Control & Automation

Will.i.am and Wink’s First Z-Wave Devices: A Shift in Smart-Home Strategy?

FCC filings reveal Wink Labs, the home-automation developer recently acquired by will.i.am (i.am+), is making its own Z-Wave security peripherals for the first time -- after years of handing that business to third-party IoT device makers.

Will.i.am and Wink’s First Z-Wave Devices: A Shift in Smart-Home Strategy?
FCC filings reveal Wink is making its own Z-Wave motion sensor (left), security siren (right) and door/window sensor (not pictured), abandoning the tradition of leaving IoT hardware to third-party manufacturers. What might the famous musician do with the devices under his i.am+ gadget brand?

Julie Jacobson · August 6, 2017

Wink Labs launched about four years ago with a home automation hub and SHaaS (smart home as a service) platform for all the IoT world to connect to. Now the company, recently acquired by musical sensation will.i.am, seems to be shifting gears, for the first time making its own Wink-branded peripherals beginning with a line of Z-Wave security products.

CE Pro discovered three new FCC filings for the Wink devices, all incorporating Z-Wave technology: a PIR motion sensor (WMOT1), door/window sensor (WDW1) and siren (WSIR1).

They wouldn’t be the first security peripherals to come out of Wink. The manufacturer promised its own Spotter Wi-Fi multipurpose sensor for quite some time, but the product was long delayed and rarely purchased.

No biggie, they had much bigger plans than collecting a little margin on sales of its own products.

Early Wink Strategy: Win IoT Partners, Build out Ecosystem

Back in the day, Wink’s big plan – seemingly a reasonable one – was to bring big-name smart-device manufacturers into the family, and build out the biggest ecosystem of interconnected smart-things that ever was.

Consumers would buy the hub and (maybe) subscribe to a cloud service because Wink talked to every smart thing. Smart-thing makers would rush to join the ecosystem, and maybe pay a fee for the privilege, because consumers were buying Wink because it talked to every smart thing.

New Wink Siren (WSIR1), Z-wave security sounder

Wink’s big plan wasn’t about selling its own end devices, but selling the ecosystem, the platform, the services, and a whole bunch of other people’s products – anything that communicated via ZigBee, Z-Wave, Wi-Fi, Lutron Clear Connect, Bluetooth (BLE) or 433 MHz (Kidde smoke/CO detectors and other security products).

Indeed, the company has built a large portfolio of respectable brands and interesting products, such as GE, Philips Hue, Leviton, Lutron, Ring, Nest, GoControl (by 2Gig), Arlo, Pella, Chamberlain, August, Yale, Ecobee, Honeywell, Kidde, Bali Windows and many more.

Wink does integrate with a ton of third-party devices, especially of Z-Wave variety, but the company sells some super-duper-partner products direct through its own e-commerce engine – typically for just a few bucks more than the street price elsewhere.


Related: Home Automation Hubs are Sold All Wrong


In developing its own line of peripherals today, Wink is simply following so many other home-automation companies that initially insisted they were “software companies,” and not in the business of making and selling hardware.

Samsung's SmartThings, for example, now offers its own line of security sensors.

SHaaS provider Alarm.com (Nasdaq: ALRM) has dramatically escalated its hardware development over the past couple of years (thermostats, cameras, video servers and more). Hardware sales are soaring, now comprising about 33% of overall revenues.

Others, like Lowe’s Iris, has always been about the hardware. The home-improvement store offers a wide range of Iris-branded peripherals including cameras, sensors, keyfobs, pendants and smart plugs.

What Would Will.i.am Think?

Will.i.am only just acquired Wink a few weeks ago, so he probably had little to do with the new smart-home devices. Even so, he probably digs the new direction.

About four years ago, the musician launched i.am+ (pronounced “I am plus”), a gadget company that has made and sold iPhone camera accessories (foto.shoto), smart watches (dial), and Bluetooth headphones, -- all providing “sought-after fashion” statements and “premium” user experiences.

Wink will fall under that business unit.

Take something as inconsolably sad as a motion sensor or a siren. What if these incidentals could be made as cool as Will.i.am himself? 

I’ve tried unsuccessfully to speak with a Will.i.am rep – or, perchance, even the man himself? – but no go, even after deleting my #AbbaFan tweets.

A Wink spokesperson said the company isn’t ready to talk about the Wink acquisition.

This leaves me no other choice than to speculate, which is generally more interesting than the real deal anyway.

So … Home automation “hubs” and “platforms” don’t sell. They just don’t. People will never understand them. They will never be sexy (the hubs, not the people).

In fact, the business of IoT is all about the end devices – what they do, how they’re sold and supported, and to a very large degree how sexy they are.

Remember when thermostats were totally uncool? Nest made ‘em hot. Smokin’ hot. Ring took doorbells from drab to dreamy. Dull lightbulbs danced when Philips brought Hue to the party.

We never thought headphones or phone phones or light bulbs or intercoms would scream sexy. Yet the first ones to transform the ugly ducklings into home-tech honeys did pretty well for themselves.

Now you take something as inconsolably sad as a motion sensor or a siren.  What if these incidentals could be made as cool as Will.i.am himself? Impossible? Tell that to Dr. Dre.

On the other hand, maybe Wink’s new owner actually wants to go nuts with the whole smart-home platform thing. I would then wish Will.i.am and the team much luck. Wink couldn’t do it. Nor could its default owner Flex after that. Nor could 99% of the other entrepreneurs and IoT gurus that preceded them all (below).

Or maybe, just maybe, Will.i.am simply wanted that sexy brand – Wink – and the very valuable four-letter URL that came with it. 


more

Home Automation Hubs are Sold All Wrong

What Went Wrong with Revolv? Theories on Home Automation Hubs

Target, Sears and the Trouble with Home Automation at Retail

I Ask Again: Can Home Automation Succeed at Retail? 

Wink Has Sold 300k Home Automation Hubs, But Biz is Dying; Whither the DIY Dream?



  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]

Follow Julie on social media:
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Julie also participates in these groups:
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View Julie Jacobson's complete profile.



  Article Topics


Control & Automation · Automation · Lighting · Whole House Control · Security · News · Blogs · Products · will.i.am · Wink · Z-Wave · All Topics
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Comments

Posted by sbsikes yahoo.com on August 14, 2017

As usual, you are right on target, Julie. People do not buy smart homes, they buy solutions to use cases. If hubs are Trojan Horses to really great solutions, then may the (hub based) add-on services flourish!

Posted by HometechJohn on August 13, 2017

Will people please let Zwave DIE a merciful death and stop trying to add on to this miserable technology.

Seems fitting that more money is thrown at these technologies.  X10 was rock solid compared to Zwave : )

Posted by Julie Jacobson on August 7, 2017

Right on, Antonio! When people say they don’t want a hub, what they really mean is: I don’t want to BUY a hub because I have no idea what a hub is or what it does.

Posted by antoniohardeman on August 7, 2017

I hate to say it Julie but I think that Wink isn’t long for this world.  I just don’t believe that Will’s company will be able to fund and support Wink the way that it needs to be supported once that 4 year investment requirement ends.  Just as the other hubs that exited the market proved, Wink’s original underpinnings kind of showed us that they were never meant to survive.  It was more of a gamble with the hope that they’d get picked up by a bigger company that actually cared about the connected home space.  Wink lost that gamble.

If and when Wink exits stage right, that’ll leave Smart Things (Samsung), Nexia (Ingersoll Rand) and Lowes Iris (Lowes) as the only hub based connected home systems.  I’m not so much worried about those companies as we move forward bc they’re well established and they have the financial means to continue funding their hub system; and those companies have shown the willingness to stay in the business.  And Smart Things and Ingersoll Rand/Nexia are principle members on the Z-wave board, so they have a vested interest.

I find it interesting that some have an aversion to hubs and we never mention Apple’s Homekit when we talk about hubs.  But if you think about it, in order to do some the advance automations with Homekit, the end user needs to have an Apple TV or Ipad that stays in the home.  The Apple TV or Ipad in an Homekit environment is essentially a hub. 

There are way too many silly articles (CNBC had one such article about a week ago) done by people that aren’t really knowledgeable about the connected home.  The writers of these articles complain about devices not talking to each other and lamenting that there isn’t one connected home standard, but many.  The thing that the majority of these articles leave out is that a hub does allow devices to talk with each other; even devices that may not have the same protocol.  People may not want hubs, but then how much sense does it make to complain about devices that don’t work together if you’re not willing to introduce a tiny hub that can be hidden somewhere out of sight?

As the idea of the connected home continues to resonate with individuals, I think that the education/literature has to focus on devices working in sync with each other and how a hub device allows for that.

Posted by antoniohardeman on August 7, 2017

I hate to say it Julie but I think that Wink isn’t long for this world.  I just don’t believe that Will’s company will be able to fund and support Wink the way that it needs to be supported once that 4 year investment requirement ends.  Just as the other hubs that exited the market proved, Wink’s original underpinnings kind of showed us that they were never meant to survive.  It was more of a gamble with the hope that they’d get picked up by a bigger company that actually cared about the connected home space.  Wink lost that gamble.

If and when Wink exits stage right, that’ll leave Smart Things (Samsung), Nexia (Ingersoll Rand) and Lowes Iris (Lowes) as the only hub based connected home systems.  I’m not so much worried about those companies as we move forward bc they’re well established and they have the financial means to continue funding their hub system; and those companies have shown the willingness to stay in the business.  And Smart Things and Ingersoll Rand/Nexia are principle members on the Z-wave board, so they have a vested interest.

I find it interesting that some have an aversion to hubs and we never mention Apple’s Homekit when we talk about hubs.  But if you think about it, in order to do some the advance automations with Homekit, the end user needs to have an Apple TV or Ipad that stays in the home.  The Apple TV or Ipad in an Homekit environment is essentially a hub. 

There are way too many silly articles (CNBC had one such article about a week ago) done by people that aren’t really knowledgeable about the connected home.  The writers of these articles complain about devices not talking to each other and lamenting that there isn’t one connected home standard, but many.  The thing that the majority of these articles leave out is that a hub does allow devices to talk with each other; even devices that may not have the same protocol.  People may not want hubs, but then how much sense does it make to complain about devices that don’t work together if you’re not willing to introduce a tiny hub that can be hidden somewhere out of sight?

As the idea of the connected home continues to resonate with individuals, I think that the education/literature has to focus on devices working in sync with each other and how a hub device allows for that.

Posted by Julie Jacobson on August 7, 2017

Right on, Antonio! When people say they don’t want a hub, what they really mean is: I don’t want to BUY a hub because I have no idea what a hub is or what it does.

Posted by HometechJohn on August 13, 2017

Will people please let Zwave DIE a merciful death and stop trying to add on to this miserable technology.

Seems fitting that more money is thrown at these technologies.  X10 was rock solid compared to Zwave : )

Posted by sbsikes yahoo.com on August 14, 2017

As usual, you are right on target, Julie. People do not buy smart homes, they buy solutions to use cases. If hubs are Trojan Horses to really great solutions, then may the (hub based) add-on services flourish!