An early adopters lesson in IoT for the home.
IoT has arrived for the Home, or has it?
I’m impressed with the hype when it comes to IoT; I like what the possibilities hold and in particular with what we can do in the home. I’m not talking about the connected toaster; I have no idea why anyone would need to switch on their toaster remotely or via anything other than the little lever on the actual toaster. I’m keen on what it will bring me in efficiency, security, monitoring and reporting.
My challenge is that being born with the early adopter gene I’ve seen some of the possibilities. Equally I’ve recently been severely burnt with businesses walking away from developed product sets, or indeed with just the idea, they were snapped up, with parent companies taking the IP to start again. About six years ago I jumped on the Alert.Me product set, I’d go as far as saying from an IoT in the home it was ahead of its time. The power monitoring on the main incomer using a clamp meter, the smart plugs and the web interface where smart in every sense of the word. For the iPhone, there was a little wizard app that allowed me to monitor my power, switch on lights remotely (If I wanted to I could have switched on my toaster, but I didn’t want to, ever). What made this appealing was that it was easy, everything about it was largely foolproof. There was a talk of a thermostat to come which would allow me to manage my heating remotely; I applied to become a beta tester. Then there was a change of management, and everything went very quiet. You will now know this product as HIVE; the business having been acquired by British Gas a couple of years ago, all efforts went into building the Thermostat. I bought Hive because I wanted the remote Thermostat.
I went from one box under the stairs; I now have two, one for my Alert.Me and one for my HIVE. As recently as this month I found out HIVE were not going to entertain the heritage user base and all my Alert.Me smart sockets were to become redundant. The website still reports, and the App still works, but the lights will go out on this, my first foray into Home Automation. But never mind because I had IoBridge aswell! Indeed, I had IoBridge in abundance because I thought this was it the next big thing, the ability to build you’re very own smart home using you’re very own sensors. Again there where some easy sensors and setup right out of the box and some great website capability that allowed you to build your sensors and report on them, it may interest you to know that since putting my first IoBridge in, my front door has opened and then closed some 28036 times. The beer fridge in my man cave has maintained a steady temperature throughout it’s working life, and I can tell you the temperature, humidity and status of doors all around my house. At least 60% of that sensing data is largely irrelevant to me. The one time it nearly brought me to my knees, was when the front door tweeted that “it was open” while my wife and I were on holiday a long, long way away. I’d forgotten we had given a key to the builder to fix an issue for us while we were away; it worked, but I had no plan to deal with the outcome of being informed I was (possibly) been broken in to! I went from 2 boxes under the stairs to 8 boxes scattered around. IoBridge has transformed themselves from being a hardware developer to pure software and Big Data with their Thing Speak and MathLab tool sets. My equipment still works and still reports and could if I wanted it to switch on my toaster based on a raft sensor feedback and decision-making data, but the lights will go out at some point.
So what next, both my early attempts at embracing IoT and the automated home have met with great success but limited future. When I look into the marketplace now, there are a raft of toys and gadgets for the home, everything from smart plugs, smart bulbs, lamps, thermostats, door locks and smoke detectors and yes, toasters!
What I want is longevity, I want interoperability and I want it all in one box under the stairs. I want easy to install and setup, and I want reporting coming out of my ears. Also, I want to both operate it while I’m remote of it, and it report to me both while in and out of its immediate proximity. I want analytics that give me the ability to make management decisions on my home. I’d also like a hot slice of toast and a cup of tea when I wake up in the morning. Although I’m going to have to question just how a piece of bread left out overnight is going feel in the mouth, having further been toasted in the morning, if it can’t do tea I recall there was the Goblin Teas Maid, that did the job yesteryear.
I’ve searched the interwebs, I can have all of the above, largely, or rather I can get all the functionality, a bit of the interoperability but not in one box or one platform. Such a platform does not exist. Or rather it does, but it doesn’t exist as a single solution, nor does it use one connectivity solution, nor does it use one cloud solution. As one colleague put it (you know who you are) “I’m now connected to so many clouds there’s bound to be a thunderstorm”.
I think the longevity is there, with players like Samsung, Philips, Huawei, British Gas and numerous others getting into the home market the longevity of platform and components will to a large extent be maintained. Don’t expect not to have to swap some tin out, though. For example if you have Philips Hue and want to have Philips Hue with Apple HomeKit integration, you will need to swap out your version 1 hub (the round one) to the version 2 hub (the square one). I found that out after I took delivery of my brand new version one hub a week ago. Still you do get a 33% discount as an existing user. Samsung has brought out Version 2 of their Smart Hub thankfully through sheer good luck than good judgement I took delivery of the V2 hub last week. NEST is on Version 3 of their Thermostat it comes out in a week or two, luckily I haven’t bought that yet.
So I pull out the Alert.Me hub and that’s one down. I can now control all my new sockets and the lightbulbs that give me a selection of 16million colours with just two hubs. So net-net I’m on nine hubs now (think about it). However there is a big difference, as I procure some of these new services like SmartThings and Philips Hue there is a willingness by some of the manufacturers to open up their API’s to make interoperability much, much easier if you have a degree in computer science, I jest, but only in part. Using the Samsung SmartThings Hub, I can now start bring a lot of my appliances and reporting together. The hub (Version 2, to be clear) supports Zigbee and Z-wave radios as well as a back-end system that has a user base of developers keen to bring more devices on-line. I’m gradually reducing the amount of real estate on my iPhone to just a small number of apps now. Which means I can check my house for people, temperatures, doors are opening and closing, turn on anyone of 16million colours across three different bulbs on three floors and unlock my front door from anywhere in the world with just one app, although it won’t make toast currently. I’m assuming that means anyone with a mischievous or indeed malicious intent probably could do that too (all of the above, not make toast).
For those things that don’t integrate directly into my SmartThings hub, I have thrown another solution into the mix, If This Then That (IFTTT.com). By opening up various channels, I can now make things interact easily with each other using very simple recipes on their website. My new NEST Smoke Alarm will text me when the house is on fire (I need to work out a plan for the one day it does, and I’m not there). My Netatmo Weather Station (much to the chagrin of a colleague, you know who you are) Tweets when it is raining in my vicinity even if I am not in its vicinity. Using the SmartThings hub when I get close to the house Philips Hue lights will switch on and indeed the front room will flash a plethora of colours just as the International Space Station goes over my house. The only challenge with the latter recipe is that I can’t be sure if it is the Space station going over or the NEST is trying to inform me that the CO2 is too high in the Hall (I need to build a plan for that too). As I type this, I’ve just pressed a button on the phone called “Let there be Light” its just switched on some sockets with various lamps on them. Which is brilliant, but I happen to know that I have also built a recipe that senses if I’m in or not and then switch a load of them off again. I’ve managed to create a capability that senses if an entry-exit door opens when the alarm is on it plays a barking noise on my connected SONOS speakers, which I can equally manage from the pub. I don’t, however, know if that recipe I created to tell me the weather forecast at various times across the Sonos speakers overrides that.
Trying to put a wrap on this, it is getting there, but it has a long way to go. It’s not joined up, and frankly it’s a long way from being easy. I’m not that tech savvy but I”ve managed to make a lot of stuff happen in my home automatically. I’ve also been burned quite badly as an early adopter buying solutions that didn’t quite make the mustard. Right now I’m clear that the future will rely on extensive cooperation between device manufacturers to make this a holistic experience for the consumer. I’ve bought HIVE from British Gas, that is going to have to come out as they can’t give timelines on opening up the interface/API to the Smart Things hub or IFTTT. So it will probably be a NEST solution because I can always use IFTTT to integrate it (but then you’re reading this from a guy who moved from the technically introvert Halifax to Barclays because of their online innovation, just before they announced they were not going to adopt Apple Pay, yet). Then, and this is the big one I have connected so many API to so many other API’s I’ve lost track who or rather what is talking to what and more importantly where my data is and who can look at it. Further as much as this has been great fun the only sure piece of absolute data I can give you about my home is that my front door has open and closed 28036 times, I genuinely have no idea what habits I’m going to change as a result of that piece of information. I also still have no idea if I care about my toaster being online!