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USAToday Column


December 30, 2014
It's more like the dis-connected home

FOSTER CITY, Calif. -- With the end of the year nearly upon us and the Consumer Electronics Show set to launch in early January, many tech pundits are busy making predictions for 2015.

A large number of them are focusing on the range of products for the "connected home" they expect to see unveiled at CES.

Connected homes, sometimes called "smart homes," have caught the fancy of the tech industry because they offer the futuristic promise of Jetsons-like convenience, and help tie together many of the individual tech products the industry has been building over the last few years.

Despite the enthusiasm, however, there are a number of obvious — and more subtle — challenges that are likely to make 2015 the year of the disconnected home instead of the connected one.

First and foremost, there is a serious standards battle brewing in the world of connected homes (and the Internet of Things, or IOT). The battle is about the most basic of principles: how to connect and communicate among all the "connected" things.

Given the ubiquity of WiFi, Bluetooth and the TCP/IP Internet standards, it's easy to take for granted that any "smart" thing will be able to talk to another one. The reality, though, is the world of mechanical systems around a home — from heating and air conditioning to lighting, security, entertainment systems, and more — has unique requirements and needs agreed-upon standards to work as a seamless whole.

Several major industry vendors have recognized this challenge and developed the standards to address these issues. The problem is different groups of companies have created different, and incompatible, standards. Qualcomm is leading a large consortium called the AllSeen Alliance, while Intel is working with many others on the Open Interconnect Consortium and Apple has announced plans for HomeKit.

Another critical issue is retrofitting existing homes. It's great for new home builders to put in all the various types of wiring, light fixtures, heating, speakers, door locks, cameras, displays and other elements that we often see in the "dream" homes of the future. But integrating those kinds of elements into an existing home is an expensive, non-trivial task.

As a result, we often see a number of interesting individual products that can add some capabilities to our homes, like connected security cameras, thermostats, garage door openers, multi-room sound systems and more. Many of them offer genuinely useful and compelling individual experiences, but few of them work together.

Instead, we're often forced to open one app on our smartphones to do one thing and then another app to do something else. Yes, you can do it, but the lack of integration definitely decreases the overall value of each individual device or system. Plus, before you know it, you end up with a very complicated mess of different systems that starts to get unwieldy to most consumers.

The promise of a home that does things like recognize when you get home and automatically unlock the door, turn on your lights, set your thermostat, and turn on some music is undeniably appealing to many.

Yet the costs and complexities of making it all work may keep those kinds of systems limited to only the homes of the wealthiest for some time to come.


Bob O'Donnell is the founder and chief analyst of TECHnalysis Research, LLC a technology and market research firm that provides strategic consulting and market research services to the technology industry and professional financial community. You can follow him on Twitter @bobodtech

Here's a link to the original column: http://www.usatoday.com/story/tech/columnist/2014/12/30/the-disconnected-home-ces-jetsons-smart-home/20639919/

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