People Power, a company that since 2009 has managed to make open-source home-energy tracking hardware and software, an enterprise-focused energy-tracking cloud service, and a consumer-facing mobile app that tracked home energy usage, has a new plan for itself. A plan that involves the internet of things.
The company is launching Presence, an iOS app that converts an existing iPod Touch, iPad or iPhone into a remote camera. The idea is that people have older versions of Apple devices lying around and this app can help people put them to use in a new way — as a home-monitoring service. Eventually, People Power’s CEO Gene Wong hopes the app becomes a control point for other connected devices in the home.
To that end, the firm already has deals with SimpliciKey, a connected lock company, and Monster, the cabling company that has a line of connected plugs that are similar to the Belkin WeMo. While the app is free for consumers to download, the hope is that manufacturers will strike deals to connect other devices through the app and sell them to customers there as well.
Already the Presence app offers a list of accessories that will help in the process of turning a portable device into a stationary remote camera. Stands, tripods, extra-long cables and extra chargers are all offered through the app. As for the rationale behind this switch from helping customers conserve energy to helping them monitor their homes (or pets), Wong said:
“One of the things we discovered is people don’t care enough about saving a few bucks and they don’t care about saving the planet. So what we have done by moving to Presence is we are tapping into things that people really care about: their family, their pets, their elderly parents, and … improving their safety and security.”
And what about the app? It’s incredibly simple to install and set up a camera. I was sharing my iPad as a remote camera with a colleague in less than 3 minutes. I don’t have any unused iOS products lying around, so my tests weren’t exhaustive by any means, but it has some nice features that are simple to enable.
- It has a simple user interface that allows you to set your camera up to share video and audio or video but not audio and vice versa. This is nice if you want to enable a picture but not have people overhear your conversations.
- There’s a simple rules option that lets you set up if/then statements to “program” how the camera works.
- You can darken the screen if you want to make the camera unobtrusive.
- When someone logs into the account and can watch you, a message flashes on the screen letting those around the remote camera know it’s being monitored (this is printed in white so if the background is white, it doesn’t show up all that well).
- The motion detection works well. When it’s triggered it will send a five-second video of whatever triggered it to your email. At that point you can log in and view the camera if you’d like.
- I worry about having any remote-controlled camera attached to the public internet in my home. Wong assures me the People Power cloud is safe, but I’m always cautious.
- Wong detailed how one could use this as an easy way to create a videoconference for someone who isn’t technically savvy enough for Skype. Just load the app on an old device and ship it to grandpa with the log in and password. With a shared account you can create a face-to-face conversation. In practice though, finding the right buttons to share the video wasn’t easy.
- This is a battery hog, so you do need to plug it in if you want this to run more than an hour or so. The company is clear about that, but it bears repeating.
So will People Power’s pivot help it conquer the internet of things after it couldn’t gain traction in the energy-management space? The app is nice and an Android version of it should come out later this year. I do know several people who have older iPhones or iPod Touches lying around the house that might get upcycled into the home monitoring job, but I don’t know how big that market is.
As far as home monitoring, it competes with Dropcam, new IP-based alarm system Scout, and apps like AirBeam or Koozoo. And its one-app-to-control-all plan is one that several companies from MobiPlug to SmartThings all have in their own sights.
In the meantime, Wong says People Power will continue to support those “thousands of customers” who use the energy-monitoring app until he can fold them gracefully into this new app if it succeeds. Perhaps the third (or fourth) time is the charm for People Power.