Attack of the 50-foot smart home companies
Connected devices used to be the province of small start-ups pushing the edge of consumer electronics. But they’ve begun to attract the attention of some rather larger operations.
Here is a short video showing off what a state-of-the-art smart home full of connected smart devices might look like. You’re probably familiar with the things the setup can do, like allow remote mobile phone users see via a Webcam the person who happens to be standing on the front porch ringing the doorbell.
What might surprise you about the video is who made it: Not one of the new “connected device” startups who are often associated with the smart home movement, but instead, one of the biggest technology companies of them all: Microsoft.
It turns out the software giant has a large and active smart home research project which it calls HomeOS; it spans both Microsoft itself as well as its separately-organized Microsoft Research operation. The linked video shows Microsoft engineer Ratul Mahajan putting a mobile phone-connected mock living room in Microsoft’s research labs through its paces: door locks, lights, room cameras and all the rest.
Microsoft’s commitment to smart homes and connected devices that take advantage of mobile phone technology is increasingly common at the tech industry’s big players. All of them realize the significance of the coming shift to mobile-controlled connected home devices, and all of them want to be in on the action.
The developer support efforts for connected devices by Apple, for example, include the company’s MFi Program, which is targeted at third parties planning products that link with the company’s iPhones and iPads. Apple has been evangelizing the new rev of Bluetooth, called Bluetooth Smart, as an easy and effective way of using iPhone and iPads for smart home devices, especially those involving medical monitoring.
Google’s version of the smart home program for its Android mobile platform is called Android@Home, and was announced last year at an industry event that included a demonstration of what was said to be the first wireless-aware light bulb. Google’s vision for Android@Home will be familiar to anyone who’s spent any time at all following the connected home movement. One reporter wrote that with the help of the new service, “some day in the future, you could control home appliances — your dishwasher, the heating system, the lights in your house — using your Android device as a remote control.”
And Cisco has announced Cisco Connect Cloud, its effort to make its popular Linksys brand of home wireless routers the hub for a new breed of smart home devices. Cisco promises more details about the program later this summer.
Several conclusions can be reached from all of this activity. The first is that there shouldn’t be much doubt about the direction of home electronics. In not too many years, just about any home device costing more than a few dozen dollars is going to be wirelessly-enabled, and will have a mobile app that is an integral part of the consumer experience for the product.
Second, the fact that different companies — many of them competitors — are pursuing different paths towards the smart home doesn’t mean that device makers have to fret about picking the one company and approach that is going to be the “winner.” The cloud is a great equalizer; once your device is transmitting data online, it’s an easy matter of funneling that data to whatever other part of the Web it needs to get to.
In addition, this is another instance where competition will be good for both consumers and device companies; all these big tech giants will be trying to out-innovate the other, and each will work quickly to catch up with something a rival has done. That means a bigger, richer smart home ecosystem.
Finally, prospective smart home vendors should take heart from the fact that increasingly, the hard problems involved with connected devices are being solved by other people. We at Arrayent proudly include ourselves in this group, since we relieve you of having to worry about the details involved with actually getting your device online. Come up with a great design for whatever it is you are making. We’ll take it from there, with some help from the likes of Microsoft, Apple and Google.
By: Shane Dyer, President of Arrayent