Remember when Nest took an ordinary, utilitarian product that everyone has but nobody thinks about and turned it into a multi-billion-dollar business? And then it took a dull, annoying smoke detector, added some bells and whistles, doubled the price, and got people excited about a bulky white smoke detector that the government makes you stick on your ceilings?
Dumb Doorbells Get Smart
Well, the next stale technology to hit the big time is the doorbell, which has barely seen a makeover since it was invented more than 100 years ago. Sure, many super-tech households adopted front-door intercoms with NuTone consoles inside, consuming wall space the size of an iPad Pro. But the common residential “access control” system didn’t become cool until a couple of years ago when SkyBell and Ring (originally Doorbot) launched “smart” doorbells featuring video cameras, two-way voice, and apps.
Rejected on ABC’s “Shark Tank,” Ring went on to land a $28 million round of Series B funding led by Richard Branson in 2015.
For homeowners who would prefer to have a pro install a high-tech doorbell, Vivint, best known for its door-to-door sales of security and home automation systems, launched the Vivint Doorbell Camera in 2015 and sold more than 100,000 units in the first five months. The device, along with its companion cloud service, is the company’s best-selling product.
Soon Alarm.com, whose IoT technology powers Vivint, will launch its own doorbell camera, enabling more than 2.5 million subscribers to add the product to their existing service. The solution, which has not been announced publicly, will open new doors, so to speak, for thousands of dealers who install compatible security/automation panels from 2Gig, DSC, Interlogix, and Qolsys.
Front-door cameras go hand-in-hand with automated door locks, another growing category, especially in the new sharing economy. Airbnb recently launched Host Assist, a cloud service for managing digital key exchange and keyless entry through the company’s booking platform. Hosts need not worry about scheduling virtual keys for their guests. It’s all tied to their Airbnb account. Host Assist works cloud-to-cloud with locks from August, Danalock, Igloohome, Kevo, Keycafe, Lockstate, Miwa, Nest and Yale Locks.
Cool Features from Professionally Installed Options
In the past few years, virtually every major home control manufacturer has introduced VoIP (SIP) intercoms. More recently, they have been developing touchscreens and apps for enhanced A/V communications and monitoring.
Elan Home Systems, for example, has integrated new intercom features into the latest version of its home control software, and new dedicated touchscreens include cameras, microphones, and speakers to support two-way audio and visual communications, both locally and across remote networks. Elan pioneered the doorbell-interrupt feature for A/V distribution, and the company’s g1 controller can wake up the TV when someone rings the doorbell, and display live video from the front-door camera through the on-screen display. This type of functionality cannot be easily replicated with DIY solutions (although Echostar is trying with its new Sage automation system).
Also recently, RTI has enabled the intercom feature on its T3x remote, while Control4 announced its own video intercom system with a discrete camera that is treated like any other IP camera in the Control4 video surveillance ecosystem. Newcomers like Invixium and Comelit offer video intercoms, and Fibaro has arguably one of the sleekest-looking doorbell cameras of the bunch — a Wi-Fi- and Bluetooth-enabled unit with a 180-degree HD camera and HDR clarity, as well as two relay outputs for control of a door or gate.
Author Julie Jacobson, recipient of the 2014 CEA TechHome Leadership Award, is co-founder of EH Publishing, producer of CE Pro, Electronic House, Commercial Integrator, Security Sales and other leading technology publications. She currently spends most of her time writing for CE Pro in the areas of home automation, security, networked A/V and the business of home systems integration. Julie majored in Economics at the University of Michigan, spent a year abroad at Cambridge University, earned an MBA from the University of Texas at Austin, and has never taken a journalism class in her life. She’s a washed-up Ultimate Frisbee player currently residing in Carlsbad, Calif.