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Home Automation – Will The Big Boys Miss The Boat?

Will the large Building automation players miss out on the home automation revolution?

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Imagine This

Imagine a truly connected home. Everything controlled by your smart phone. Security cameras that you can monitor from anywhere. Lights and Air conditioning that come on just before you enter the house, and go off once you are out of the house. Thermostats that know your temperature preferences, and recommend best temperature settings for energy saving. Blinds that adjust to ambient light conditions. Controls for your music and entertainment systems. Robotics vacuum cleaners for floor care that start working once you leave the house and recharges when the job is done. Tubs that fill itself with water temperature of your choice. Bed-side lamps that automatically focuses on the book you’re trying to read and not into your eyes, and switch off when you sleep. Refrigerator that tells you if you are running low on milk or eggs. Application on your phone that let you recheck if you really locked your front/back door, if you left your air conditioner/heater on? Systems that let you check in to see if elderly at home are doing ok.

None of this is sci-fi anymore. But do you know where to get this for your home? What about the cost?

Building Automation vs Home Automation

The predecessor of Home Automation, Building Automation, is a mature and largely consolidated business. Very large companies like Honeywell, Siemens, Schneider Electric, Johnson Controls, all have established product portfolios and System Integration partners catering to the needs of large Buildings across the globe. These are typically large ticket value projects installing sensors, controls and building management systems to control the lighting, HVAC, parking etc. of large buildings.

But Building Automation has been an industry with far less opinion holders and purchase decision makers relative the actual number of occupants. In contrast, almost 100% of the inhabitants of a house have a say in what their “dream home” needs. Besides, how a consumer makes his purchase choices and where he looks to find products and solutions are very different from how an organization makes its choices and obtains solutions.

This makes Home Automation and Building Automation very different ball games. Also, while the big theme in Building Automation is largely “Efficiency”, that in Home automation is “Lifestyle”.

The New World of Always-Connected Consumer

Companies like Apple and Samsung aspire to, and are making serious inroads into being the lifestyle hub of consumers. With steep penetration of the iPhone, iPod touch and the iPad lineup (and a rumored Television), Apple has put high-speed information devices in the hands of hundreds of millions of consumers. Besides providing the communication framework (cloud connected devices), these devices controlMusic Systems, Televisions and more. Numerous companies are taking advantage of this platform and delivering Home Automation Solutions. For example, Philips Hue connected bulbs let you control your lighting from your iPhone or iPad. Savant, a company focused on delivering Home Automation solutions through Apple products, has gained serious traction in this domain. Apple ecosystem promises to be a significant platform for the Home Automation market.

Samsung may have a larger role to play in the Home Automation market. Besides having deep penetration with (Google’s Android) Smart Phone and Tablets, Samsung has serious interests in being the consumers’ digital lifestyle center. Through a wide range of products and services catering to homes – Appliances like Air Conditioners, Refrigerators, Washing Machines, Televisions, Connectivity Devices, Lighting (Samsung LED), Security Systems (Samsung Techwin) – Samsung has its foot in the door for every consumer device category that will be connected to the Home Automation System. So soon, don’t be surprised to see the alert on the TV when the Washing Machine is done.

One of the major hiccups in having a “Smart home” is how devices connect with each other, and therefore needing a “Standard” that all devices comply with to communicate with each other. With a variety of players focusing on individual application areas, like lighting (eg: Philips Hue), thermostats (eg: Nest smart thermostats) etc., companies like Apple and Samsung are in the unique position to drive a standard and interface for a truly connected home, and drive an ecosystem of products and services around these platforms.

Cost & Value Chain

Cost is an important factor for penetration in the consumer market. Having Smart Phones and Tablets at the center of the home automation solutions brings significant cost savings to the consumer. Proprietary Displays and Control Devices can give way to simple yet engaging applications that can be delivered, installed and updated via app stores. Using existing communication infrastructure eliminates the need for a separate connection and alert delivery system. These devices also have a solid foundation for colorful visualization and reporting tools bringing intuitiveness and ease of use to consumers.

Also, compared to Building Automation systems, that need specialized system integrators to install, connect, monitor and maintain the systems, Home Automation systems are becoming increasingly simple to install and integrate wirelessly. This means, that the value chain for introducing and installing home automation features can be a level playing field, where consumers can get their hands on home automation technologies and products in an IT or electronics store, super markets and online stores, and install it with the same ease of installing a new light bulb – either by yourself, or with the help of a local electrician.

Will the Big boys miss the boat?

It’s worth pondering. The competition is not with the smaller home automation companies directly. It may be with the technology enablement surrounding the iOS and Android platforms, which are undoubtedly becoming consumer lifestyle platforms. It may be with ICT (Broadband and Mobile) providers who may offer Home Automation as a Service, where users do not pay for the products and systems, instead pay for usage (perhaps with a minimum term contract). Home Automation products & product platforms, the interfaces, the value chain, and the price – all are fundamentally different from a Typical Building Automation Company’s forte. The playing field is getting level, and there is no need for specialized labor. 


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