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).
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.
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."
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.
- 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.