The New GIANTS of Home Automation

By Christopher Bundy
CORE Brands

This is still our industry… isn’t it?

A couple of weeks ago, I wrote about Google (Nest) taking steps to get deeper in the home automation industry with its purchase of home hub company Revolv. The company did this to acquire talent more than Revolv’s product offering, as part of a bigger strategy to position itself in the smart home arms race.

Apple lays its foundation

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Meanwhile, Apple made the news, along with chip-set manufacturers Texas Instruments Marvell and Broadcom, with the announcement that Apple approved radio chips loaded with HomeKit firmware are now shipping to connected device companies. These embedded chips are a huge part of Apple’s smart home strategy bearing the moniker HomeKit, which while not launched yet, will start having compatible devices launching in the next cycle according to Brian Bedrosian, senior director of embedded wireless in the mobile and wireless group at Broadcom.

Amazon enters the fray

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With these two tech titans making waves in the still-nascent Internet-of-Things side of the smart home puddle, it was easy to miss Amazon slipping into the waters. Amazon’s Echo may seem like another wireless speaker on its surface, but the feature packed peripheral is more Trojan Horse than ‘me too’ speaker. Amazon has been hit or miss on its hardware offerings in the past, with the Kindle name becoming synonymous with e-ink readers (like Kleenex to tissues), while its mobile phone offering’s sales have been, to paraphrase VP of devices, David Limp, flaccid at best. The Echo is being released along side a slew of new products like the Fire TV, and Fire TV Stick, but promises to do more with the voice recognition technology allowing users to control climate, lights and more just by talking to their device with their best Gary-Busey impression. (OK, so that last part is just a joke, but it won’t stop me from doing this for at least another year on my Fire TV.) For now, Amazon is only talking about using voice recognition as a in-home personal assistant that, similar to Siri, will allow users to talk to the cylinder-shaped device and ask it to read the news out loud, set alarms, play music, reference Wikipedia, remember shopping lists and even tell jokes. Did you catch that part in the middle about remembering shopping lists? Trust me when I say that Amazon did not. The online retail giant may have left a lot of folks scratching their heads launching the echo, but one thing is for sure, Amazon is an expert at selling things and they know it. Much like the company’s Fire Phone, the Echo will do its primary function while helping you impulse buy all those items on your wish list. “Echo could take Amazon from one-click purchase to no-click purchase, creating the ultimate in-home impulse purchase engine — all done with voice commands,” says Steve Beck of management consultancy firm cg42.

What does this mean for smart home industry?

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We are seeing the skeletal structures of future smart home eco-systems being built before our very eyes. In five years, the results will be impossible to ignore. While home control systems for the top 5 percent of income earners is likely to remain in the hands of the custom installation industry, the fringe, down-market jobs that surely keep small business integrators in work are going to start drying up. Serial will be all but sun-setted by IP control: This is inevitable, and could have happened over the last few years, but left to their own devices (no pun intended), manufacturers have been slow to invest in something new when they have something that is already working. Hubs and controllers will become virtual, or at least semi-virtual as serial fades out. Then (IMHO) the API wars will start, where hardware companies will have to figure out how they are going to divide their limited resources to tackle interoperability with the new giants of home automation. Much like the format wars of the early 2000s, when HD audio video was revolutionizing our industry, when the dust settles, there will only be a couple of winners. I’m guessing it won’t be the custom installation industry.