A Quick Primer on Smart Homes

July 30, 2013 Greg Burgoon

Imagine if your house knew how to turn off the air conditioning when you weren’t home. With products like Nest, this is possible – and this is just a small part of a growing technology. Projected by Juniper Research to grow in value to $60 billion by 2017, the smart home is just starting to gain momentum. Retailers like Lowe’s are jumping into the connected home movement.

It’s undeniable that technology is becoming integrated into the home. I’d like to highlight two particular strategies that I’m seeing two very different companies take, to make the smart home become a reality.

A Tale of Two Strategies

It makes sense that technology giant Microsoft is contributing to the smart home. Their project, HomeOS, is being developed in their research facilities and in university environments (in the hopes that the universities will be able to add input and create value for the platform). Essentially, HomeOS is exactly what it sounds like: an operating system for the home.

Then, there’s SmartThings. SmartThings first gained momentum on Kickstarter when it raised over a million dollars to create a completely open platform for home automation. Essentially, the platform would be available for other developers to use and develop upon, but supported heavily by SmartThings.

Both of these platforms, as most home automation services, rely heavily on mobile devices for connecting with the user. Essentially, mobile devices will be the medium users rely on to control home automation.

What’s the Difference?

The beauty of SmartThings is its openness, in that anybody can contribute to it. The company itself also manufactures the hardware (e.g., components, sensors, cameras). That means homeowners taking the first steps into home automation can go to one place and get the software, hardware, and support they need and SmartThings can help out as necessary. SmartThings is already shipping in the real-world.

In contrast, Microsoft’s HomeOS is still completely research-based. At the moment, it’s still very much exclusively a part of the Windows ecosystem. As such, it looks as though HomeOS is targeting Windows Phone for mobile. The problem is that Microsoft has a small percentage of the mobile market share. At the moment, it’s all confined within the Microsoft ecosystem.

Right now, it seems as though Microsoft still sees the smart home purely as a concept, whereas SmartThings is making it more of a reality – and gaining a ton of exposure and momentum as they do it.

How Smart Homes will Become a Reality

Currently, home automation is targeted either towards wealthy homeowners who can pay companies to do the work for them, or savvy developers who can tinker with home automation on their own. One of the biggest obstacles that a homeowner faces is she has to put a lot of thought into what she wants to automate, what the platform’s capabilities are, and many other technical details. It’s out of reach for the average consumer from a financial and a technical perspective, putting the onus on the providers to make it affordable and easy.

From my perspective, the ideal situation would be for a homeowner to have one file that stores all the home automation information for her home. Then, she could go into a retail location or send a file to a company (e.g., Microsoft or SmartThings), and have support staff implement the home behaviors or modifications that she wants. Essentially companies would be eliminating another barrier to entry (figuring out how/what to be automated), making it easier for consumers to get into home automation.

The infrastructure for smart homes is already available in the real world (and in incubators of companies). Once the setup and installation (or onboarding) process is simplified, smart homes will really come of age and take the world by storm. Whether it comes in the form of an open platform or a closed ecosystem remains to be seen, but I’m willing to bet my money on the former.


Connect with Greg on LinkedIn.

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