Smart Home Weekly: Bluetooth Mesh, Smart Kitchen, Xiaomi, Echo, Pebble, Icontrol

It's been one of those weeks in smart home where, while there were no big in-your-face smart home announcements, there were plenty of important developments on if you knew where to look.

And that's what we did here for you in the Smart Home Weekly for the week of March 2, 2015.

Before we get into it, just a couple things to mention:

  • If you're going to SXSW, make sure to stop by our smart home panel (the only official smart home panel at SXSW) and RSVP for the smart home party I'm throwing after with the folks from the Z-Wave Alliance. 
  • Subscribe to the Smart Home Weekly newsletter to stay ahead of the competition and follow NextMarket on Twitter to get early tips on stories I'll be covering for the week. 
  • Did you know NextMarket offers advisory and research services for smart home and IoT? We can help your company with market strategy, competitive positioning and also work with you to develop compelling thought leadership for these verticals in the form of webinars and custom research. Email us if you are interested in having a conversation.

Now onto this week's analysis:

Bluetooth Goes Mesh

Last week, the Bluetooth SIG announced on Tuesday the formation of the mesh working group, ending the long speculation about when the standards body would incorporate the technology.

It was good timing for me since I was scheduled to head out to Kirkland the following day to meet with the Mark Driscoll, the Executive Director of the SIG, Steve Hegenderfer, Director of Developer Programs, and Errett Kroeter, Senior Director of Marketing for the SIG. I knew with this group in the room, I could fire away with questions about mesh and the future of Bluetooth.

I wrote a piece for Forbes about Bluetooth Mesh, which could be found here, but the gist of the piece can be summed with the following few paragraphs:

"As Bluetooth Smart has injected new life into Bluetooth, many have began to see the technology, with its low power and pervasiveness, as one that could be one of the – if not the – dominant radio interface for the Internet of Things. However, there was a problem with this vision: the technology was still limited in range relative to others like Wi-Fi and didn’t have the mesh networking capabilities (which essentially extends range of a network by making every radio a range extender) like Zigbee and Z-Wave.

Soon the industry began to call for mesh networking within the Bluetooth spec. While companies like CSR (acquired recently by Qualcomm) created their own proprietary mesh technology, many believe the broader industry would only embrace Bluetooth mesh once it was part of the specification.

And so the same group that saw an opportunity to give new life to Bluetooth with Bluetooth Smart announced this week they had created the Bluetooth Mesh working group. The goal of the Bluetooth SIG is to make mesh networking an extension of Bluetooth Smart by 2016."

Most of my Forbes pieces are aimed for a business/tech generalist audience, but for you super smart & savvy Smart Home Weekly readers, here’s a little more in-depth and inside baseball stuff from my sit-down with the SIG:

  • The demand for a mesh spec has been enormous, as indicated by the working group’s size at the outset (80 companies).
  • Overall, the two areas generating excitement right now within Bluetooth are mesh and beacons, and the combination of those two together are seen as opening up entirely new use-cases in a number of areas such as first-responders, aging in place, automotive/driverless cars and so on. 
  • the Pro Tem head of the mesh working group is CSR, one of the companies who has been selling proprietary mesh silicon. However, the SIG representatives were careful to point out that the final smart mesh spec from the SIG will be based on contributions from multiple contributors, One possible other key contributor will be Seed Labs, which also has a proprietary mesh solution (see this article here).
  • The SIG is also considering other important advancements in the standard, including range. They expect that at some point increased range beyond the specified (but often exceed in real-world implementations) 32 feet will be incorporated into the core spec.
  • Some of the new applications we discussed enabled by Bluetooth going forward include first-responder and automotive. With first-responders, the ability of mesh to create instant, scalable and fault tolerant network that can work even in the absence of WAN/LTE connectivity. Automotive is already a very active vertical for Bluetooth with most new models putting BT into the head console, but the SIG envisions potential scenarios where Bluetooth in smart car/smart city networks that can enable crash-avoidance and assisted car/driverless car scenarios. 
  • The SIG hopes to finalize the mesh extension to the spec by late 2016, but they believe there will be silicon and solutions shipping before the spec is finalize that will be compliant with the spec through a field software upgrade (like we’ve seen in the past with 802.11x standard releases).

The Takeaway

With the Bluetooth SIG releasing an official spec, I expect the Bluetooth will increasingly become a key requirement for most smart home hub solutions going forward. The sheer pervasiveness of Bluetooth in mobile devices combined with the technology’s power profile compared to Wi-Fi and, now with mesh, makes the technology an even stronger candidate for IoT and smart home products going forward. This doesn’t even factor the the technology’s fairly scalable approach to software in GATT, which only makes the Bluetooth story more compelling.

Amazon Echo Becoming App Platform With SDK

I’ve been writing about Amazon’s smart home aspirations for the past year, and while the Fire TV was my initial favorite for a smart home control interface, this past week’s news of an SDK for the Amazon Echo has pushed the music streamer to the top of my list as Amazon’s entry point into the smart home.

Not that my original expectations that the FireTV as smart home controller were wrong, mind you, since sources within Amazon and would-be partners told me Bezos himself decided to pull back on the smart home capabilities of the first-gen Fire TV. And now, while I expect the Fire TV to incorporate some smart home smarts eventually, the Echo, with its voice control capabilities, makes perfect sense as a smart home control interface. Add in both Bluetooth and Wi-Fi and its easy for me to imagine services targeted at, say, security or aging-in-place built with an Amazon Echo as a core component.

The lazy analyst in all of us also points to the obviousness of commerce capabilities enabled by an Echo, but even lazy analysts get some things right. I can see lots of possibilities for new apps enabled by an SDK, both for consumables and other house-specific purchases, with an Echo. However, an SDK combined with Amazon could put the company in the driver’s seat when it comes to selling consumer services, whether those services are for entertainment content or for home-specific tasks. Imagine for a second a task marketplace like Taskrabbit integrated with the Amazon Echo: “Echo, please send over a plumber and order me some Drano while you’re at it."

The Takeaway

Amazon’s had a mixed record of technology product development, and outside of the Kindle hasn’t shown the ability to create a market leader in any device consumer device category. That said, the smart home is still fairly wide open and there will be many different doors into our lives - security, health, commerce, entertainment - through which a company enters the smart home. As the leading online retailer and the dominant way many of us - myself included - get pretty much every physical product delivered to our homes, Amazon is smart to invest in developing in the white space of voice command interfaces for the home, especially before Apple brings Siri into our homes as connected home command interface via HomeKit.

The Smart Kitchen Is Heating Up As Smart Home Segment

Here at NextMarket, we were the first (and probably only) analyst firm following the smart kitchen (we published our smart kitchen report in November), so if you’ve been with us all long you’d by now you know we were onto something (especially if you watched the Today show this morning, which mentioned our study). .There lots going on in the space, and here are a few companies I’ve seen over the past week or two:
  • Pure Imagination LLC, a maker of connected scales and drink mixers, hasreceived a patent for its smart scale device. The company has a "patented system (that) connects a smart scale to a smart device – wirelessly or wired – allowing for communication between the scale and the device to ensure the perfect combination of ingredients every time.”  The IP looks to center around the connection of a scale to a device such as an iPad and for calculation of ingredient scaling to maintain recipe ratios.
  • The Neo smart jar, which I highlighted last week, is a connected dry food container with volumetric sensors.
  • The AppKettle connected kettle. The patented system is app connected, allowing for remote shut off, scheduling of heating, monitoring of volume measurement, and more.  The device is coming to Kickstarter on March 31st. 
The Takeaway
There’s lots more going on in this space, including big white goods makers like LG and Bosch continuing to invest in connected appliances. We forecast the market to be a $10 billion market by 2020 across all the various categories, and it looks like big companies as well as entrepreneurs are beginning to take notice.
I expect that HomeKit could give another boost to this budding segment of the smart home.  The iPad is one of the drivers of the connected kitchen over the past few years, and with integration of a smart home framework it will be interesting to see where this space goes once Apple’s smart home framework takes hold.

Xiaomi Positioning Themselves As Smart Home Platform With Module/Cloud

We’ve written in the past about Xiaomi’s smart home plans - much of which initially seemed positioned as the tip of the spear for a North American market entry - but this week at Mobile World Congress they announced a new lineup of products, based on Marvell’s IoT chipset and their Kinoma software suite, that appears to show Xiaomi moving into the smart home platform marketplace. 
The PR released by Xiaomi talks of a smart home module built around Marvell’s silicon, which leverages the Kinoma software and ties into the Xiaomi cloud. The company has created some of their own devices - including a smart air purifier - but they are positioning their module (again, built using Marvell silicon) combined with their cloud as an offering for third party providers. 
The Takeaway
This could be a big deal. Xiaomi is a big-big player in mobility, and now they are looking to become a platform to power third party devices in the IoT space.  While they haven’t figured out the smart home or IoT yet, I think that this it’s probably just a matter of time for this fast growing player.  This move also makes me wonder if this is the beginning of an answer to Apple’s HomeKit and Google’s Works With Nest platforms.

Icontrol Readying Competitor

Icontrol, the white label smart home platform company behind offerings like Comcast Xfinity Home and ADT’s Pulse smart home, is readying a new offering for independent security dealers -'s sweet spot - called Icontrol One.
Julie Jacobson has a piece which goes into some nice historical detail about Icontrol and the evolution of the company’s service, as well as the rise of some alternatives to Icontrol such as Telguard Home Control. She also details one key motivation for Icontrol, which is the sunset of 2G wireless and the ensuing replacement of security panels.  
The Takeaway
I will be talking to Icontrol to get more details about Icontrol One in coming weeks and should have more thoughts soon. Until then, I’d say it makes sense that Icontrol is looking to expand its market reach outside of their core market which has historically been large service providers and established security service providers like ADT. There is lots of flux right now in the connected home platform space and I think we’ll see some churn as consumer-facing security providers continuously evaluate their back-end enabling platforms, and Icontrol will be both on the winning and losing side of that process depending on which ways the RFPs land.  Icontrol One is one way to win business in a a new segment of the market.

Quick Takes

Kevo, the smart lock from Kwikset based on the Unikey platform, has pushed its Android app out of beta. It was a big deal when Android finally got its Bluetooth Smart act together enough for Unikey and its team to create an Android app (The Kevo had been iOS only for most of its existence), but the downside to Android’s fragmented nature across a multitude of smartphone models is that only certain models have Android 5.0/Lollipop (the latest Android rev), meaning only those phones can use the Kevo app for Android.
I have a less-than-year-old HTC One M8, a pretty cutting edge Android model when it was released, and I’m still stuck on Android 4.4, meaning I still can’t use the app.  According to the Unikey blog, the devices currently compatible with the Kevo Android app include mainly Samsung’s latest product models, including the Galaxy S5.
Pebble’s killing it over on Kickstarter with their new Time smart watch, but lost in all the shuffle was the mention way down their Kickstarter page that they will be creating an “Bluetooth Low Energy API" to enable control Bluetooth Low Energy (AKA Bluetooth Smart) enabled devices.  
Specifically, here’s what they said: "(Later in 2015) Bluetooth Low Energy API. Use Pebble to control BLE-enabled objects"
I’ve been somewhat obsessed with smart watch control in the smart home ever since I created the first panel on that specific topic at CES 2014, but now it seems everyone is jumping on board. Put this together with Tim Cook’s recent mentions of the Apple Watch being a key control interface for things like automobiles, and I expect you’ll see some serious advancement in the wearable space around integration with smart home and the broader IoT market this year. 
That's it. Subscribe if you want this newsletter in your mailbox, and follow NextMarket on Twitter or join our Smart Home Group on Linkedin for an early head's up of stories we're following each week. 


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