NextMarket Report: Apple's Echo, Platform Fatigue, Eero and Pebble Core


There's been lots of interesting smart home news this week, including a report of a new Echo-like device from Apple, a new smart water joint venture from Belkin and, perhaps most surprisingly, a new crowdfunding campaign for a do-anything button from wearable pioneer Pebble.   

On the rumor front, The Information had a report about Apple creating a device to put, as my friends at HomeTech.FM would say, "Siri in a Can". If the report is true, I'm glad that Apple finally appears to be doing something new in the connected home, but also have to wonder if the company's falling behind in key areas like AI have relegated Apple to becoming a fast-follower instead of a true innovator.

On the deal front, eero announced another round of funding for its distributed Wi-Fi system. The idea of creating a whole-home mesh Wi-Fi network is a good one, particularly as we begin to reach the limits of what you can do with MIMO and higher-end speeds for Wi-Fi in routers. 

Other interesting news came in the form of a new smart water spinout from Belkin. We recently published a report on Smart Irrigation, citing many of the same trends highlighted as a rationale for the new company such as the increasing need to focus on water conservation in draught stricken areas of the country.

Lastly, wearable pioneer Pebble announced their latest line of smartwatches, as well as an intriguing new connected IoT device that could act as a smart home do-anything button.

I have analysis on all of these stories in our weekly wrap up below, as well as a longer piece about the success of simplicity in smart home over more complicated platform products. 

If you are interested in our Smart Kitchen Summit, we are in the final days of early-early bird pricing, so now is the time to get tickets if you want to get the lowest possible price. 

Now onto the analysis:

The Apple Echo? Apple Trying To Find Its Footing In a Post-Mobile World

This week the Information published a report indicating Apple may be working on a competitor to Amazon's Echo.

Seeing the news yesterday morning, I tweeted my thoughts about Apple becoming something of a fast-follower in a post-mobile world, to which IHS analyst Lee Ratliff asked: Post-mobile era or post-Jobs era? 

It's a fair question, and since a tweet's 140 characters leave little room for context, let me use the more expansive format of a blog to explain what I mean: While the world of computing is decidedly mobile today, the epicenter of new technology innovation has moved beyond mobile devices like smartphones to the things and systems that surround us, new interfaces with which to access those things, and the AI and machine learning layers being built into and around those things. In other words, the ground has shifted dramatically since the launch of the iPhone nearly a decade ago, and it's a world in which Apple has yet to find their footing. Read More

For Smart Home Startups, It's No Longer About Platforms, But Simplicity

Back in 2014, everyone in the smart home space wanted to be the platform. Companies from Lowes to Staples to SmartThings to Wink aimed to create the do-it-all smart home system that consumers would buy to control everything from lights to locks and just about anything else. But a funny thing happened on the way to mass market adoption: Consumers don't actually go looking to buy platforms. What do they buy instead? Products that they can understand and solve a clear need. Read More

Belkin Launches Smart Water Joint Venture Called Phyn

The Gist: Belkin announced a new joint venture with Uponor, a "leading international systems and solutions provider for safe drinking water delivery, energy-efficient radiant heating and cooling, and reliable infrastructure". Belkin will own 65% of the new company, which will focus on developing "intelligent water solution that protects families and their homes from leak damage, enables mindful conservation, and enhances household water usage with automated and anticipatory controls." Uponor will invest $15 million into the joint venture.

Our Take: With our recently completed report on smart irrigation, we have been increasingly focused at NextMarket on the opportunity to apply smart technology to better manage what is an increasingly distressed resource.  While there's been a strong emphasis on home energy management due in part to a subsidy-incented government push in the 2007-8 time frame and strong hero products from companies like Nest with their learning thermostat, there hasn't been an analog in the water management side. In short, it's been an underserved opportunity. 

Belkin has been quietly developing this technology for some time, and given the lack of any clear leaders in this space, it makes sense for them to partner with a company such as Uponor and to give it the additional focus a spinout like this brings. It's also been a fairly well known secret for some time in the smart home space that Belkin has been looking for new capitalization, so this effort likely brings that to both the entity as well as Belkin proper with the new cash injection from Uponor. 

Pebble Debuts A New Do-Anything Button and Tracker With Core

The Gist: Pebble launched a new round of products, which in addition to a refresh of their signature smartwatch lineup, also included an intriguing new simple connected device called the Core. The Core comes in two flavors called the Pebble Core - which is a fitness oriented wearable - and the Core for Hackers. The Core comes with Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, GPS and 3G built in.

Our Take: One of the most intriguing aspects of the Core is the ability to connect with with a variety of third party services such as Spotify or Uber. The device has two programmable buttons, essentially turning it into a simple do-anything button device that can be used to either start a connected service, order a product, etc. The device can also be a simple tracker, which can be put on a pet's collar or in a child's backpack. 

I've made it pretty clear that I think the physical interface is just as important in a connected future as are things such as voice, and this device is an interesting Swiss-Army knife hardware product that could be an interesting way for smart home product and connected home service companies to engage and interact around their products. It's also a nice diversification play for Pebble, who has lost some of its early shine as a pioneering wearable company in the face of increased competition from Apple and Samsung.  

Eero, Maker Of Whole Home Wi-Fi System, Gets $50 Million Funding Round

The Gist: Eero, the maker of a Wi-Fi mesh networking system that consists of multiple mesh access points, announced they had raised another $50 million and that they wll begin selling the product through Best Buy.

Our Take: Wi-Fi consumer infrastructure has become sexy again, with Eero and others like Luma bringing new approaches that migrate away from single, centralized home routers. While the Wi-Fi industry tried to solve the dead-spot issue with increased range over the past decade through advances like MIMO, the reality is even the best home routers with the most advanced multi-antenna radios and latest chipsets can't provide adequate whole-home coverage. If you're like me you've tried repeaters and find the experience less-than-satisfactory, so I think the idea of bringing mesh to home Wi-Fi is a good new approach. At this point I'm wondering when, if any, of the old-school home router and Wi-Fi infrastructure players are going to answer with their own mesh networking offering or look to buy one of the upstarts such as Eero or Luma. 

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