Honeywell recently announced – or perhaps simply re-announced? – the release of the Honeywell Lyric Home Security and Control System part of their Lyric connected home platform. It is not clear from the press release if they have added new features to their platform or are just poking the industry to remind us that their product exists amongst the hubbub of recent hype surrounding the Google and Amazon hubs and trade show announcements. The system is the Honeywell central hub for connected devices and utilizes Z-Wave and Wi-Fi protocols as well as Honeywell proprietary protocols for their security system. The swiss army knife Z-Wave central hub component competes with similar hubs from Samsung (SmartThing), HomeSeer (HomeTroller), or Mi Casa Verde (Vera) among others. The included voice recognition is a feature more commonly associated with the likes of Amazon Echo or Google Home and allows you to control Lyric or other home automation devices with “Hello Lyric” commands. The product could be the poster child for the identity crisis that is the home automation industry today.
The Honeywell newsroom has a recent Lyric Home Security and Control System article; however, it doesn’t provide much new information. It focuses on a report they released last year highlighting the fact that “90% of Americans wish they could automate features in their home while they are at home or away”. In an oddly jarring contrast, they also quote an American Express survey that indicates that 80% of Americans are looking ahead to summer travel plans. Maybe it is just me, but something just doesn’t ring true when you imply that more people are interested in home automation than heading out for summer vacation!
Honeywell has a long history – over 125 years – of providing home comfort and security products. They have the resources and the experience to be a major player in the Home Automation space. Their Lyric line of products shows that they are aware and serious about competing. Only time will tell if they are able to translate their experience and resources into a product that captures the imagination and pocketbooks of businesses and consumers sufficiently to be a leader in the home automation market. At this point it feels to me like they are stumbling. This may be another case of new technology companies entering a market and disrupting an entire industry to the point where the traditional pillar companies can no longer even compete effectively. We have seen it repeatedly with companies like Amazon and Uber stepping into mature markets and flipping them on their head.
The Honeywell system is a perfect example of the challenge faced across the home automation industry. Most consumers don’t set out to buy a smart home or a platform or even a system or package of products. They want a thermostat, light switch, or garage door opener they can control with their phone. The smart home simply happens while they aren’t really paying attention. Traditional businesses see platforms or packages as a way to monopolize their corner of the market. Owning a technology, patent, or entire production channels are tried and true business models that help build massive barriers to entry and ensure ownership and long term profits for shareholders.
The new-business competitors in the home automation industry think differently and have begun to realize that building and owning the platform isn’t working – mainly because their customers don’t want to buy a platform or pay a subscription. The industry leaders and innovators have focused on hero products – Google’s Nest thermostat, Amazon’s Echo personal assistant, Phillips Hue lighting – as an innovative product to capture attention and act as a gateway to introduce smart home concepts to consumers. This tactic is working, somewhat. The products are gaining attention and businesses and consumers are realizing the benefits and looking for more. Everything sounds great on the surface but really, not so much.
Home Automation Standards
The problem created by building piecemeal product loyalty is standards. There are none. Or rather, there are too many. There isn’t a central body that organizes everything. We have seen this same scenario play out over and over again with technology: networking standards (anyone remember token ring?), web standards (the browser wars), even VHS vs BETA, the list goes on. There are a laundry list of players competing for the title of “the” home automation/IoT standard. This is a serious battle with the attention of A-List players and no holds barred. A notable recent entrant is Google with its Brillo & Weave; there is the powerhouse Z-Wave alliance, and a host of others such as Zigbee, X10, Insteon, and even the likes of Bluetooth and Wi-Fi are options. Each standard has a claim to fame and a serious shot at a place in a smart home system.
Unfortunately it isn’t even as simple as picking one company to set ‘a’ standard. There are layers upon layers of standards for communications, security, operating systems, interfacing, etc. and big names competing to set each of those standards. Ultimately for consumers the race boils down to interoperability. You want your nifty new XYZ garage door opener to work with your ABC lighting controller and LMNOP door lock? Chances are good you will need another tool or hub to translate or negotiate and connect everything. When you select your hub you better be sure it supports all of the protocols you need or you will be left with devices off in their own island and not part of your integrated smart home. Suddenly picking a cool gadget to turn your lights on and off becomes a much larger decision.
At the end of the day, Honeywell has a beautiful looking product with some great and unique features. They have backed a strong horse going with one of the most popular standards (Z-Wave) and are building out a nice suite of integrated and connected products. They stand as a player to watch and will certainly influence the course the industry takes as it rapidly evolves over the next few years.
Who Gets Your Vote?
The home automation field is massive, the stakes are high and the competition is fierce and heating up. Right now, consumers need to be aware as much about the limitations of the systems they are buying as they are of the benefits. Choosing a hero product for your home is effectively casting your vote for the standard you want at the heart of your home or businesses in the future. If you haven’t yet decided who you are voting for, you will need to before long. So, who gets your vote? We look forward to hearing your comments and opinions!