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Summary:

Next week the internet of things will star at the Consumer Electronics Show in Vegas. Ahead of all the hubbub my guest, Chester Pipkin, the CEO of Belkin and I discuss what we’re going to see.

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Next week at this time my colleague and co-host Kevin Tofel will be fighting the hordes at the Consumer Electronics Show and reporting back on the cool widgets and gadgets that he finds. But before he takes off, we discussed a bit of what he’s expecting to see, including voice controls for the internet of things, presence awareness and smarter algorithms that will turn the smart home from something people have to program into the anticipatory home, that will react to you.

And because Kevin and I aren’t exactly consumer electronics industry insiders, my guest this week is Chet J. Pipkin, the CEO of Belkin, the maker of the WeMo line of connected devices. Belkin will have a smart home setup at CES (so will SmartThings) and while Pipkin declined to scoop his own company’s news, we discussed the big trends ahead for the smart home. So listen up as you pack and prepare for the internet of things to dominate the conversation at CES.

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Host: Stacey Higginbotham
Guest: Kevin Tofel and Chet Pipken, CEO of Belkin

  • Explaining the anticipatory home as opposed to the smart home
  • Kevin and I think this is the year Zigbee and Z-wave give up
  • Belkin’s CEO explains how Wi-Fi might be used to give you presence even without your smartphone and beacons
  • What UI makes the most sense for the smart home?

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  1. Interesting that you and Kevin both think that Zigbee and Zwave are likely to be declining standards in the future. If anything, it seems like they are gaining some momentum. Zigbee is a low-cost standard from a licensing perspective but has been plagued by lack of standardization and that seems to be improving in some areas – for example, the Light Link standard that Philips embeds in their Hue products will be gaining support from additional partners (Sylvania is mentioned as bringing out bulbs that are compatible – hopefully, this brings down that price for multi-colored smart bulbs given that price has been the biggest barrier to wider adoption on these).

    Zwave seems to be getting new partners – in the US, Lowes (Iris) and Staples (Connect) launched systems in 2013; SmartThings and Revolve have compatibility, and Fibaro (with their slick looking scenes control) is coming to the US in 2014.

    Comcast and Verizon both added security/home automation systems that rely on zigbee or zwave.

    So I think that, even though standalone wi-fi or bluetooth devices will gain some popularity, there is a lack of standards for control and interoperability and that will probably not be addressed soon and this will hurt adoption of these devices. A consumer will bring the device home, find they can control it with a dedicated smartphone app, but be frustrated that there is vendor lock-in and the device won’t talk to other devices. Zwave and Zigbee (and Insteon) also have the advantage of being a mesh network that (in some cases) does not compete with the same frequencies used by wi-fi/bluetooth/etc.

    Zwave already has multi-vendor standards that span device types (the one key gap appears to be colored lights, which is addressed by Light LInk). The main weakness with Z-wave has been lack of volumes to bring down prices (which will hopefully improve as vendors bring more systems and adoption increases) and more user-friendly and streamlined interfaces for the home controllers (again, helped by more competition and options).

    Ultimately, though, I don’t think that home automation will really take off until a major tech vendor (probably Apple) decides to jump in, commit to a standard (say zwave or zigbee), redefine what a home controller interface looks/feels/is programmed like, sets some interoperability standards (vendor certification and testing – a vendor can proudly claim on their packaging that they work with AppleHome!!), and comes up with some sort of app store that automates the configuration and programming of common sets of actions (for example, lights going on when a person is in the room and off when empty; lights go on, dim and turn blue for move mode, when the TV is on at night-time). We’re probably a few years away from that, but the industry is definitely laying the foundation right now.

    Am excited to see what announcements come from CES.

  2. Colin Robertson Tuesday, December 31, 2013

    I only recently discovered the show, but I’ve been enjoying the podcast Stacey.

    A recent piece on Quartz by Christopher Mims addressed the lack of a common language, or “HTML” for the internet of things, which you touched on on the most recent podcast.

    I gotta think that IFTTT has the potential be that “fabric” that holds everything together. It’s a bit too simplistic right now, but if all internet of things had API’s that tied in with IFTTT and you had the ability to create more complex, better organized recipes in IFTTT, then I don’t think there’s any reason why IFTTT couldn’t be the backbone of smart home technologies.

    Your thoughts?

    1. I love IFTTT but right now it’s too simple to set all of the scenes i want. The beauty of All Joyn is it wants to create the same rules for all devices so all light bulbs will have the same commands to turn them on, off, dim, etc. So then making those recipes becomes more automated based on a device self-reporting it’s capabilities. Both IFTTT and All Joyn could work in the world. And thanks for listening/commenting!

  3. Colin Robertson Tuesday, December 31, 2013

    You also spoke of needing more advanced algorithms. With things like Nest, intelligent algorithms are great, but I feel like to the layman, algorithms on too many things could have the potential to go haywire pretty quickly. “Why the f*** are my lights turning on at 3 am?!”, is what I imagine my dad yelling to me on the phone after I’ve convinced him to install several automation devices.

    I think that in order to gain some mainstream traction, we need to keep this stuff simple to install and simple to integrate.

    We are getting the simple to install thing down. Sonos, Hue, WeMo… all of these devices take moments to setup. The problem of course, is they all have their own apps (for better or worse).

    By using IFTTT, we can create integration between disparate devices (as long as they all talk to the internet and IFTTT). Now we just need more devices that talk to IFTTT (I’m talking to you, Sonos).

    I’m trying to think of areas that where IFTTT wouldn’t work (as I’m sure there are), but I’m not coming up with anything yet.

    What kind of specific scenarios do you see for needing algorithms for home automation?

  4. Really insightful podcast Stacey. It was my first audio experience of your reporting and really enjoyed it. We read your IoT pieces regularly from Berlin and Amsterdam.

    We are also big believers in the IFTTT and AllJoyn approach. Ideally you would combine the UI simplicity of IFTTT with the reach and power of AllJoyn. It seems inevitable.

    But to be fair, Philips, WeMo, Withings, Nike, Nest, etc are necessary market forces. They are on the forefront giving AppDevs their first taste of the IoT, but the developers will want, already want, more flexibility to more devices very soon (i.e. i mean the app economy is only 5 years old!). It is unrealistic that App Developers will be managing the thousands of Open APIs from all these Big Brand Devices, plus those from the thousands of new emerging smart devices from start-ups and makers. And what happens when soon the big brand devices just get copied, including the Open API, by cheaper manufacturers at a lower price point?

    The IFTTT/AllJoyn will happen in one form or another: an open sourced platform and one open API for the physical world. We only see the inevitable struggle that a corporate initiative will have gaining members and partners (the decade old M2M initiatives and failures are lessons in this direction), though as open source it is putting the best foot forward.

    We are trying an IFTTT/AllJoyn approach ourselves, with our own platform, but on a start-up level, from the ground up, to help the effort along, which we hope will be quicker and more agile, with less corporate politics. We are starting by giving app developers their own building blocks, the BLE-enabled sensors and a wifi base, we call the “WunderBar” (we are based in Berlin) a kit for app developers, to help get them started making anything of their choice smarter, brand-free, and develop their own smart apps (no hardware knowledge needed). But this is not the place for details. if anyone is interested they can reach out. We just wanted to support your thesis that the All Joyn strategy is the future.

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