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10 Biggest CE Stories of 2013: Control4, IoT, iControl, Alarm.com, Plasma, More

In 2013, Lutron launched RF products for DIY, Internet of Things for the smart home took off, Control4 went public, 6 top dealers formed Via, Plasma died, 4K Ultra HD thrived, hacker bots disrupted home automation.


10 Biggest CE Stories of 2013: Control4, IoT, iControl, Alarm.com, Plasma, More
Biggest CE Stories of 2013: Control4 IPO, Via International, Internet of Things, Crowdfunding, Home Automation Hacking, Video Shakeups, Lutron ClearConnect, iControl/Alarm.com Lawsuits, Grandcare, Jeremy Burkhardt
Julie Jacobson · December 30, 2013

2013 saw many milestones in home automation, including Control4’s IPO, Lutron’s new ClearConnect RF technology for DIY products like Staples Connect, and a rash of new bots like Shodan that may change the face of the Internet-connected smart home forever.

Meanwhile, the year brought some of the biggest stories ever in video displays, with the rise of 4K Ultra HD, the demise of plasma, the uncertainly of OLED and the promise of curved screens.

These are some of the biggest stories affecting the consumer electronics and custom installation industries.

1. Control4 IPO

Control4 (Nasdaq: CTRL), arguably the first pure-play home automation IPO ever, started trading on the Nasdaq Friday, August 2, 2013.

Offering 4 million shares at $16 (before underwriting discounts), CTRL started the day at $19.81 and closed at $20.05, up 25.3% from the offer price.

Since then, shares have ranged from a high of $24 to a low of $13.77, currently trading at about $17.

The IPO was significant because, for the first time, it gave the home automation industry some kind of guidelines for valuation. It also generated analyst and investor interest in the category.

RELATED:
Control4 Files for $60M IPO
Control4 Up 25% on First Day of IPO; How Did They Get There?
Valuing a Home Automation Co.: How Will Control4 IPO Fare?
Why Control4 IPO is Significant to Home Systems Integrators


2. Via International

Six leading high-end integration firms – with expected revenues of $73 million for 2013 – merged to form VIA International, Inc., with plans to become the first international brand for luxury home systems installations.

Home systems integrators – even some of the tops in the business – have tried national “rollups” in the past, but none has succeeded.

Via International may very well be the first.

RELATED:
6 Leading Integrators Merge to Form International Luxury Brand
VIA International Picks HTSA as Buying Group
Prediction: VIA Will Be First National High-End Home Tech Installation Co.


3. Internet of Things

The Internet of Things (IoT) is a dumb term but whatever you call embedded IP … it was a huge deal in 2013 and will only grow more prevalent.

IoT is a fairly loose term. Many think of it simply as any device or system controllable via the Internet – even, for example, a Z-Wave-based system connected via a gateway to the router to the Internet.

In its purest form, IoT entails Wi-Fi being built into individual devices, which are then controllable via the Internet without a gateway other than a standard router.

However you define it, IoT is a pretty big deal.

Individual IoT-enabled devices allow for easy installation and configuration. More importantly, an IoT ecosystem encourages cloud-based integration. DIY if/then engines like IFTTT and pro-oriented platforms like Alarm.com grow ever more significant for each IoT device added to a network.

On the custom side, we’re sort of going there. TiO from ACTP, for example, dropped ZigBee from its predecessor Colorado vNet in favor of Wi-Fi for light switches and thermostats.

Savant, too, is now incorporating Wi-Fi in a new line of SmartLighting wireless dimmers and switches.

On the consumer side, IoT has been popularized by the likes of Belkin (WeMo), Nest (thermostat and fire/smoke detector), Dropcam (camera), Doorbot (doorbell/cam) Lockitron (lock) and so much more.

RELATED:
Savant Taps Internet of Things for Mainstream Lighting Control and Home Automation
Inside New TiO Home Automation System: Nothing Like vNet


4. Crowdfunding

This relatively new phenomenon of crowdfunding really took off in 2013, and while there was little activity in the custom electronics field, plenty of new ideas came from crowd-funded projects.

Notably, we saw a number of smart LED bulbs, electronic door locks and new home automation paradigms such as smart cameras (Canary, Black Sumac’s Piper, Doorbot, SmartThings and Revolv, for example)

The next big thing in custom-installed electronics may very well come from Kickstarter, Indiegogo or any number of its competitors.

RELATED:
On LIFX and $1.3M: Will Crowdsourcing Implode?
Piper DIY Security/Home Automation Camera is Way Smarter than Canary
In Depth: Canary Smart Camera Has Sensors, Alerts, Siren, No Home Automation
25 Home Automation Projects on Crowdfunding: A Roundup
3 Cool Home Automation Projects on Crowdfunding: HVAC, IoT, Smart Lights
Inside the Goji Lock: What’s Up with that Camera?
Ube WiFi Smart Dimmer Launches with Crowdfunding via Indiegogo
Olive One All-in-One Music Player Launches via Crowdfunding


5. Home Automation Hacking

Hacking home automation systems is nothing new. We reported back in 2011, for instance, that hackers easily penetrated 15 homes via the powerlines, manipulating lights, thermostats, cameras and other devices.

2013, home-automation hacking got really scary with the rise of auto bots like Shodan that scour the Internet for IP-connected devices, and expose them to those who might disarm the security system or spy through the cameras.

This development might have set back the automation industry a little bit, but mostly it served as a wake-up call for integrators to drop the age-old practice of port-forwarding and implement VPNs instead.

RELATED:
How to Protect Clients from Home Automation Hacker Bots
Home Automation Systems Easily Hacked via Powerlines (2011)


6. Video: Hello 4K, Goodbye Plasma, Adios Mitsubishi, Whither OLED?

There were several shakeups in the display category in 2013.

This year, Panasonic announced it would finally end its plasma run in Q1 2014, closing the category for good.

The end of plasma followed the demise of rear-projection DLPs when the last holdout Mitsubishi ended its run earlier this year (a Top Story of 2012). In 2013, we learned that Mitsubishi, for the most part, is exiting the consumer display category.

On the topic of departures, might we see the premature end of big-screen OLEDs? Just a few days ago, Sony and Panasonic indicated they would dissolve their OLED production partnership, reportedly because they could not make the panels durable or affordable.

Perhaps OLED might live on in curved displays. Another newsworthy item in the video department for 2013 was curved-screen TVs. In May, LG announced a 55-inch curved OLED for $13,500. Samsung launched one for $9,000.

Both LG and Samsung said they would show at CES 2014 a 105-inch curved 4K display, with a 21:9 CinemaScope aspect ratio, no less.

The real winner in the display category for 2013 was 4K Ultra HDNPD DisplaySearch revealed that shipments of UHD sets will total 1.9 million units in 2013 and jump to 12.7 million units in 2014.

For CE pros, margins are still strong in the category, at least for the name-brand products.

But this year we also saw a flood of cheap sets from the likes of Seiki, TCL and Hisense.

Meanwhile, content continues to trickle out – Netflix plans to serve it up in 2014—and an ecosystem from production to content to delivery mechanism to display is firming up.

RELATED:
Panasonic to Exit Plasma TV Business in 2014
Report: Sony, Panasonic End OLED TV Partnership
LG Curved OLED TV Launches for $13,500
Samsung 55” KN55S9C Curved OLED TV Launches for $9K
4K Ultra HD TV Shipments to Increase Dramatically in 2014
Netflix Ultra HD 4K Streaming Tests Begin


7. Lutron’s Lower Cost RF Line

Lutron has a couple of flavors of proprietary ClearConnect RF technology, which it embeds in its own products and increasingly those of its partners such as Honeywell.

In 2013, Lutron launched a new variety of ClearConnect wireless technology that is being embedded in DIY products including its own Serena motorized shades and a new line of dimmers called Caseta. Caseta is sold online and at home improvement stores such as Home Depot and Lowe’s for less than $60 each – well below the price of, say, a RadioRa 2 dimmer.

The technology is being embedded in the new Staples Connect home automation system for native communications with the Serena shades and Caseta dimmers.

The wireless products “won’t compromise on Lutron reliability,” says Michael Smith, VP residential solutions for Lutron, “but you won’t have the level of sophistication as you would with RadioRA2 and HomeWorks.”

This flavor of ClearConnect does not work with Lutron’s pro-oriented wireless products.

We imagine that Lutron will make a big play in the DIY and mass-market automation business by encouraging new players to embed the new ClearConnect technology into their products. We also guess that the lighting-controls giant will create an entire ecosystem around the technology.

RELATED
Staples Launches Connect Home Automation; Teams with Lutron for Lighting, Shades


8. Telguard, iControl, Alarm.com Lawsuits

After years of duking it out against each other, iControl and Alarm.com—two prominent cloud-based home-control service providers—are taking it to the courts.

In May, Alarm.com sued Telular over its Telguard HomeControl service, which is powered by iControl. Alarm.com alleges infringement of four patents.

Two months later, iControl sued Alarm.com alleging infringement on six patents. In addition, iControl sued one of Alarm.com’s major customers, FrontPoint Security, for allegedly divulging inside information to Alarm.com.

The Telguard/iControl/Alarm.com lawsuits may have repercussions down the road, potentially scaring dealers and undoubtedly raising the cost of their respective services.

Meanwhile, the other major cloud-based home-control provider, Honeywell (Total Connect), has managed to stay out of the imbroglio.

RELATED:
Alarm.com Sues Telguard/Telular over Cloud-Based Security, Home Automation
iControl sues Alarm.com over Interactive Home Automation, Security
Telguard HomeControl for 2Gig Security, Home Automation Debuts


9. Grandcare Abandons CE Pro Channel

Grandcare, a maker of technology for seniors living independently, decided to bypass the custom channel and sell direct to its customers.

This is not a big story in and of itself.

But it is significant in that the company was the last one to believe our channel could deliver home health technology to the market, including end users, caregivers and healthcare providers.

The company tried hard for at least five years to tap custom-oriented distributors and dealers, to little avail.

They finally pulled the plug on the channel in late 2013, opting to shore up its in-house resources and sell direct to healthcare providers.

Is there any hope left that home systems integrators can sell this stuff?

RELATED
GrandCare Shifts Channel Strategy for Home Health Tech; Goes Customer Direct


10. Jeremy Burkhardt

2013 was a big year for Jeremy Burkhardt, just as it was in 2012 when he left SpeakerCraft as its iconic and controversial leader.

This year, Burkhardt sued SpeakerCraft and parent company Nortek alleging they tried to enforce an illegal non-compete. We assume the issue was dropped.

Unfazed by the non-compete, Burkhardt negotiated to buy Soundcast, a maker of wireless outdoor audio systems, and outlined big plans for the acquisition … which ultimately fell through.

Meanwhile, former SpeakerCraft execs Dan Kippycash, Jeff Francisco and Alex Chiou started speaker manufacturer TDG Audio.

Other SpeakerCraft alums include Nick Berry, who ended up at Soundcast and Chris Lehnen who joined iRoom, a maker of motorized in-wall mounts for iOS tablets.

RELATED
Jeremy Burkhardt Sues SpeakerCraft, Nortek
Who Will Jeremy Burkhardt Buy? Who SHOULD he Buy?
Jeremy Burkhardt Buys Soundcast, Unfazed by Nortek Non-compete
Burkhardt Outlines Ambitious Soundcast Plans
Soundcast to Go it Alone, Sans Jeremy Burkhardt



  About the Author

Julie Jacobson, recipient of the 2014 CEA TechHome Leadership Award, is co-founder of EH Publishing, producer of CE Pro, Electronic House, Commercial Integrator, Security Sales and other leading technology publications. She currently spends most of her time writing for CE Pro in the areas of home automation, security, networked A/V and the business of home systems integration. Julie majored in Economics at the University of Michigan, spent a year abroad at Cambridge University, earned an MBA from the University of Texas at Austin, and has never taken a journalism class in her life. She's a washed-up Ultimate Frisbee player currently residing in Carlsbad, Calif. Email Julie at [email protected]

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  Article Topics


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