First look at the Wink Hub, tech's latest dummy-proof home automation center

To make smart home products more accessible and less confusing for the mass market, Home Depot has teamed up with Quirky-owned Wink to create a line of connected devices that are centralized into one place: The Wink Hub. This $49 hub contains all the techy goodness that puts your “dumb” products on the Web with popular connection protocols: ZigBee, Z-Wave, Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, to name a few. All the user has to do is set up the hub, purchase a Wink-certified product and scan the barcode of the item to connect it to your home network. The current Home Depot-Wink line works with a ton of popular home improvement brands, such as Chamberlain (garage door openers), Honeywell (thermostat), Rheem (water heater) and GE (lighting and kitchen appliances). Once connected, all the devices are controllable from within the Wink app. Users can set up timers, alerts, proximity settings and shortcuts. The app is available in both iOS and Android, with added compatibility for Android Wear. The Wink Hub connects to your home network without requiring Ethernet, so you can place it anywhere around the house. We stopped by the companies’ “Wink House” set up today and the app worked as advertised. The option to set up a one-click shortcut for various settings (such as Sleep to turn all the blinds and lights off and lock doors) is useful truly automating your home from a touch of a finger. It only takes about a second for the command to register from the app to seeing things in action, such as the lights changing colors or the garage door closing.

Pioneer and Onkyo unite to bring their home audio into the internet era

Home audio isn't what it used to be -- for many people, it means internet-savvy speakers everywhere instead of a conventional stereo in the den. Pioneer and Onkyo are clearly aware that they need to adapt, as they've just started the process of combining their home theater units with a mind toward modernization. The two will "cope" with the shift in music playback trends through the strengths of their brand names and "superior technologies;" a private equity firm is also taking a controlling stake in Pioneer's home electronics division, so there will be cash available to expand the business. It's still early going, so just what this alliance will do to embrace internet audio isn't clear. However, it's safe to say that they'll be doing more than rolling out the occasional wireless adapter or smartphone dock.

Google's Nest to open smart home platform, share data with developers including Google

Nest Labs, makers of the Nest Learning Thermostat and Protect smoke and carbon monoxide detector, announced on Tuesday that it will be opening its smart home platform to third-party developers and partners, which includes parent company Google. In a post to Nest's official blog, cofounder Matt Rogers said the Nest Developer Program will allow other smart home product makers and app developers to connect with the Nest smart thermostat to make whole-home automation a reality.  Instead of sifting through proprietary apps and settings panels, the open API should allow for personalized, automated experiences. For example, a connected Jawbone UP24 band can sense when its user wakes up, signaling Nest to turn on the lights and warm the house. As noted by  The Wall Street Journal , parent company Google has already integrated with Nest to expand Google Now's functionality to support temperature adjustments. Of course, with the opening of Nest's platform, the firm must share a certain amount of information gathered by its devices, something that doesn't sit well with privacy advocates. More specifically, Google's views on user data harvesting as applied to the company's huge targeted ad business made critics uneasy when Nest Labs was purchased by the search giant for $3.2 billion in January.

Quirky, Mophie Founder Launches Wink for Smart Home Automation

Serial tech entrepreneur Ben Kaufman — the founder of Quirky, a New York-based startup that helps turn tech ideas into real products, and the popular Mophie iPhone case — is getting into the smart home space.   Kaufman is launching a separate standalone operation called Wink that will bring smart household items — think web-connected lights, refrigerators, thermostats and so on — onto a small network that can be controlled and monitored with just one app. This means you can lock the front door, close the blinds and lower the temperature all within the Wink app. The move was first reported by the New York Times.   "Quirky is an invention company that's powered by the community, so we've been following the trends they uncover for us," Kaufman told Mashable. "We started to recognize that about 20% of idea submissions had to do with the connected world, and that's when we started to take this really seriously."   Quirky originally built Wink for the company's collaboration with General Electric, but after prototyping the concept and showing it to retail partners, the company realized it could be a powerful tool in the connected world. In November, Quirky quietly created Wink as a standalone business with its own office and leadership team. While about five employees moved over to Wink from Quirky, it also hired about 30 additional staffers.  

Microsoft just launched an accelerator program for home automation startups

Earlier this week, the company launched new tech accelerator in Seattle through a partnership with American Family Insurance for startups related to the connected home. Oddly enough, this is the first U.S. accelerator program Microsoft has announced since it launched its Ventures program last year. Applications to join the program are open from now until July 21, and the accelerator will run from August to December of this year. Unlike other accelerator programs, such as Y Combinator, Techstars, and others, Microsoft doesn’t demand equity stakes in firms that join the program — but it does reserve the right to become early investors should they see potential in a given startup. That being said, however, American Family Insurance is offering a $25,000 equity investment to participating startups looking for extra funding.

InfoComm 2014 Underway in Las Vegas, NV.

InfoComm 2014 is the largest professional AV show in the world, with more than 950 exhibitors and 35,000+ attendees from over 110 countries. This is your once-a-year opportunity to see the latest audiovisual technology, learn the skills that will advance your career, and grow your professional network.   As a media partner for InfoComm 2014 HomeToys.com will be bringing all the industry news and exciting new products to our eMagazine to help our readers make sense of the massive event. Click here for our Special InfoComm 2014 Newspage. Check out our InfoComm 2014 tradeshow report here.  

Honeywell challenges Google's Nest with Lyric smart thermostat

Let the battle rage on! In this corner, the seasoned smart thermostat veteran, Google’s Nest, is ready to take on a new competitor. And seeing as this smart thermostat is coming from Honeywell, this is sure to be a good brawl. Plus, this battle goes back to 2012 when Honeywell claimed Nest infringed on several patents. Check mate. Honeywell has decided to release its own smart thermostat, the $279 Lyric, as part of its Lyric home automation device line. It will be available in August from Lowe’s. So what makes Honeywell’s Lyric smart thermostat so special? It uses geofencing technology to sense when users are home or away and will adjust the temperature. This is all via the user’s smartphone. Say you’re on your crowded, sweaty train back home from work and you’re counting down the minutes until you walk into your cool home. Thanks to the Lyric smart thermostat, your home will adjust a couple degrees when the thermostat senses you’re nearby. Talk about efficient! Nest does not possess this feature. Yet. The Lyric also costs about $50 more than the Nest, but this might be a worthy price to pay for such a feature.  

oort Launches Kickstarter Campaign to Create a True Smart Home by Connecting All Intelligent Devices

oort, the smart home solution that lets users create their own Internet of Things system to make life more comfortable, today launched a Kickstarter campaign for the first complete universal Bluetooth Smart system. In just seconds, oort can be paired with any compatible Bluetooth device, regardless of the manufacturer, and controlled from a single app on iOS or Android.    "Consumers are reluctant to create a smart home because current technology doesn't let them control a whole Internet of Things from just one app on devices they already own"  Gartner has estimated that there are more than 2.5 billion connected devices today, with more than 30 billion expected by 2020. The challenge is that there are currently several competing wireless communications protocols for the Internet of Things that are not interoperable with end user devices out-of-the-box. To create a simple and easy experience for consumers, oort's solution uses wireless communications that are based on Bluetooth low energy. As the standard is now supported by all iOS 7+ and Android 4.3+ devices, oort can be controlled by smartphones and tablets owned by the majority of consumers and will be interoperable with a wide range of beacons and sensors.  oort's technology will let users interact with any Bluetooth low energy device with a standard GATT profile, regardless of manufacturer, to enable consumers to create custom Internet of Things ecosystems. Examples of oort compatible devices include a wide range of connected devices, including beacons, wall sockets, light bulbs, power strips, lamps and smart sensors that measure air quality, temperature, soil humidity, noise and more. 

Vivint Humanizes the Smart Home with Vivint Sky

Vivint™ unveiled Vivint Sky, the next generation of Vivint's intelligent home experience. Vivint Sky introduces powerful cloud technology and smart learning capabilities that take the home to the next level of intelligence.  "Vivint Sky transforms the home automation experience by providing an unprecedented level of control over the home"    Vivint sky enables customers to control their lights, thermostat and door locks, as well as monitor high-definition video feeds and more from any smartphone, laptop or tablet. At the center of the new system is the Vivint SkyControl panel, which features proprietary cloud technology that learns from homeowners' behaviors and makes intelligent suggestions to add new levels of convenience and control over the home.    For instance, Vivint's automatic HVAC control will take cues from homeowners' daily patterns and make guided decisions to help increase the home's energy efficiency. The Vivint SkyControl panel serves as the hub of the experience, orchestrating a variety of home automation products, such as door locks, window and door sensors, motion detectors, connected power outlets and more. Using data from its sensors and communication from its powerful cloud technology, Vivint Sky is able to learn from homeowners' behaviors and make intelligent suggestions in a conversational, helpful tone. These suggestions add new levels of convenience and control over the home, helping provide improved protection and monitoring. 

AngelBlocks Could Take Home Automation to the Next Level

AngelBlocks can be customized into what seems to be nearly limitless uses. For example, they could remind you when to water the plants if moisture levels in the dirt are low, warn you if your dog gets into the trash or even automatically lock the door when you leave the house. Each use can be sorted into one of three categories — notify, monitor or control.   "This kind of technology can save you a lot of time and effort," Steve Montgomery, who created AngelBlocks, told Mashable. "Being able to have the things in your life cooperate with you instead of be a hindrance to you is important."   Each system comes with one AngelGate — the brains of the operation that plugs into an Internet connection. This component wirelessly communicates with the AngelBlocks themselves, which are attached to different household objects (lighter than a computer mouse, they can either be screwed on or affixed with adhesive strips or magnets). Users register each AngelBlock on a web application and program it with a built-in system to do specific things at specific times based on what it senses in its environment, such as movement or temperature. As an added bonus, AngelTags can monitor your location (if they're attached to a keychain, for example) and activate AngelBlocks as you move through certain areas of the house. For instance, you could turn the lights on simply by walking into a room.

Philips Demonstrates Connected Lighting Systems at LIGHTFAIR International 2014

Royal Philips announced that at LIGHTFAIR International 2014 it will highlight state-of-the art Connected Lighting systems available for the home and outdoor applications, as well as preview the company's breakthrough Connected Lighting systems for offices and retail. In a Connected Lighting system, light points merge with a building's or city's IT network, allowing the lighting system to act as an information pathway. Comprehensive lighting management software can deliver targeted, intelligent illumination, reducing cost by providing the right light at the right place at the right time, as well as enabling users to tailor the lighting system to their preferences via mobile apps. Lighting points can also transmit their location information to smart devices so that downloaded apps can provide location-based services.  Philips Connected Lighting systems allow actionable data collected from sensors in intelligent luminaires to be made available to facility or city managers, who can then use the data for informed business decisions and greater customer insight. For indoor systems, an integrated view of a building's occupancy patterns and energy usage optimizes the distribution of resources, resulting in unprecedented levels of energy and operational efficiency. Moreover, the Philips systems demonstrate the company's commitment to delivering hybrid, customer-centric solutions that encompass both Philips and non-Philips products, non-LED luminaires, a range of power and data options, including Power-over-Ethernet (PoE), wireless communications, standard and digital dimmers and lighting controls. 

Apple's new HomeKit home automation can control your appliances and more

Confirming rumors that began circulating last week, Apple unveiled the Homekit home automation project at today's Worldwide Developers Conference as a way to connect iPhones and iPads to smart home devices like light bulbs and appliances.   "We thought we could bring rationality into the home automation space," Craig Federighi said from the WWDC stage on Monday morning. He announced that Homekit will employ a "common network protocol that has secure pairing so only your iPhone can unlock your garage door."   Possibly built on the Reminders app's geofencing capabilities, Homekit will allow users to trigger any compatible device when their iPhone enters or leaves a specific location. Additionally, Siri integration will allow users to say things like "get ready for bed" to enable a suite of smarthome functions at the same time, like making sure a garage door is closed, thermostat is lowered, and lights are dimmed.   This usability was hinted at when Haier debuted the Tianzun air conditioner, the first MFi-approved home appliance, at this year's CES, but that presentation didn't mention any "made for iOS" requirements for devices. The WWDC presentation mentioned that Apple is working with "leaders in home automation to give HomeKit a consistent network protocol," and a giant screen listed names such as Haier, Honeywell, Texas Instruments, and more.

Apple's home-automation system may be pretty underwhelming

Rumors of Apple’s upcoming “Made for iHome” API in iOS 8 sent fanboys rocketing with excitement that Cupertino might be launching a makeover in the living room, but expectations are about to get dashed when Apple presents a much simpler system on Monday.   The move to home automation will be more about fighting fragmentation, reports GigaOm, than creating an entire home experience. Apple’s home efforts will just focus on easily connecting devices to Wifi and tossing in voice control over Bluetooth.   There will be no central control center. No asking Siri to turn off your Hues and lock the door. But the report does have some interesting details on what Apple will announce: “What we’re likely to see next week is a roll out of participating partners, devices and chips that support the MFi standard, all set to assure people who purchase those devices that they will work with their iPhones and iPads, with the promise of a few special features.”   If GigaOm’s report is accurate it will be an underwhelming experience compared to the dream of Apple offering a clean, robust control center that can manage everything from your thermostat to your crockpot without switching to individual apps.   Apple could eventually overlay software controls directly into iOS 8 but it’s not looking to make its full home automation just yet. For now it looks like it’s simply laying the groundwork.

Core Brands Announces Next-Generation ELAN Control Platform with Two New System Controllers

Leading home automation, entertainment and control technology manufacturer, Core Brands, LLC, a Nortek company (NSDQ: NTK) today announced a major upgrade of its award-winning ELAN® Control Platform for residential and commercial markets. This new Linux-based platform delivers better performance, easier installation, broader device compatibility, and greater scalability. The ELAN Control Platform provides a foundation for Core Brands’ highly competitive connected home ecosystem and continues to build its single source solution for customers in its dealer network. “This is the most significant engineering effort in ELAN’s 25 year history .  Our team has invested heavily to re-architect the ELAN Control Platform and make it the preeminent platform for the next-generation connected home,” said Joe Roberts, Vice President of Products and Marketing, Core Brands. “The ELAN Control Platform is a cornerstone in our strategy to delight our dealers and their clients with innovative and integrated products backed by best-in-class service and support.” This platform provides expansion of ELAN® products and applications in the market, from new entry-level consumer solutions to large customer and commercial installations. It also expands the range of opportunities for Core Brands’ portfolio of smart “Internet of Things” products that can be attached to the platform and be controlled, automated and monitored by ELAN. Attached categories include speakers, multi-room audio, power conditioners, smart-plugs, cameras, access products like gates and garage door openers and more, including from Core Brands’ own market leading brands such as SpeakerCraft®, Niles®, Sunfire®, Panamax®, Furman® and Xantech®, and others.  

Report: Apple to Take on Home Automation with "Smart Home" Platform at WWDC

We are now hearing word from Financial Times that Apple is looking to enter the home automation space with a “Smart Home” initiative that will kick off next month at the Worldwide Developers Conference (WWDC). The details of Apple’s system were first revealed in a patent filing last year, but the time is now for Apple to introduce the functionality according to Financial Times. The earlier filing (Patent No. 8,577,392) described how an iPhone or iPad could be used to control “lighting systems, security systems, garage-door openers, music controllers, climate controllers, or kitchen appliances” – in fact it could be similar in scope to AirPlay and iBeacon, but geared towards home automation products and appliances.   Apple sees its Smart Home system as being superior to other “automatic operations” that are currently on the market:   Automatic operations are frequently sub-optimal due to variations in a person's daily routines. A person can leave work at different times each day, can encounter different traffic patterns, or can exhibit different hunger levels. Thus, unpredictable events and emotions can make it difficult to establish automatic operations that consistently produce desired results.   The Financial Times gives the example of how a homeowner’s lights could be turned simply by entering the home with an iPhone in his or her pocket.   

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Light sockets; Not just for lights anymore

Light sockets; Not just for lights anymore

Smart Bulbs are out there and they can do far more then just provide light. Speakers, projectors, wi-fi extenders and more. The standard light socket that is wired up and ready to go in nearly every home in North America is now providing an easy and affordable option for home owners and renters alike to enter into the world of the "Smart Home". Here is a look at some of the Smart Bulbs and Smart Lighting options out there, and this list is just the beginning. In this ongoing article we hope to continue to add to and grow this list, so stay tuned!