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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.
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.”
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.
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.