But Choose Your Suppliers Carefully
12 March 2014
by Loren W
One of the next new big things in technology is home automation and the connected home. Home automation is not new it has been tried for decades with little success. This was mainly due to the lack of affordable hardware and wireless speeds and cost to allow an affordable viable solution for the consumer. With countless global suppliers like Belkin, Google, Apple, AT&T all investing heavily in what we do at home, it is not for the fainthearted with the likes of Verizon recently realizing its money and time was best sent elsewhere ceasing new sales last October 2013 in the USA. However at CES2014 the consumer show of all shows, the DIY market for home innovation is growing so fast it is hard to keep up and separate some of the innovation with novelties and junk.
However there is an emerging number of winners and a horizon full of losers. Here are some thoughts.
· Google recently bought a company called Nest for $3.2B they currently make thermostats and smoke alarms and combined with Google’s language recognition it is the strongest sign yet that home automation is becoming fashionable or soon will be. A logical step that is not too far reaching is a connected home with connected wearable technology.
· Apple as recently as late 2013 patented new technology that uses data from your current phones, tablets and even credit cards to inform systems and your home of more data about where you are just to turn devices off and on for you.
· SmartThings a new start-up company, in 2013 went looking for public funding of $250,000 to launch a new standard suite of apps that talked to multiple devices. They received $1.2m, showing the interest in home automation.
· One DIY Home Improvement Store in the USA Lowes, (part owner of Masters Home Improvement in Australia), even showed off their own IRIS system earlier this year offering everything from automated controls of devices, email and text alerts, monitoring to your mobile device even voice activation via your mobile phone apps, even smart doggy doors, plant watering, even control blinds at automatic times, allowing another standard.
Choosing a Safe Home Automation Supplier / Installer
The best suppliers will be those that offer better products, services, management, and with home automation moving to the cloud, offering to minimize any security issues.
Recently, Belkin a supplier of home automation products that makes a system called the WeMO, had 5 vulnerabilities highlighted in the US by (FEMA-CERT) The Federal Emergency Management Agency Computer Emergency Readiness Team. It was discovered that this impacted 500,000 devices that offered a vulnerability that could result in anything from a fire to a waste of electricity. Belkin updated their products with firmware last week.
This shows off the big picture that where the cloud or Internet is used, then security has to be paramount to prevent hackers. Any Internet network needs specialized testing (Pen Testing) that works as a preventative measure. This is used internally for banks, government connections and all Internet services.
Depending on what you want to connect, some devices might not talk to other devices. To get past this standards like ZigBee uses a suite of standards (or communication protocols) allowing multiple types of devices from different manufacturers to talk to each other, using low power, and good 128 bit encryption for security. Unfortunately, there are many different standards that only support some services, or devices making upgradeability potentially problematic.
What makes a good home automation service?
Simply, it depends on what you are looking to automate, but that said some simple things to consider;
· Can I or do I want to install this myself.
· What is the ongoing running cost?
· Can the system be expanded if needs change, what can and cannot be added?
· How long has the supplier been in business?
· What happens if something goes wrong (support / warranty etc)
· If security is involved is this part of their business or just a side line.
· Is it user friendly?
· Can it be used via my tablet or smartphone over the Internet?
· Do you need any updates to your home Internet / Wireless?
· If security alarms are tied into this who will be monitoring the service (in case of a break in or false alarm)?
· How customizable is the service
· Will my service play nice with other systems?
The Wrong Supplier?
Soon everyone will be getting into the connected home.
A logical step will be home security companies like Swann and AAPT. These sorts of companies
look good on paper but suffer from a few major flaws for themselves and potential problems for the consumer.
- Not being independent – only supplying their own products /
- Not being able to innovate – by supplying their own products in such as fast developing marketplace,
they are hindering their own growth, and disadvantaging consumers. For the retailer carrying these products they will also be limited.
- Too limited in range of product- Any company that is currently focused in one element of the connected home (like security systems), has created their own problems adding to their key line will likely hinder their key products and be a waste of time and money.
Out priced – All this means not being able to offer the vast range of affordable products and solutions hitting the market place with speed. Instead they will be bringing over priced products that will cost the consumer more and be quickly outdated.
Winners on Price and Selection – Google & Apple for multiple reasons; distribution (Apple Stores and online), consumers will feel less comfortable buying from others online, and that is the only way they will compete. Also because they will be able to innovate or appear to be by adding and removing products fast.
Who else – Microsoft and your incumbent Telco, Microsoft because they are already in your own solidly with the Xbox but perhaps not soon. Your local Telco / ISP because they already have you connected with Wi-Fi, Telstra and iiNet have already announced home automation plans, 3rd Party suppliers like Belkin will also continue to offer low cost versatile products that can easily be added to your connected home.
For the Geeks – Raspberry Pi may sound delicious, but it is also a credit card size computer that is being used to power many things but is also finding a home in the home automation. Though perhaps not as refined yet as many products, it may well shape the next generation of the connected home.
The connected home is here to stay, the advent of less expensive hardware, new low power requirements of the technology, less expensive faster Internet and the major buy in large global players means the opportunities have never been faster paced or exhilarating. I cannot see what happens next, these truly are exciting times.