Recently a bunch of companies have been announcing home automation services and products. Google bought Nest and Apple released an SDK for OEMs. Is something really changed?
I use to build industrial and home automation software. I have been tracking this space for decades.
Has something really changed in the space or is this spill over from the Internet of things? Has there been a fundamental change in homeowners? Home automation is a long way from being a standard feature of a house. There is no driving need for your average home owner to need home automation. They may desire it but it is not a need. Until the home automation community can create a compelling experience, automation is a luxury.
To clarify people want garage door openers, door locks, thermostats, etc. But integrated with a home automation system is the luxury. Imagine paying several hundred dollars for a electronic light switch or a couple of bucks for a mechanical switch. It makes sense to buy the mechanical switches unless you have several dozen lightning loads. I can walk even my extravagant 4k sq/ft house turning lights off in a minute. So a single button to put my house in sleep mode, night or day mode better be cheap, easy and reliable. Compare to walking an estate that might take you 20-30 minutes to check all the lights. The amount of savings in wasted time makes a lightning system a neccessity for mansions. Your average home owner would like it but most are unwilling to pay for it.
The problem is the lack of a ubuqitous standard. Until the industry create the equivalent of TCP/IP, incompatibility between systems and parts will prevent even companies like Apple and Google from substantially changing the market. Lots of small and large companies have tried. No company or organization has turned the HA market into a commodity in 50+ years.
Lets back a minute and look at how Google and Apple might be approaching the space.
I was talking to some folks the other day about why Apple did not buy Nest. My position is Apple looks at home devices like thermostats, lights, hvac, etc as accessories to your iOS device just like docking speakers, fitbit or square. Giving OEMs and developers a common SDK could lead to an explosion in apps, devices and innovation. I believe this is the same thought with their health strategy. It simply extending the model that has worked well for Apple.
I suspect Apple went the SDK route as they saw how sluggish Apple TV sales were. Cheaper to do a SDK and software play to enable people to just use their phone to talk to surrounding devices. Way lower risk while allowing for a higher pay off in locking people to the Apple platform.
The Nest and Google way is to create the needed devices. In that model a lot of engineering is required. I wonder if Google is jealous of Apple's margins and easier technology and IP management vs corralling cats aka Android ecosystem. Hence instead of releasing Google Glass or wearable OS to build both the software and hardware.Even the Nest approach is to provide an upgraded easy to use replacement thermostat completely self contain. There is no reliance on addition infrastructure or special software. It is built into the thermostat.
Looking at this. It occurs to me that a combination approach of system decentralization but allowing collaboration might be just what is needed. Each system operates autonomously from other systems even other subsystems but has hooks for additional input or remote control to orchestrate what happens in the house. I can imagine a simple light switch that can communicate its status and be turned on or off. It would be super cheap as you only need on per circuit. Coupled with the Apple device spec allowing for remote control by your iOS device. The house is not smart the devices are smart and collaborative.
For example imagine a HVAC system. It is a self contain system with the thermostat being the brains and final decision maker for it. Now add in the Apple SDK and the thermostat is an accessory of an iOS device. My iPhone as I walk in essentially announces I am home to all accessories and the devices do what I set them to do. The thermostat would automatically lower or raise the temperature to my usual setting based on the outside temperature if it had not already anticipated my arrive. Another example is if my oven or stove also were smart devices. My phone sees that I turned on the oven for example to 450. It tells the thermostats of this event since it will affect the environment. Based on past similar events the thermostats adjust to take advantage or counter the heat source. Of course in this scenario the thermostats must have access to a data store probably in the cloud that has stored what happens when the oven is set to 450 and the outside temperature is X. With enough data the system could be predictive.
Decentralization but cooperative set of devices my lead to home automation that is not controlled as much as it is reactive even proactive. My home is a smart home not because of a single unifying system but it emerges out of the complex interactions between stand alone but collaborative devices.