Networking & Cables

CES 2013 Shocker: Lowe’s Iris Home Automation Has Legs

Lowe's adds smart doggy doors, water heaters, screw-in ZigBee LED lights, Z-Wave Pella shades, home health monitoring to Iris home automation system at CES 2013.


One of the shockers at CES 2013 is that Lowe's Iris automation system might actually have legs. At $9.99 per month, the system blows away what Verizon offers for the same price.

Photos & Slideshow

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Lowe’s may well be the first retailer to succeed with home automation. That’s my verdict after visiting with the home improvement store at CES 2013 and revisiting the Iris solution that didn’t impress me a year ago.

What started as a modest solution based on the AlertMe ZigBee-enabled home control system from UK is now full-fledged platform compatible with ZigBee and Z-Wave. At $9.99 per month, the system blows away what Verizon gives you for the same price.

The Iris hub features ZigBee, Z-Wave and WiFi, and also boasts a slot for a $50 cellular module from Verizon. Using the cell service as a “back-up” for Internet-based access costs $5 per month. If you want cellular as your main access to Iris, it’ll cost $10 per month (but the cell service doesn’t support video).

Iris kits start at $179 for the basics, depending on the package. The security-focused kit gives you the hub, and a couple of sensors, a keypad and a window decal (!). A comfort kit gives you a thermostat and “smart plug” instead – pretty much the same stuff we saw last year (and the year before … and the year before from AlertMe).

Add cameras for $129 each, automated door locks for $199 and you get the same stuff everyone else is offering for the same price – whether standalone like Verizon Home Monitoring and Control, or on top of a professionally monitored security system, as with Comcast/Xfinity, ADT, Alarm.com and other mass-market providers.

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

The fact that Iris offers three options for automation – ZigBee, Z-Wave and WiFi/IP – opens up some possibilities competitors don’t give you. Most Z-Wave devices should work off-the-shelf if there’s an Iris interface for it (lighting, thermostats and door locks, for example). IP- and ZigBee-controllable devices will require some effort on the part of Lowe’s.

The company wants to make sure consumers don’t have to worry about protocols, just that a product “works with Iris.” You’ll see that mantra throughout the stores, as you’ll see at the Lowe’s booth at CES, in the Venetian.

The Iris user interface is nice – about what the others give you.

The fact that Iris supports all the important control protocols also is nice, but what Lowe’s really brings to the table is its sway with home-improvement vendors.

Products for Iris Ecosystem

At CES 2013, Lowe’s is showing some interesting products – still under development – from some of its existing vendors. For example, there’s a WiFi-enabled water heater from Whirlpool that has energy-saving features, remote diagnostics and leak detection.

Lowe’s is also showing - by way of signage - other forthcoming products that it intends to integrate into the Iris ecosystem:

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View more CE Pro coverage of CES 2013 at www.cepro.com/ces

When you take all of these traditional home-improvement products, add some intelligence and make them work in the Iris ecosystem, it becomes quite a retail story.

You can imagine signage – like those shown in our photo gallery – sprinkled in various departments throughout the store wherever Iris-compatible products can be found.

“We’re trying to tie everything together with ‘Works with Iris,” says Kevin Meagher, Lowe’s vice president of Smart Home.

Originally, Lowe’s stated that a big motivation for launching Iris was to promote sales of some of the retailer’s staple home improvement products, alerting homeowners to change their filters, replace their tired old air conditioners, and the like.

Eventually, the Iris play will merge with “My Lowe’s,” the company’s initiative for helping customer manage all of their home improvement purchases and needs.

UPDATE 12/27/14: Lowe’s to Launch First Ever UL-Compliant Z-Wave Garage Door Controller

Currently, Iris is deployed in 500 stores, with more roll-outs coming. There is only a small section with a 22-inch touchscreen to educate customers and there are no dedicated Iris staffers manning the kiosks; however, Meagher notes that Lowe’s offers “associate training” on the product and “we are working on a dedicated department.”

Will Iris fly? It’s a good product and affordably priced. Home Depot, Lowe’s and virtually every other home improvement store has tried umpteen times to sell home security and automation but none has succeeded.

Maybe Lowe’s can pull it off.

Professional Install, Home Health Monitoring, No Pro Security

A couple more notable things about Iris. First, you can purchase an Iris Care application for $5 per month for monitoring the activity of elderly loved ones or others who require surveillance. The system lets you monitor sensor activity, and will alert you of non-activity per the parameters you set.

The one thing missing from the system is the ability to integrate with a professionally monitored security system. If you already have a security system, it’s much easier to just add automation features to the existing via Alarm.com, Honeywell Total Connect or a number of other providers.

Finally, Lowe’s takes great pains to insist the system is DIY-friendly and can be installed within an hour. I’m doubtful. People can’t even get their own networks to work, much less install a light switch.

Lowe’s is pilot-testing a professional installation service with a national install group, but it won’t say which one or how much the service will cost.



  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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