Sunday, November 30, 2014

Is a Home Automation Revolution Coming ?


This year has seen a lot of big activity in the home automation market.
  • Why hasn't a Home Automation Revolution happened already ?
  • Why is a central controller is needed ?
  • Home automation integration in an Internet TV device ?
  • What moves is Apple making ?

I have been interested in and experimenting with home automation since around the time when X10 remote control technology was first created decades ago. And although many home automation technologies have been created since, X10 is still alive and kicking today. I think that's not a indication of how good X10 is, because it's actually pretty awful tech. But an indicator of how little home automation has advanced.


Why hasn't a Home Automation Revolution happened already ?

The home automation technologies that have come out have not produced the revolution that needs to and could happen. Why is that ? It's because they haven't focused on creating a great customer experience. From purchase, to installation, to daily use, and everything in between.

Home automation tech has been limited in many ways:

  • Not Complete Solutions: They've been piece meal solutions. Nest for example is a great product, but it's yet another island of automation.
  • Too Complicated: There are too many products, that require too much setup.
  • Too Expensive: It costs $50 or more per lamp for a reliable remote controlled switch or light bulb.
  • No Great Standards: Home automation has lacked strong industry standards, and instead consists of too many and sometimes proprietary technologies.


A Central Controller is Needed

There have been lots of Do It Yourself home automation tech. There are tons of them, with so many proprietary setup and control solutions. Just look at the insane number of products offered by home automation sellers like SmartHome. So many proprietary products that don't work together or are overly complicated and expensive to make them work together. A central controller that can tame all of this madness is needed.

Many many central controller products have developed in the market. Some are hardware based solutions, that often lack expandability and flexibility. Some software based controllers that run on a desktop OS like Windows or Mac OS X, that are more flexible but often require a lot of work to setup and get working. And more recently cloud based solutions that are service based and leverage the cloud with controllers installed locally in your home.

Software based controllers have the most potential because they are more open and flexible. Products like Indigo for Mac or for Windows Home Control Assistant and mControl. And there are many more - too many. The problems with them are that they are way too complicated for typical consumers. They are expensive to setup because they require lots of hardware and a Mac or PC to run on. And they have pretty terrible user interfaces that are often less than polished and not easy to use. This is probably due to them being developed by small companies, so it's hard for them to keep up and build products that are simple to setup and use. Because of these issues, they are suited only for DIY and hobbyists.

What home automation needs to create a revolution is a inexpensive, simple and expandable controller. And an Internet TV or Smart TV device based on Apple TV or Android is the way to make that happen.


Home Automation Integration in an Internet TV device ?

There have been a lot of innovations lately in home automation. From Philips Hue lights to Nest thermostats to remote locks and tons more. With all the home automation devices popping up like crazy now, with their own proprietary control apps for iOS and Android, it's getting kind of nuts. There is no central control or integration standards for all of these innovative products. Islands and more islands of home automation. This somewhat defeats one of the purposes of home automation - central control.

At WWDC at the beginning of June, Apple also announced a tech called HomeKit. So clearly they recognize this problem. To accomplish central control, there needs to be a central device to manage it. To date there are a ton of competing hardware devices and software apps to act as this central device or hub, to monitor and control all of the many devices being automated. Way too many of them. Some are even sold with cloud services with and without subscription fees attached.

There are several methods of controlling devices. Some open ones like X10, Insteon, Z-Wave and others. And many proprietary control methods, like those used in many security systems and newer tech like Hue and Nest. So a hybrid of control schemes is the best of all worlds. Devices controlled by a central hub in the home, connected to multiple cloud services for varying degrees of service offerings.

So….. Why not run the central home automation software on your Internet TV device ? Make it the central hub that connects everything to everything else and manages and executes schedules and automation scripts. It's got the processing horsepower. It's got the open platform based on the widely supported iOS or Android OSes. It's cheap. It will be on and available 24/7. There is already a ton of home automation app development invested in control apps for Android and iOS.

It makes sense.


Apple is Making Moves

Since June when Apple announced HomeKit at WWDC, things that been evolving significantly. HomeKit has now appeared in Apple TV beta software. This could be to turn Apple TV into a home automation central controller or hub.

And earlier this month HomeKit enabled chips began shipping to home automation device makers. This will enable control devices to integrate easily and cheaply with iOS and Apple TV devices via WiFi and Bluetooth.

If Apple opens Apple TV to third party apps, then products like Indigo for Mac may be well positioned, if they make the shift. Or they very well may be made obsolete completely. Regardless, every single company in home automation, whether it's controllers or devices or whatever, better be paying close attention to what Apple is doing here and be experimenting with the developer betas.

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