Wink’s rocky launch hasn’t stopped it from gaining market share

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Wink, the relatively new company that spun out from Quirky to sell connected home devices and software, is looking to be a serious contender in the home automation sector with the launch of new devices next month and a successful holiday season. In an interview this week with Brett Worthington, VP and general manager at Wink, he said that Wink added more than 3,000 hubs a day on Black Friday and Christmas Day and a new user every 12 seconds (there are more users than hubs because some devices don’t require a hub to work). Those customers added 3.5 devices per account.

He also listed an array of new devices we can expect support for included Z-wave and ZigBee sensors as well as new garage door openers from Quirky and Linear. We’ll see those in the beginning of February in Home Deport stores and supported in the app as part of an app update.

So let’s talk about the bump in user numbers over the holiday. Currently I’m seeing that on the Android side about 50,000 people have downloaded the app according to the tally in the Play store. In most home automation setups involving hubs, iOS users are about 60 or 70 percent of the user base, but I don’t know what Wink’s breakdown is specifically, and Worthington wouldn’t give me the user numbers. However, thanks to the partnership with Home Depot, the Wink hub and devices are in stores nationwide, and aggressive pricing over the holidays may have pushed people to give Wink a try.

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The promotions Home Depot ran over the holidays — buy two connected devices and get a hub for $0.99 — were similar to the deal it ran when the hub launched last June, but maybe folks were just in the gift-giving mood or ready to give home automation a whirl. This is impressive, especially given the horrible reviews that Wink received after its launch last July.

An eye on security

The hub was also hacked last summer at Defcon, and there are several posts that show you how to root the Wink hub so you can control your own device to avoid sending your data to the cloud. Yet these issues have not stopped the Wink from finding an audience, so I wanted to find out from Kauffman what we can expect from Wink. The answer is: quite a bit.

First up is security. The company announced at CES that it hired Brian Knopf, who handled security at Belkin, to help it ensure that problems like the Defcon issue (which was immediately dealt with) don’t happen again. One of the problems with the device security came from trying to get the hub out so quickly in the first place, Worthington admitted. The hub, which was manufactured by Flextronics, originally contained software for the embedded side that Flextronics engineers wrote.

“We built that hub with Flextronics very quickly,” said Worthington. “There were a couple firmware bugs and Wink fixed it. We’ve also rewritten some of things we found that [Flextronics] did that weren’t necessarily breaches but that we wanted to make better.”

The Wink hub and GE Link lights.

The Wink hub and GE Link lights.

Some of those included changing some of the radio software so the radio used for the Kidde smoke detectors could also talk to other devices that used that frequency. Wink has kept users up to date on the security software by forcing users to update their hubs if they want to add new devices. In general it’s just good tech hygiene to update your connected device firmware when requested, given all of the security weaknesses being discovered in them.

Giving users more sensor options

The second thing Wink is improving is the roster of devices. On February 2, it will launch several new connected products with an emphasis on new sensors — something currently lacking in the current line up of supported devices. They include a glass break sensor, open/close sensors called Tripper that will sell for $40 for a 2-pack, and a motion sensor. The nice thing about the sensors is that by adding these it also opens up the Wink to other Z-wave and ZigBee sensors in that device class, so those of you with ZigBee devices that support the Home Automation 1.2 version of the spec can use those with the Wink hub and those with Z-wave open/close and motion sensors should also be able to use those as well.

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Wink will also launch a ZigBee connected outlet that will be installed in the wall, and should then let people use other ZigBee connected outlets. That will be nice because right now we’re kind of limited to the Z-wave outlets that sit under the light switch section or the GE Quirky Pivot Power option. Finally we’ll see two new garage door opener options, the GE Quirky Ascend option and support for a new connected option from Linear, which is now called the GoControl Garage Door Controller.

Some of the new products coming on February 2 are available on the Wink store but aren’t supported yet in the app. But as of that date they should be supported in the app and soon after will be in Home Deport stores nationwide. and later this year we’ll also see some other improvements from Wink including a new version of the hub hardware that should get users better control over their Philips Hue lighting with intelligence built into the hub as well as a partnership with Whirlpool that was announced at CES.

It may have launched quickly and with some really bad reviews, but a big marketing effort and some serious investment in the product could mean that Wink becomes a real threat in the home automation space despite those early flaws.

9 Comments

nalts

I’ve been on a blitz since before holidays and it’s good fun but still so, so, so insanely buggy. If Wink didn’t have retail presence, I’d be more concerned that I’ve wasted a lot of money on a potential flop. Hopefully the software and support catches up with the sales and distribution. Otherwise the retailers like Home Depot and Target are going to have egg on their face. Considering one? Wait until summer and ask me.

Scott

The hub was also hacked last summer at Defcon, and there are several posts that show you how to root the Wink hub so you can control your own device to avoid sending your data to the cloud. Yet these issues have not stopped the Wink from finding an audience

The hub was “hacked”, but that doesn’t mean it had a security flaw. The root vulnerability didn’t allow hackers to access your device, it just gives some people more control. News articles (like this one) mis-characterize the opportunity as a problem. The root vulnerability was what made me get 3 hubs for playing with local control.

a big marketing effort and some serious investment in the product could mean that Wink becomes a real threat in the home automation space despite those early flaws.

When you’re practically giving away the hubs, it’s easy to “sell” lots of them. No other home automation platform has been willing to subsidize the hubs quite so much. I think the bigger news is that their devices are relatively inexpensive compared to competitors. And most of the devices (all of them?) seem to be able to be used by competitor’s hubs. They’re not proprietary like Iris systems.

d

I currently have 8 ge link lights and my garage doors hooked up to wink. It works great for me and has me on the lookout for new products to add. I did have to exchange the hub and a couple of lights but now everything is working well. I’m even thinking about getting the Phillips hue(price vs value) because of how well the Wink has been for me.

nalts

Yeah this Wink blitz was my starter drug, and I went for the wicked expensive Hue… And the tapper wall switch. Three bulbs in bedroom are nice to settle down and chill to Sonos. I wish these would synch with Sonos.

My2Cents

I currently own 2 WINK hubs. I mainly use them to power cycle remote cameras on some remote properties. I also use them for turning on and off lights in order to make it seem like there is a physical presence at the location. The application has come a long way since I first purchased these devices and I can say that the initial security flaws have been fixed. I had hacked one of my Wink Hubs to gain direct control, but Wink patched up the security hole. Saying that, I agree with Greg Glockner’s comment below…I feel uncomfortable relying on a cloud service for critical applications. There have been a few times where I get an “Unable to reach server” response when hooked up to my own (confirmed working) WiFi network. Luckily I only use the Wink Hub for non-critical tasks, so I try again 5 minutes later and it usually works. My only remaining grip is that Wink does not seem to take suggestions well and Technical support is sometime hard to get a hold of. All-in-all I believe this is the best “bang for the buck” for home automation products and I hope it continues to thrive and improve.

miabifilms

It also doesn’t hurt that Wink has end of aisle displays at Target. (at least at mine) As far as I can tell, this is the only connected device currently sold in Target stores. That’s gotta help!

Greg Glockner

There are two major problems with home automation: vendor lifespan and security. We may tolerate trading in a smart phone every 1-2 years, but nobody replaces their locks and light switches that often. But that might be the case if you use a cloud-based vendor who kills the product. Security is a major concern when the system involves alarms and doors. Imagine if a hacker can disable the alarm and open the door, especially when so many people use ‘password’ as their password.

Frankly, these two reasons made me build my own home automation system that is completely internal to my home. I own the server, and I control access to it.

Stacey Higginbotham

That’s why so far I only install products that are supported by a wide variety of vendors. As for the cloud aspect of Wink, the latency for lights especially drives me nuts, which is why I was excited to hear they plan a version 2 of the hub with some on-hub intelligence that will allow some of the commands to stay in the home. But from a security perspective if it touches the cloud, then you would still be vulnerable I suppose.

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