Every new year brings the promise of being one step closer to a futuristic home. Nowhere is that dream more alive than at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas.
Like last year, the offerings at this year’s CES show the evolution of the connected home, where convenience, money savings, security and the elusive cool factor all come together.
Some of the biggest players in the business continue to team up to get a piece of connected home. Cisco announced a partnership with AT&T to provide the control panel for the telecom’s Digital Life service.
AT&T will be taking on its competitors Verizon and Comcast, which also have connected-home offerings. Alarm companies are also in the game, with Alarm.com raising more than $130 million last year for its connected home services. Lowe’s also announced expanded products as part of its Iris Home platform, including sprinkler systems, window blinds and networked light bulbs.
And then there are the little guys.
For every smart home platform, there are various devices that either want to compete with the big guys or be a part of an ecosystem.
Allure Energy is one of the newest on the block. The company debuted at CES last year, but it didn’t have a lot of partnerships or pilots to talk about. In May, Allure announced a smart energy pilot with Sacramento Municipal Utility District, although the company would not discuss the size of the pilot.
At CES 2013, Allure announced its EverSense 2.0. The home energy management system uses proximity control technology that relies on mobile phones to adjust the home environment. Depending on how far your smartphone is from the home, the EverSense sets the home environment. For example, once you travel three miles from home, the thermostat will turn the temperature down. In the future, Allure also plans to connect other devices such as lights. The system can also stream music.
"How can a programmable or learning thermostat know my exact schedule in advance? I can't even determine my own schedule in advance because we live in a busy, fast-paced world. My schedule from yesterday, last week or last month often has nothing to do with my current schedule," Jim Mills, VP of business development for Allure Energy, said in a statement. "That is why we created proximity control to instantly adapt to your ever-changing schedule."
Of course, others are also integrating GPS options into their platforms, so Allure may not be alone for long with this offering. The website says it's perfect for multiple-smartphone homes, but it’s unclear how it would work with many smartphone users in the home (especially if Grandma, who doesn't have an iPhone, is home all day while everyone else is out).
But Allure pitches the EverSense as more than just a path to energy savings. The promotional video shows a busy woman leaving the house, but she doesn’t have to worry about her energy settings. But when she comes home, not only is the temperature back to 72 degrees, but the music she wants is also playing. “Life just got simpler,” the voiceover says.
The question now is, how simple can connected home platforms make our lives? How much will we expect of any one device? Some companies, like EcoFactor, are more about saving money -- nearly 20 percent of heating and cooling bills -- but makes no promises of a better life.
Nest doesn’t care about the rest of the energy load in the home; it’s squarely focused on using its learning algorithms to save users money. While other energy management systems might want Nest to be compatible with its system, Nest seems unconcerned about making friends in the marketplace to be part of a connected home. It also promises nearly 20 percent energy savings.
Allure did not have figures on its users' average energy savings. Others like Tendril, EnergyHub, and Opower also have algorithms that can learn historical patterns to tweak thermostat settings and boast of double-digit savings.
Since most Americans couldn’t be bothered to properly use their first-generation smart thermostats, the ease of use will likely be more important than bells and whistles. Many of the newcomers, which often partner with large incumbents, say that they have cracked the code of ease-of-use.
The question will likely come down to price, rather than bells and whistles. EverSense is priced at $349. EcoFactor's price varies, but as part of Comcast, the system will be rolled into the Xfinity Home offering. Prices on Xfinity Home including EcoFactor have not been released. Lowe’s offers a “comfort and control” package for $179. Verizon’s basic energy control kit is $255 with a monthly charge. EnergyHub’s software runs on 3M thermostats and is included with the hardware, which retails for $99. Nest’s learning thermostat is $249, with added cost for “concierge service” which includes professional installation.
With so many options coming on the market, 2013 will be a year to sit back and watch. There is a land-grab right now, soon to be followed by the emergence of clear winners and losers. It will not only be about sheer market share, but also about who can use their access to the home to bring other partners -- such as utilities’ demand response programs -- into the mix.
Let the games begin.