touch screen control, but it packs the biggest punch around its messaging around security features. Essentially the company is suggesting that while smart home features may be nice, safety starts with monitored security.
The ads are running on AMC and TNT and are intended to show the difference between monitored security like that from ADT and those solutions that are more DIY. As ADT spokesperson Jason Shockley told Marketing Daily, “We recognized a problem brewing in the Internet of Things and the category in which consumers are mistaking their smart home for a safe home. With our new campaign, we address this issue and highlight that anything less than monitored security is a false sense of security.”
First off, there’s no doubt ADT recognizes the threat DIY and new lower priced security solutions represent to their business, and this campaign is a clear indication of that. Secondly, the message could actually be a fairly effective one, pointing out that there are clear differences between lower cost solutions that purport to be security and those that include call center-based monitoring and professional installation.
At some level however, it might not mean much. The reason is I think there will always be a market for monitored security and the biggest threat to ADT and other traditional monitored security service providers’ core business isn’t retail based DIY solutions, but instead lower-priced monitored security from broadband service providers like Comcast, Time Warner and AT&T. (story link)
If there ever was a quiet giant in the broader IoT and smart home, it’s Bosch. The company first started rolling up IoT software startups in 2008 and just last year announced a joint venture with Cisco and ABB around a smart home open source initiative.
And now the company adds to its portfolio with the acquisition of Prosyst. The move gives Bosch the leading provider of OSGI solutions, a connected devices services framework that was a part of the first connected home wave back in 1999-2000. OSGI, which is based on Java, has since become an important application and services software stack in fixed residential as well as mobile space, and now Bosch can add 100 or so OSGI engineers to the group which is responsible for the Bosch IoT suite.
While we don’t hear as much about European-centric initiatives in the states, Bosch and others have quietly been putting significant effort into creating open source software for IoT and smart home for some time. Bosch has been a major contributor to the Eclipse open source IoT efforts, and Eclipse has subsumed the OpenHAB open source smart home initiative as the Eclipse Smart Home Project. When you connect all the dots, including Bosch’s partnership with Cisco/ABB, you might be see the makings of a formidable player in the smart home/IoT software space. (story link)
If you’re Brad Fitzgerald, you're probably pretty confident in your job stability to do what he did last week. Fitzgerald, a Google staff software engineer, posted a video of the Nest Protect alarm and said the product is terribly buggy.
He went on: "“Do NOT buy a Nest smoke alarm. They false alarm and are unhushable pieces of crap… This went off in my house all day, annoying my neighbors. When I got the Android notification that my house was burning down I immediately assumed it was false, since my Nests had already cried wolf before. I also checked video cameras and saw my house wasn’t actually burning down, so I stayed at work. My poor neighbors, though.”
Now being a founder of LiveJournal and Chief Architect at Six Apart - both fairly seminal blogging CMS platforms - will give you some street cred at a place like Google, but nonetheless the criticism probably drove Tony Fadell and the Nest team absolutely crazy and no doubt led to some heated email exchanges and phone calls.
That said, this type of post from a Google employee shows that Nest is still dealing with a significant problem with Nest Protect, which gave the company a black eye last year when they had to issue a recall due to some advanced gesture recognition technologies that could lead to the alarm being disabled. It also makes one wonder if the Nest Protect fiasco has slowed down the Nest innovation engine since the company hasn’t put out any new products since the acquisition.
While the Nest thermostat continues to plug along and Nest grows its ecosystem through Works With Nest, it’s clear the company had a major setback with Nest Protect. Advanced feature sets in lifeline products like smoke alarms might be risky, and I expect Nest might be a little more conservative next time around. Also, this news combined with that of discord within the ranks on the Dropcam team makes one wonder if there is some internal issues that Nest has to deal with. It also makes it doubly important that Tony Fadell’s recent expansion of responsibility with Google Glass doesn’t mean he takes his eye of the Nest ball anytime soon. (story link)
There wasn’t a whole lot more news in a quiet week, so let’s take a look at some interesting smart home startups shall we?
Neo Smart Jar
I’ve been following the increasingly active smart kitchen space, and so Neo’s smart jar is intriguing to me. While the smart jar doesn’t have actual food molecular sensors, it does allow you to track volume and freshness dates (even if that requires some level of user word with barcode scans and occasional data entry).
It reminds me a little of the Vessyl, but the Vessyl drink scanner has both volumetric and molecular sensors. Either way, the Neo smart jar is at 60% of its Indiegogo target and, if the company can deliver on its promises, hardware should ship in November.
Hive Hits Target
The Hive smart home hub and smart speaker hit its fairly modest target on Kickstarter and is expected to ship to backers in May. The short time frame on shipment is a good sign to me, as long lead times before shipment likely means the team hasn't done any any early production samples and may even be pre-prototype stage. Hive is intriguing in that it combines a fairly sensor rich hub (Z-Wave, Zigbee, BT, Wi-Fi) and a speaker system with voice interface (though voice appears to be mainly interaction with first responders in the initial roll out).
In addition to a smart home system, the Hive is positioned to be a DIY security system and streaming entertainment system. While it's getting somewhat crowded in the market, Hive's speaker system is an interesting differentiator.
Flooid Toilet Monitor
While it's fairly limited in function, I have to mention the Flooid, since yes, it's a toilet water monitor. Ok, that's a bit weird, but I do have to give these guys some credit since I do think the water network in the home is one of the next big areas of innovation around smart home. I know in the past I've known my toilet had an issue with a faulty flapper because, well, my water bill went up. This device looks to be targeted at landlords/REITs or other rental property owners, but I could also see some value here for people with multiple homes. The trick would be ensuring battery life and the product being low-cost enough for a single family home owner to make it worth buying it vs. simply monitoring the water usage on your bill. (story link)