Smart Home Week in Review: The CEDIA Downstroke, IControl Lawyer's Up, Logitech Gets Smart

This week was an interesting one in that it didn't have a whole bunch of smart home news, but those stories it did have were important ones.

Here's my analysis of each:

Logitech Gets Smart

First big news was the introduction a smart home focused line of remote controls and a hub from Logitech.  The company that makes the extremely popular Harmony line of universal remotes announced the Harmony Home Living line, which out of the gate included two remotes and a smart home hub.

The hub includes Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, RF and IR to communicate with the remotes or the Harmony Living app using a smart phone/tablet. The hub is packaged with either remote, or purchasable for $99. 

The first remote is a $149 basic button only remote that controls up to 8 entertainment devices (again, for the price you get the hub included). The second remote - the Logitech Harmony Ultimate Home - allows connections of up to 15 entertainment devices and your home automation network. 

The Takeaway

What's important here is that it's an entry into the smart home by a very big player in remote market.  Logitech Harmony is, by my understanding, the most popular universal remote product brand out there. Other big players in universal remotes like URC and RTI beat Logitech into home automation, but by creating it's own hub as well as offering a Z-Wave/Zigbee add-on, Logitech is marking its entry into the smart home space with the creation of a self-contained smart home control system.

That said, that the main hub includes Wi-Fi and Bluetooth as the primary smart home interfaces (RF/IR is for the remote control interface), Logitech is joining a growing list of newer entrants like Google/Nest, Belkin who are treating older home automation technologies as afterthoughts and are trying to push the DIY market towards IP (Wi-Fi) and pervasive low-power (Bluetooth LE) technologies. 

Lastly, I think Logitech's unfair advantage in this space is the fact it strong brand recognition as well as sizeable market share in the home entertainment remote space. I think the entertainment zone is a logical center-point for many consumers new to smart home and this gives them a reasonable and fairly low-cost way to get into the market. At the same time, I don't see the new product line as a serious contender for Z-Wave/Zigbee-centric smart homes since it's adapter seems more of a bolt-on afterthought than part of central local hub for these networks.

IControl Files Patent Infringement Suit Against Zonoff, SecureNet

While this wasn't that widely reported, I think the Icontrol legal action this week was an important piece of news that could have fairly wide-ranging impact on the market for smart home services.

I covered it over at the NextMarket blog, but I'll expand a little on what I think the reasons are for Icontrol to take this action now.

It's worth noting that the company has taken action against two companies that are essentially offering smart home services platforms.  Zonoff's is more of a white-label solution, while SecureNet offers its service platform directly to dealers/installers. Both are fairly modern cloud-centric smart home security and home automation platforms that are meant to result in subscription-based services for consumers.  In other words, they are platforms with similar go-to-market strategies as Icontrol.

This is an important distinction, because you'll notice if you look at the patents that Icontrol could effectively bring legal action against a much larger set of players, including some DIY-centric offerings. But, in my view, their main goal is to use the patent infringement cudgel selectively and only against those companies that they directly compete with in the managed smart home space.  

Ok, you say, but isn't Zonoff powering a DIY/retail offering today in Staples Connect? Yes, but in reality their offering could be used to power other players, including service providers.

The Takeaway

Bottom line, I think this is a sign that Icontrol will aggressively use legal tactics in addition to other methods to guard its position as the leading smart home services platform.  It's too early to see if they'll win or if the companies will reach a settlement, but I think its a fairly ominous sign for other smart home services companies in the space, particularly those that are looking to provide technology to service provider partners.  

Quick CEDIA Thoughts: The Big Downstroke

I had meant to do a full review of CEDIA, but given that folks like Jason and Seth over at HomeTech.FM did a much better job going over almost everything interesting there, I'd suggest you take a listen to their show.

But, a few quick thoughts:

The big trend at CEDIA among the traditional high-end smart home/home automation players is to find ways - within reason - to respond by the increased threat they are facing from the DIY smart home crowd. What I mean by within reason is that companies such as Crestron, Control4 and Savant are fairly fixed in their go-to-market strategy in that they are premium solutions built around professional installation. 

All three of these companies alone have thousands installer channel partners that have become crucial to their business. Not only that, the very fact these solutions are premium, system-integrator-installed solutions is why the dealer/installer channel believes in them and installs them and, like a car dealer, makes them an essential part of their own branding strategy.  Many integrators basically market themselves as Crestron integrators or Savant integrators. 

So you can see the tight rope that these companies walk when they respond to the DIY market. Some things are easy to do, such as integrating with the Nest API such as Control4 has done to enable their installers to offer this product and have it work natively with Control4's own software.

Other strategies, such as creating offerings that are cheaper and much more easy to install - such as the Crestron Pyng - is a longer-term strategy that will be interesting to see how it evolves. 

I also think what I think Crestron is doing here with Pyng, and Savant with its new app and Control4 with its Composer Express, is trying to reduce the amount of work (and by extension the cost) of installing higher-end home automation systems.  Control4 told me that they see their Composer Express solution as a way to enable less qualified installers to do the majority of the work.  It also seems like a way to expand their dealer channel to bring on new installers without as much training, which in the end will make the market more competitive for installers and likely drop the price of an installed solution.

The question I, and many others, still have is whether any of these players would ever consider going direct-to-consumer. When I talked to one exec at the Savant booth, he indicated that they view whole-home automation as something that will always be professionally installed, but wouldn't rule out single-zone solutions (think a "smart living room") utilizing their technology. 

The Takeaway:

I think today the high-end players are enjoying the rising tide for smart home, but long-term I think they're worried about get their market share nibbled at from the bottom feeders below them, and at this show you saw the first of potentially many moves to react to a fast-changing market.