Smart Home Week in Review: Amazon's smart home, Wink Relay, Goji Goes Dark

This is the smart home weekly newsletter for the week ending September 29th. If you would like this in your inbox every week, please sign up for our weekly newsletter.

Apparently Amazon is Smart Home Curious

I've written quite a bit about whether or not Amazon could potentially get into smart home, and this week Reuters has confirmation of what I have suspected all along: they are definitely interested.

According to the report, Amazon is "testing a simple wi-fi device that could be placed in the kitchen or a closet, allowing customers to order products like detergent by pressing a button, one of the people said. Lab126 is also interested in wearable devices, the other person said. Both sources stressed that such devices may never come to market."

Now, Lab126, as some of you may know, is where much of the company does its secretive hardware development and commercialization, such as its recent work on the Fire TV.  Interestingly, my sources have told me that the company recently just turned over pretty much the entire Fire TV team, meaning they're essentially starting from scratch for the second generation product.  

Amazon has lots of entry points into the connected home, from the more obvious mobile devices to the Fire TV, but I also think other less-obvious routes would be interesting. Amazon's introduced the Dash food scanner, and the Reuters article suggested they would be interested in washing machines. 

The Takeaway

In reality, the rationale for Amazon to get into smart home wouldn't have anything to do with trying to create a line of smart home hardware - that's small potatoes. Instead, I believe the company would basically look to create a "point of sale" touch point in nearly every part of the house. Basically wherever they could stuff a sensor and some intelligence that could connect to a person's Amazon account. 

Out of milk? Let's reorder.  Need some detergent? It will be here tomorrow.

And I have no doubt that's where they're going. I can see the FireTV being a hub/sensor aggregator, but again, don't let that fool you. It's less about FireTV and more about creating a smart home network that serves as an underlying Amazon commerce "fabric".

Wink introduces in-wall touch screen controller with Relay

While folks have been speculating a while about an in-wall controller from Wink, I had nearly forgotten about it until this past week when the company announced a nifty little touch-screen controller called the Relay.  

The device, which is expected to ship in November for $300, is an Android powered touch screen controller that has Wi-Fi, Bluetooth and Zigbee in it. It also has speaker, microphone, and a variety of sensors (temperature, humidity and motion sensors) packed inside. 

If you've been following Wink you know they have two types of Wink compatible devices: Those that are 'Wink App Ready', which means you can control w/out the Wink hub (basically Wi-Fi devices).  There are also Wink App 'compatible' devices which you need a hub for.

From what I can tell, the Relay will work without the hub for all Wink App Ready devices, but still needs a hub for Wink app compatible devices. This is a missed opportunity in my mind, since the Relay could effectively replace the hub (it already has Zigbee - it should have added Z-Wave; maybe that's in the plans).

The hub itself is a radio-packed device, with Wi-Fi, BLE, Zigbee, Z-Wave, Lutron and Kidde protocol compatibility. What makes me a bit curious is that they were able to cost reduce the hub, with all those radios, to $49.  It might be simply a technical issue now where they don't think they could get the Relay into its current form factor, add all the radios, and effectively replace the hub today. 

The Takeaway

If the folks at Wink are smart - and by all indications they are - the Relay is essentially the future central control device and the hub eventually goes away for those willing to pay a higher price point.

But let me say this: I really like the idea, the look, and the overall approach. Wink's early reviews have been a bit rough, but if they can get the software ironed out, the in-home architecture approach they are bringing is a savvy one.

INSTEON Adds Voice Control With Microsoft Cortana

This was announced in July, but now it's real as Microsoft and INSTEON have rolled out Cortana voice control for those who have the INSTEON app for Windows Phone 8.1. According to the two companies, now you can use voice commands to control up to 200 different devices on the INSTEON network.

The Takeaway

This is interesting in so much as it's just a further sign of more voice integration with the smart home. Nest already works with some voice, and many of the new devices coming out (such as the Wink Relay) have built in microphones which are there, obviously, for future voice control integration. 

For Microsoft, I'm glad to see them doing good integration work with INSTEON, but I still feel like the company needs to make a bigger play overall. INSTEON is limited in its overall appeal in that it's a proprietary platform, while other players such as Google, Apple, Qualcomm and others are trying to make bigger ecosystem-centric plays with newer, more comprehensive approaches.

AlertMe Introduces Next-Gen Platform

This didn't get picked up by much of anyone stateside, but AlertMe, the British smart home platform service provider which powers the Lowe's Iris product line, just announced their next-gen platform for IoT.

Like many companies, AlertMe started out fairly focused, with its specialty being home security, control and energy management. Over time, the company has started to broaden its focus to IoT more broadly, and this is clear in its messaging of the Omnia platform. 

This makes sense both in that it widens the addressable market for the company but also because the reality is service providers are only seeing smart home as part of a broader set of consumer IoT that they need to address, and by broadening their message, they could see increased deployments for both consumer IoT and even business and industrial.

The Takeaway

The battle for backend and cloud smart home and, as seen here, consumer IoT, is heating up. I expect more funding in this space in coming rounds (for existing players) and possibly some new entrants.

Smart Home News Short Takes

Lots of little stories about startups and some big players. Here's my quick take on each.

Doorbot Renames itself Ring, Refocuses Company on DIY Security

Doorbot is coming out with an updated product, and now positioning itself as a light security company. I've written a lot about this market, and I do think there's a big opportunity here - probably bigger than just if they called themselves a doorbell company - but home awareness/DIY security is starting to get a bit crowded. 

Smartlock company Goji has gone dark     

Goji, which had a fairly successful crowdfunding campaign which led to lots of press and entry into partner programs such as Staples Connect, has effectively gone dark, missing their ship dates and not posting an update for six months. This has caused a bit of an uprising over on their comment page for Indiegogo.  I've watched many hardware crowdfunding campaigns fail post-funding once the creators realize creating workable products and commercializing is a lot harder than anticipated.  

New Smart lock company skips the deadbolt

Interesting approach by a new company called Haven, building what is essentially a smart doorjamb. The project is on Kickstarter so it's far from a sure thing that it will ship/commercialize, but I applaud the effort to create a new approach. Part of the problem for startups in the lock space is there is a lot of existing intellectual property and so smartlock companies have to figure out innovative architectures that don't impinge on patents, and this approach skips over existing deadbolt centric patents and also creates a new, possibly more secure, smart lock product.

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