Control & Automation

Great News for Pros: Home Automation is More Confusing than Ever

Home automation, networking and security have never been more confusing, thanks to an onslaught of DIY products like Ring Protect, Nest Secure, Amazon Echo Plus and Google Home. That's great news for smart-home pros.

Great News for Pros: Home Automation is More Confusing than Ever

Julie Jacobson · October 20, 2017

The rash of new DIY home automation systems announced over the past couple of months is a huge boon for home-technology integrators – not just for the usual raising-awareness thing, but because it’s all so darn confusing.

A high-volume integrator told me recently he wasn’t all that nervous about production builders moving to wireless DIY products and using Amazon Home Services for installation. He said he would just move on to the next thing that confuses consumers. That’s where the money is.

Well, home automation has never been more confusing. Within a period of about two months we heard news about these (ostensibly) DIY solutions:

  • Sonos “Works with Alexa” capability, not to be confused with the new Sonos One speaker featuring six mics and native Alexa, with support for Google Assistant coming soon. We also learned of the “Works with Sonos” designation, not to be confused with integration via the company’s “completely open” new API program.

  • Ring security and automation system with Z-Wave and ZigBee, along with professional monitoring and the cheapest fees in the business: $10 per month for both security monitoring and 60-day video storage for an unlimited number of cameras, with “free” cellular back-up for good measure.

  • Nest Secure, utilizing Thread and Weave protocols for local communications (with nothing but Nest products and a Yale lock for now), and professional security monitoring by MONI, but not for smoke/CO detectors … not even Nest Protect.

  • New UL-listed security system (for life-safety and fire notification) made by 2Gig with a complete Samsung SmartThings hub inside (ZigBee, Z-Wave, narrowband security radios), plus “free” cellular back-up and no-contract monitoring by ADT. 

  • Amazon Echo Plus, a voice-controlled system with ZigBee (huh?) and a small, curated list of compatible “simple setup” ZigBee peripherals, mostly bulbs and plug-in outlets, plus a door lock,  but no security devices like sensors or smoke detectors … unless integrated via “Works with Alexa” services.

  • Best Buy’s expansion of Smart Home products and services, including the availability of both the Ring and Samsung/ADT products, as well as a national roll-out of Vivint pro-install security and automation systems.

How is a customer to choose? And even if the customer can choose, what then?

What do they attach to these security and home-automation hubs? What exactly can be monitored? What is compatible with what? How do you register any given Z-Wave or ZigBee device?

Press this button, press and hold that one, rub your belly and pat your head. Z-Wave will soon make enrollment easier with SmartStart but only for devices that happen to comply. Amazon Echo Plus seems to make ZigBee provisioning simpler than usual, but only for partners that choose to include Amazon’s special sauce.

Which voice control system is the “best one” for any given individual or family? Alexa? Google Assistant? Siri? The forthcoming Samsung Bixby? And are all products endowed with these services as “equal” as the others?

Mass marketers may well face a backlash from consumers paralyzed by too many choices – many of which will be, frankly, wrong. 

Not necessarily. Sonos One with native Alexa, for example, does not enable the same features as a bona fide Echo device. The new and compelling “Routines” and “Group” functions aren’t available in Sonos and other “native” Alexa devices. So the Sonos One isn’t as “standalone” as a standalone Echo.

ESP, the feature that allows Alexa to sense which device is closest, so only that device responds to voice commands … not all Alexa devices have that either, so you could get a house full of responses like cuckoo clocks all slightly out of sync.

Has the customer considered cellular back-up for mission-critical communications? If not, is the home Wi-Fi network robust and reliable enough to support low-latency communications and consistent uptime?

Is the customer at all bothered by auto-updates that could cripple a system, including televisions and thermostats?

What about battery life for wireless devices? If you’re going to put these all over the house, don’t you want to ensure you don’t have to climb ladders to change out the batteries every six months or a year? Does your thermostat have a common “C” wire?

Mass marketers may well face a backlash from consumers paralyzed by too many choices – many of which will be, frankly, wrong.

All these uncertainties for consumers … mean more business for pros. Keep those DIY products coming.



  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


Control & Automation · Automation · Lighting · Whole House Control · Business · Sales & Marketing · Business Operations · News · Alexa · Amazon · DIY · Echo · Google · Ring · All Topics
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Comments

Posted by Steve Hoge on October 24, 2017

“not all Alexa devices have [ESP capability] either” - unless you stick with the Alexa-enabled devices made by Amazon, which all silently received the firmware update for this functionality last year.  Personally, I’d stay away from 3rd-party devices with embedded with “Alexa technology” and only use Amazon’s devices for the voice control portion of an Alexa-enabled home-automation system.  I really don’t trust a smaller company with fewer resources than Google or Amazon to get this kind of thing right and keep it that way.

Posted by pebaugh on October 22, 2017

Good article Julie.  As a co-owner of a Custom Integration company, I have had a passing interest in how the low end and DIY products might impact our future business.  We focus on the mid-high to high end of the market where we have clients who are willing to shell out $5K to $150K for well designed and installed systems that are guaranteed to work.  They also are willing to pay for a well-trained professional company who can maintain and support their systems over time.  Many of these companies are lured into the lower tiers of the marketplace which has primarily been sought after by the shrink wrapped and on-line DIY companies.  I see many of these fall by the wayside only to find another pop up to replace it.  I firmly believe that as a professional, there will always be a strong market for our products and services.  The issue with the low end products is that the homeowners find themselves forced into being their own support staff.  I have seen Nest products, skybells, Ring and the like work for a year and then fail or mis-behave and the customers do not have anywhere to go and call us to pull these out and replace them with products that work and are supported.  I had to recently talk down a client who insisted she wanted a fully wireless camera system installed outside of the house.  She did not think through the eventuality that she would have to go out on a ladder every six months up 10 feet or so to remove each of 6 cameras, bring them in, recharge them and then re-install in the cold Michigan winters.  A professional looks at the client ‘s situation holistically and gives them the best product to meet their needs.  I occasionally peruse the forums on the low end products and generally find that ~50% of consumers are somewhat happy with their purchase even though not everything works yet , ~25% are not satisfied yet keep working on it and the last ~25% have severe issues and/or cannot get it to work at all.  This last group tries to return it or since it might be only a few hundred dollars, they abandon it.  Your article points out many of the issues homeowners can encounter, not the least of is the myriad of network related issues which is far far beyond the capability of most.

Posted by Bruno Napoli on October 21, 2017

Of course, Guidance and service are the kind opportunities those so call DIY gears will gives our industry. The BIG question now is: Will custom installer will be bold enough to change their business model from making marge on the service instead of making margin on expensive box.

Posted by slobob on October 21, 2017

Love XKCD.  On a related note, we are becoming the modern “Plumbers”.  I don’t mean that in a bad way, just that now we can charge $150 an hour to fix consumer stuff that costs $50 or is free with certain purchases (Echo’s, dots, etc..).... And I’ll take those weekend calls for double time!

Posted by John Nemesh on October 20, 2017

This situation reminds me of this classic XKCD comic:  https://xkcd.com/927/

Posted by John Nemesh on October 20, 2017

This situation reminds me of this classic XKCD comic:  https://xkcd.com/927/

Posted by slobob on October 21, 2017

Love XKCD.  On a related note, we are becoming the modern “Plumbers”.  I don’t mean that in a bad way, just that now we can charge $150 an hour to fix consumer stuff that costs $50 or is free with certain purchases (Echo’s, dots, etc..).... And I’ll take those weekend calls for double time!

Posted by Bruno Napoli on October 21, 2017

Of course, Guidance and service are the kind opportunities those so call DIY gears will gives our industry. The BIG question now is: Will custom installer will be bold enough to change their business model from making marge on the service instead of making margin on expensive box.

Posted by pebaugh on October 22, 2017

Good article Julie.  As a co-owner of a Custom Integration company, I have had a passing interest in how the low end and DIY products might impact our future business.  We focus on the mid-high to high end of the market where we have clients who are willing to shell out $5K to $150K for well designed and installed systems that are guaranteed to work.  They also are willing to pay for a well-trained professional company who can maintain and support their systems over time.  Many of these companies are lured into the lower tiers of the marketplace which has primarily been sought after by the shrink wrapped and on-line DIY companies.  I see many of these fall by the wayside only to find another pop up to replace it.  I firmly believe that as a professional, there will always be a strong market for our products and services.  The issue with the low end products is that the homeowners find themselves forced into being their own support staff.  I have seen Nest products, skybells, Ring and the like work for a year and then fail or mis-behave and the customers do not have anywhere to go and call us to pull these out and replace them with products that work and are supported.  I had to recently talk down a client who insisted she wanted a fully wireless camera system installed outside of the house.  She did not think through the eventuality that she would have to go out on a ladder every six months up 10 feet or so to remove each of 6 cameras, bring them in, recharge them and then re-install in the cold Michigan winters.  A professional looks at the client ‘s situation holistically and gives them the best product to meet their needs.  I occasionally peruse the forums on the low end products and generally find that ~50% of consumers are somewhat happy with their purchase even though not everything works yet , ~25% are not satisfied yet keep working on it and the last ~25% have severe issues and/or cannot get it to work at all.  This last group tries to return it or since it might be only a few hundred dollars, they abandon it.  Your article points out many of the issues homeowners can encounter, not the least of is the myriad of network related issues which is far far beyond the capability of most.

Posted by Steve Hoge on October 24, 2017

“not all Alexa devices have [ESP capability] either” - unless you stick with the Alexa-enabled devices made by Amazon, which all silently received the firmware update for this functionality last year.  Personally, I’d stay away from 3rd-party devices with embedded with “Alexa technology” and only use Amazon’s devices for the voice control portion of an Alexa-enabled home-automation system.  I really don’t trust a smaller company with fewer resources than Google or Amazon to get this kind of thing right and keep it that way.