It Turns Out That the Smart Home is Kind of Difficult


It seemed so imminent. Over the last two years that ever elusive goal of mainstream home automation looked like it was finally coming within reach. Google had acquired Nest for an ungodly amount of money. Samsung followed suite by snapping up SmartThings. Apple unveiled HomeKit. And Amazon, after quietly let us believe they were asleep at the wheel, released the Echo.

While the latter caused a great deal of head scratching at first, it's the only initiative of the lot showing any signs of life. Nest, Samsung, and Apple have all realized that as it turns out the smart home is pretty damn difficult. 

Take Nest. Since being acquired by Google (now Alphabet) they have released one new product, which was little more than a re-badged DropCam. If higher-ups at Alphabet are wondering what is going on they need look no further than the tech press. In the last two weeks alone we've seen:

  • A scathing profile from The Information which paints a picture of a Tyrant CEO with a Steve Jobs complex
  • A piece from Greg Duffy (DropCam Founder) taking Nest's CEO Tony Fadell to task for what amounts to ruining his company following the acquisition
  • And most recently news from Re/Code that two top Nest execs are leaving the company

Looking at Apple we've seen well... nothing. I heard good friend of the show Mike Wolf call HomeKit a "dead initiative walking" on Twitter a couple of weeks ago. I couldn't agree more. HomeKit was first announced over two years ago. Today, it amounts to little more than a broken promise. Apple will of course be quiet about what's holding them up. But we don't need to know specifics in order to surmise that launching the initiative has proven far more difficult than the company had planned. 

Finally you've got Samsung's SmartThings platform. SmartThings, which raised an impressive $1.2M on Kickstarter back in 2012, seemed to offer a compelling vision for the connected home of the future. Purposefully designed and inexpensively priced, the products gained steady momentum amongst a new crop of consumers who finally saw the DIY smart home as a real possibility.

Sadly the momentum for SmartThings has waned since the company was acquired by Samsung in 2014 for a reported $200M. The company has managed a couple new releases, including SmartThings 2.0 and their home monitoring service, both launched in the Fall of 2015. The monitoring service hasn't been without its hiccups, and, while anecdotal, we've heard grumblings from a number of our listeners about the platform's performance not living up to its shiny marketing. Anecdotal or not, SmartThings has lost that spark that seemed to indicate they were well on their way to becoming a household name a couple short years ago. 

As we sit roughly a quarter of the way through 2016 it's looking like we're facing a seminal year in the smart home. Rumors that Nest's demise is imminent, speculation that Apple has given up, and a tangible loss of momentum for the hub / sensor approach of SmartThings, all serve as reminders that the mainstream connected home is a far cry from reality.