Mass Market Home Control, Again
Is the Internet of Things going to change everything?
August 19, 2013 by Grant Clauser

Is the mass market ready to embrace home automation? We’ve heard this before, and even seen small bursts of enthusiasm around DIY smart home products or home control systems.

NEST thermostats made internet-connected HVAC seem cool. SONOS made multiroom audio easy, and several companies, such as Dropcam and iZon made it easy to see which of your dogs is responsible for the mess on the rug. All of those systems are fairly easy to setup, use and live with. They all use wireless communication and some level of cloud-connectivity to make the magic happen.

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A couple of weeks ago we shared news about a system called Revolv, which includes multiple wireless protocols to integrate a wide range of device brands (including Sonos, Philips Hue, Belkin WeMo, and more).

What most of those simple systems lack is integration. At Electronic House we like to tell people that smart integration—getting all your devices and home systems to play nicely in the same sandbox—is the key role of professionally-installed and programmed control system. The DIY alternative is, usually, a smartphone full of apps that can’t communicate with each other (and no one to call for tech support). Is that going to change soon? Mike Harris thinks so.

Harris is the founder of Zonoff, a company that’s developed a software platform that could make it easier for anyone to integrate a wide variety of devices through a smartphone or tablet (which sounds very similar to what Revolv is promising). Currently Zonoff’s work can be found in Somfy’s TaHoma system that combines powered shades, lighting and temperature control through one app. Later this year another product using Zonoff will be launching at retail (more details to come, I’m promised).

While a lot of these technologies seem new to most consumers, Harris, a veteran of several consumer electronics companies, has been watching this space evolve for a while. “I’ve been a hobbyist in it for 15 years,” he says, but now he believes the mass market is ready to accept it due to a lot of factors, notably the rise of smart devices and the development of low-cost wireless standards, such as Z-Wave, Zigbee and Wi-Fi. 

Also, there’s the price. Professionally installed systems can cost thousands. Most of the wirelessly connected devices that Harris wants to connect cost a few hundred dollars or less.

What might this new world of mass market automation look like? “Any always-on internet-connected device can be a platform for the home control engine,” says Harris. The key, he says, is to support a wide range of platforms and devices so it’s easy for consumers to purchase the separate products they want (such as security cameras, motion sensors, light switches) and be confident that they’ll work. “We need to go where the products are.”

Harris noted that individual products such as the NEST, SONOS and Dropcam, have been successful in getting the attention of early adopters “but those devices are silos,” he says. When devices can communicate and act together, rather than as separate systems, then the overall user experience is better.

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Grant Clauser - Technology and Web Editor, Electronic House
Grant Clauser has been covering home electronics for more than 10 years with editorial roles in several consumer and trade magazines. He's done ISF-level damage to hundreds of reviewed products and has had training from THX, the Home Acoustics Alliance, Control4 and Sencore. His latest book is Necessary Myths. Follow him on Twitter @geclauser.

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