Microsoft is betting on the future of the smart home, and it's hoping to discover that future within its own ranks. Earlier this summer, the company announced plans to launch a start-up accelerator focused specifically on home automation and the Internet of Things. It was a move made partly in an attempt to compete with Apple and Google, both of which have made significant strides in home automation. It's also a simple acknowledgement of a market that's expected to double in size over the next five years. This past week, Microsoft announced the 10 start-ups that will participate in the accelerator program, which will run from September to December of this year on Microsoft's Redmond, Wash., campus. The chosen outfits were selected from a pool of more than 400 candidates. "The goal of this Accelerator is simple: to help a new generation of companies create smarter and safer homes," said Steven Guggenheimer, chief evangelist at Microsoft Developer Experience, in a statement. "We share the belief that over time the home automation trend will fundamentally change how we interact with and manage our homes — making them more efficient, communicative and ultimately safer." Full List:
For most of its brief existence, the modern smart home has offered a frustratingly fragmented user experience. A maze of competing, proprietary ecosystems has forced consumers to pick a "side" (be it Staples Connect, Lowes Iris, Quirky Wink, or Belkin WeMo) and sacrifice otherwise attractive products on the altar of compatibility. Some see a potential solution in IFTTT (If This Then That), a free service that gives websites, apps, and devices a simple way to interact with one another. Major brands—including Philips, Nest, and even Belkin and Quirky—have already made their products compatible with IFTTT. This week home security giant ADT announced that it's developing an IFTTT "channel" for its Pulse home automation system. At its most basic, IFTTT lets you create "recipes" with the tech you use every day as the ingredients. The recipes follow a simple template in which "triggers" set off associated "actions."
Electronics retailer Best Buy is entering the crowded home automation market through a deal with startup Smart Home Ventures, which designed its offering around ease of use. Called Peq (pronounced “peak”), the service costs $9.99 a month for an unlimited number of gadgets connected to a wireless hub, which are sold in kits ranging in cost from about $120 to $490. Best Buy will start selling the products at 250 stores at the end of the month. Peq will also be available online and through a telecom company that is yet to be announced, according to a company representative. As with most smart home offerings, the makers of Peq assume the primary draw for consumers is home security. Over time, the company expects consumers to add other connected devices, such as lamp modules and thermostats. The monthly service charge covers the ability to watch live video on a smartphone and record twenty video clips and 40 images a day. It also sends text or email alerts in response to certain occurrences, such as when a door or window sensor is tripped at an unexpected time.
Samsung is making a big push into being the center of the smart home today with its acquisition of SmartThings, which allows people to sync up their connected gadgets onto a single smartphone app and hardware hub. The company isn’t releasing the acquisition price, but TechCrunch reported a $200 million pricetag when first caught word of the deal last month. “From the beginning, our goal has been to make a platform every human being could use—and to make every home a smart home,” said SmartThings cofounder and CEO Alex Hawkinson in phone call today. “This will help us reach a massive scale. We saw an opportunity to bring SmartThing’s vision to hundreds of millions of customers.” Founded in 2012, SmartThings told me a few months ago it was currently only in “tens of thousands” of homes, but growing at a quick pace of 20% new installations every month. According to the two companies, SmartThings will operate as an independent company and will be moving from its home base of Washington D.C. over to Samsung’s Open Innovation Center in Palo Alto. The Open Innovation Center acts as an investing arm and startup accelerator for U.S. companies that Samsung is interested in.
Battle for the $18 Billion US Smart Home Heats Up as Apple and Google Posture for Position says Strategy Analytics
Spending on smart home systems and services in the US will hit $18 billion in 2014 and more than double to $39 billion by 2019 according to Strategy Analytics' Smart Home Strategies latest forecast. Apple, Google and Samsung are among the big consumer brands posturing for position in the market as ADT, Vivint, Comcast and AT&T drive growth in the interactive security market. The competitive dynamics shaping the market are described in "Handicapping the US Smart Home Horserace." Key findings from the report: Security service providers will drive revenue growth in the US market as ADT and Vivint run neck and neck in front with each having more than 800,000 residential subscribers and FrontPoint, the online reseller Alarm.com's platform, not far behind. Comcast's Xfinity Home is likely to catch up with the frontrunners in 2014 with AT&T's Digital Life also in the chase. Lowe's Iris self-monitoring and control system currently has a big lead on Home Depot for the DIY customer, but Staples, Amazon and Smartlabs, with Microsoft now selling INSTEON devices in its stores, will intensify the battle for DIYers. Apple's HomeKit caused a stir when introduced in June. It has perked up iOS devotees to smart home applications, but it remains a dark horse in the race. Google's Nest acquiring Dropcam adds another cool product to their portfolio and another point of "learning" about what goes on in homes for future Google/Nest applications.
The all-new 55-inch class (54.6 inches measured diagonally) LG Curved OLED TV (Model 55EC9300), will be available beginning this month at various retailers nationwide at a suggested price of $3,499. Best Buy will be the first dealer to sell the new LG model starting on Aug. 24 and is taking pre-orders now on BestBuy.com. This marks the third OLED TV that LG has released in 13 months, further cementing its market dominance in this new display category, while also making the technology more affordable than ever before to consumers. In fact, even with new features and design enhancements, the 55EC9300 priced more than 75 percent lower than LG's first-generation 55-inch class model, which first sold for$14,999 a year ago. "LG is the only manufacturer to make big screen OLED TV a reality, and we're prepared to help them usher in a new era of TV technology," said Luke Mothschenbacher, Merchant Director of Televisions at Best Buy. "Best Buy is enthusiastic about this OLED TV because LG has combined incredible picture quality with an unparalleled cosmetic design that we know will appeal to our customers."
Back in January, a smart home device called Ninja Sphere made over $650,000 on Kickstarter. Now, its creators (Ninjablocks) has started accepting its first pre-orders outside the crowdfunding website for $329 per unit. But, what can a Ninja Sphere do in the first place? Well, this gesture-controlled device can monitor temperature, lighting and even energy usage, but that's just one of the things it's capable of. Ninjablocks touts it as a veritable multi-tasker that sends alerts if you've left appliances running when you go out and let you turn them off using your phone. With the proper IFTT recipes in place, it also lets you switch on the heater or AC before you get home, or switch on the lights at a set time using a phone or even a smartwatch. Since the Sphere can connect to Bluetooth Low Energy devices, it can locate pets and items tagged with those small BLE locators like Gecko. It can even tell you if one of the things you've tagged has been moved and gives you the option to activate cameras in the room, if available. cont'd..
Mass-market home automation will come into its own in the fourth quarter, driven by widespread retail rollouts, a growing product selection, growing consumer awareness and falling prices, marketers and analysts told TWICE. If Apple launches its HomeKit home-automation initiative as expected in the quarter, awareness and sales will grow to even higher levels, thanks to the company’s massive advertising and promotion budget. Home automation will enjoy its largest retail/e-tail presence ever in the fourth quarter, said Z-Wave Alliance chairman Mark Walters. “We’ll see a lot more advertising this fourth quarter, including from Apple.” A strong brick-and-mortar presence, he added, is a “brand new” phenomenon. “Up until the past month or two, the products were bundled with service from telcos and other service providers, or you bought at e-tail as an early adopter.”
Leviton announced the release of the 20A30-1 Omni Notifier, adding immediate e-mail notification to your smartphone or tablet. This board is an attachment to the Omni and Lumina automation systems including OmniPro II, Omni IIe, Omni LTe, Lumina Pro, and Lumina. For zero fees, homeowners, business owners, facility managers and more can be notified immediately based on security or energy occurrences such as intrusion, temperature change, arming/disarming of security system, etc. As an added benefit, the Omni Notifier board connects to internet time synching. Now your Leviton keypads, Touchscreens, and thermostats can be the most accurate clocks in the home or business. "The Omni Notifier provides a new way for you to stay in touch with your home or business 24/7," said Jay McLellan, President of Leviton Security & Automation. "Our powerful automation systems have long been controlled via mobile apps and even telephoned homeowners and business owners, but now without any monthly fees, they can receive e-mails and text messages as well."
According to our latest report published today at NextMarket Insights, the DIY smart home is expected to grow in the US from $1.3 billion today to $7.8 billion by 2019, an annual growth rate of over 43%. The bigger question, however, might be why consumers are willing to become their own smart home IT managers, when just a few years ago home automation and smart home networks often meant a professional installer. That’s because nowadays that barriers around price and ease-of-use have dropped dramatically. Instead of complex proprietary software and controllers, today most of these devices require no more than a iPhone or Android device and an Internet connection. Some, like locks, may require a couple turns of a screwdriver, but installation is within the capabilities of most. And chances are, things will get even easier. Apple, Google, Qualcomm and other are all busy creating industry initiatives around software frameworks and protocols that will do some behind-the-scenes heavy lifting to make devices talk together and generally work more seamlessly. Apple’s HomeKit, for example, will turn your iPhone into a central controller for many of these smart products, and likely remove the need to manage a bundle of different apps as your device collection grows.
There’s been a boom of wireless-enabled smart bulbs over the past year or so. Although many will recognize popular models such as LIFX and Philips Hue, you can search Amazon and find plenty of options for Bluetooth wireless light bulbs. Some of them even have built-in speakers so you can remotely control both lights and sound. But what about all of those old, non-smart bulbs you own? It feels like a shame to let them go to waste, especially if they happen to be favorites. Or, maybe you don’t want to buy a smart bulb due to fear of it breaking or burning out too soon, costing so much more in the long-run. Discard those worries, since there exists a third option that brings the best of both worlds. Emberlight provides wireless features dimmable light bulbs. This compact device installs into sockets and acts like a middleman to the bulb screwed into it. Now, the light can be controlled from wall switches or remotely from a mobile device. You can even set it to turn on/off based on Bluetooth proximity from your smartphone. Emberlight works with your existing wireless network, without the need of a hub. Once set up, you’d really never have to touch a lightswitch again. Whether you’re in or out of the home, you can receive notifications and have full control over every connected light bulb. Want the lights to turn on as soon as you come home? Done. Away on vacation and need the lights on at night to provide that lived-in look? Absolutely possible. Control any and lights that are hooked up to Emberlight. Since Emberlight is more of an adapter and not a light bulb, there’s little worry about it burning out over time. When a bulb is bad, just replace it with a new one and Emberlight keeps working for you. Best of all, it costs the same or less than many smart light bulbs available on the market.
Lowe's Companies, Inc. announced today the launch of new products for its Iris smart home solution that offer consumers added convenience, safety and efficiency this summer. The home improvement company continues to extend the breadth of connected devices with the addition of a smart garage door controller, electronic pet door, window blinds controller and hose faucet timer to make it easier to cut energy costs, reduce water usage and keep the home secure while consumers balance active summer schedules. Since its launch in 2012, Iris has delivered on its promise to make home automation simple, affordable and scalable by giving consumers a single user interface that lets them monitor, control and customize a wide range of devices in and around the home. This new wave of products joins the 50 existing devices currently available for Iris - including security cameras, smoke detectors, water leak detectors and more. Iris offers the ultimate smart home experience with brand name products consumers already know and trust, including General Electric, Kwikset, Schlage, Whirlpool, Orbit Irrigation Products and PetSafe. Iris' open platform also supports dozens of other Zigbee and Z-Wave-enabled devices.
Right-Ear/Left-Ear Technologies selected Raspberry Pi, a credit-card sized Linux computer, to add much-desired functionality to One Bar, its new home theater soundbar. "We wanted to complement our soundbar's best-in-class 3D virtual sound performance with smart wireless and Internet connectivity," said Marty Zanfino, one of the founders. "Raspberry Pi provided a platform to do all that in a single, compact module. We had to write a lot of code, but Raspberry Pi had the necessary hardware and OS to support the functionality we required." The list includes remote control via smart phones and tablets, Wi-Fi access point so phones and tablets can connect directly, and the ability to join a home Wi-Fi network to access Internet radio and music sites. Once connected, users enter a URL and One Bar's touchpad remote control keypad appears on their phone's and tablet's displays.
Cortana, Microsoft’s vocal virtual assistant, is gaining the ability to control smart-home products like lights and thermostats. Home-automation company Insteon, based in Irvine, California, is working on a Windows Phone 8.1 app slated for release later this year that aims to make it easier to do things such as turn on the lights or boost the temperature by issuing commands via Cortana like, “Insteon, turn off all the lights” or “Insteon, adjust living room thermostat temperature down.” Cortana, which was announced in April and is built into Microsoft’s Windows Phone 8.1 (which began rolling out to Windows Phone 8 users on Tuesday), can answer spoken queries like “What’s the traffic like on my way to work?” and respond to commands like “Change my 10 a.m. meeting to 11” or “Remind me to feed the cat when I get home” (see “Say Hello to Microsoft’s Answer to Siri”). In many respects, it’s very similar to Google Now and Apple’s Siri, but unlike these competitors, Microsoft is allowing third-party developers to create apps that can be controlled using Cortana—a move that could inspire app developers to dream up new uses for the voice interface.
Google has Nest, Apple has HomeKit and Samsung has…SmartThings, we’re hearing. The deal was completed for around $200 million dollars, though it might have been less according to one source. SmartThin gs is in the home automati on space , and allows you to connect devices like lights and doorlocks to a system controlled by your mobile phone. It has raised over $1 5 million from investors including Greylock, Highland Capital, First Round Capital, SV Angel, Lerer Ventures, Yuri Milner’s Start Fund, David Tisch, A-Grade Investments, CrunchFund* and Box Group. Samsung most likely bought the startup to get out ahead of Google’s Nest efforts. With this buy, Samsung obtains a mature home automation platform that just needs some marketing help. And Samsung has a hefty marketing budget. The larger arena at work here is the millions of connected devices that will populate our world — commonly referred to as the internet of things. In a nearly inevitable future where every device in our home has a live connection to the web, and can be controlled by our devices, device manufacturers are the ones most uniquely poised to offer holistic solutions to consumers.
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