Posts Tagged ‘ home automation ’

HomeTech Podcast

Screen+Shot+2014-04-13+at+8.09.56+AMI had the honor of filling in for Jason Griffing on the HomeTech podcast this week. Jason’s co-host Seth Johnson invited me to join him in discussing a recent Kaspersky Labs post about IoT security, the benefits and dangers of smart locks, and one of my favorite smarthome technology topics: Insteon. Seth is in the process of renovating a home, and he’s evaluating different technologies for lighting control and security. Do I think Insteon is up to his standards? Absolutely.

You can find the episode at HomeTech.FM or in iTunes. But why just record one show when you can do two? Seth also joins me as my guest co-host this week on Home: On.

Popular Technology Radio

cover170x170On Saturday, 1/31/15, I appeared on the syndicated radio show Popular Technology Radio. We spoke about home automation technology for general consumers. A bunch of differing “standards” are still evolving, and early adopters should be careful about picking compatible products and technologies. A point of note is that integration is becoming important to many manufacturers, ultimately getting us away from this trend of needing an app for every new device. One such integration announced recently is for SNUPI’s Wally sensors, which are now Works with Nest certified to provide your Nest thermostat with much needed remote room temperature monitoring.

The show is available now in iTunes and online at poptechradio.com.

New York Times: The Rise of the Smartbulb

nytimes-logoI recently spoke with a reporter from the New York Times about connected bulbs, and how the landscape for consumers can be pretty confusing nowadays. A brief quote from that discussion appeared on the front page feature of the Times’ 1/22/2015 Home and Garden section.

…if you buy a set of smartbulbs and you’d like them to flash if your smoke alarm is triggered at night or your webcam detects an intruder, for instance, you may be out of luck.

As a result, said Richard Gunther, a consultant with Universal Mind, a Denver technology firm, smartbulb buyers have no choice but to do some research before they buy. “You can’t just buy a bulb and screw it in and expect it to work with your connected system,” he said.

Nadarajah Narendran, a professor and director of research at the Lighting Research Center at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute in Troy, N.Y., agreed. “If you want the additional convenience that can come with the new LEDs, you need to be ready not just with your money but with your time,” he said.

Both men expect things to get easier soon, perhaps as early as this year, as the industry coalesces around wireless standards the way the home-video industry ultimately settled on the VHS standard. The difference, they said, was that the smart-home industry will likely find ways to bridge the varying technologies, rather than leaving some consumers stranded on Betamax Island.

The full article is available online at nytimes.com.

I Started a New Show

HomeOn tileI’ve started a new podcast over at The Digital Media Zone about home automation and control. Despite all the recent growth and swell in smarthome interest, there aren’t many podcasts about the space. Home: On is a biweekly podcast in which we’ll run through industry news, take a closer look at interesting products, share project ideas, or present topics for information and education purposes. I’m joined by a rotation of co-hosts and guests from the industry, including consumers, industry experts, and executives from companies offering smart products of their own.

If you’re interested in smarthome technology, give it a listen at The Digital Media Zone or in your favorite podcast software like iTunes or Stitcher Radio.

HomeSeer: Time for a Redesign

HomeSeer is a home control system that’s been around for about a decade. It’s one of the most flexible and extensible systems available for DIY home automation, and it’s very inexpensive at just $220. It can monitor and control devices over X10, Z-Wave, PLC, IP, and a host of other protocols, and it has a significant support community building plug-ins.

All that said, HomeSeer has suffered in usability for as long as I can remember. And with little UI improvement as the product has evolved, it seems quite stale now. Some add-ons and third-party plug-ins have helped in this area, but I’m fundamentally opposed to the idea of having to “buy up” to a better user experience. The good news is that an update is in the works. The bad news is that it may be a while before we see it.

Been a Long Time

HomeSeer screen shot

As a do-it-yourself home automation hobbyist, I’ve been using HomeSeer home control software for almost ten years, and in that time the user interface has changed very little. In fact, with the decided elimination of support for a desktop client in the 2.0 product, HomeSeer took a step backward in usability, forcing all users to move to a largely-unchanged web client. Roughly five years later, it still sports the same, stale interface—now looking very Web 0.9. It’s bad—bad enough that I’ve been flirting with switching to other systems like Embedded Automation’s mControl or Perceptive Automation’s Indigo.

Designed by Developers?

With all of its power and flexibility, HomeSeer’s UI has been rough around the edges from the start, sporting a (lack of) design sense that suggested the team simply didn’t include a trained user interface designer. I’d guess that the graphic design work was done by developers repurposing freely available web images and playing around in Photoshop (or an open-source alternative).

HomeSeer's old desktop toolbar

The original desktop client mimicked Outlook’s tab bar interface effectively, but the different views were a jumbled mess of mis-aligned form elements, and there was little consistency to the application’s toolbar icons. The surviving web interface is a hodgepodge of inconsistent fonts, graphics, and colors, with nested tabs, rudimentary form elements, and dozens of objects thrown on pages using complex table “layouts”. The overall look and behavior varies slightly by platform and browser, and most pages require a refresh to show updates.

Original HomeSeer 2.0 Touchpad Interface

Over the years, many of HomeSeer’s paid add-ons have further reinforced my UI design concerns, including a (now years old) plug-in for touch screens that made me cringe, thinking, “are you kidding? HIRE A TRAINED GRAPHIC DESIGNER!”

Data-driven Workflow

User experience is about more than design, though. Workflow is a key element, and that’s another area where HomeSeer’s web interface suffers. Device and event configuration seems focused more around data collection than user workflow. And if the INSTEON add-on is any indication, that weakness plagues the application extensions, too.

There’s a Light…

HomeSeer (the company) was one of the vendors at the Z-Wave Alliance booth this year at CES, so I had an opportunity to speak with them about their product roadmap. There’s good news: HomeSeer 3.0 is in the works. It adopts a new technology platform (again), and it will offer a new AJAX UI and a robust API. HomeSeer claims the new UI will be similar in concept to iGoogle’s configurable portal pages to allow for more user customization. That doesn’t engender significant confidence, but I’ll reserve judgement until I see it.

HomeSeer HomeTroller-Mini

We should see an embedded version of 3.0 in a standalone module by this Summer. The device is similar in concept to Universal Devices’ ISY boxes, but it will use a bring-your-own-control-interface approach, so it can support any protocol. It will require no additional server hardware, it will include HomeSeer 3.0 on-board, and you can connect your third-party control interface via a serial connection. The device will also support mobile touch clients (which, today, requires the paid HSTouch add-on), and it should carry a price of just $299.

If you want HomeSeer 3.0 running on your own server, you’re going to have to wait a bit longer. The upgrade for the installed version of HomeSeer isn’t expected to be available until the end of the year.

My Advice for HomeSeer

HomeSeer is obviously making strides in usability, but there’s still room for improvement. HomeSeer’s HSTouch interfaces for iPhone and iPad seem to be HomeSeer’s premier offerings now, and while they’re more visually engaging than the legacy product, they’re still a bit clunky: the design is heavy, and they seemingly ignore many iOS UI design standards and best practices.

HomeSeer, I’M BEGGING YOU to focus on improving the user experience in this next release, employing the skills necessary to design and build your new web and mobile user interfaces. One of the strengths of HomeSeer has been its install-and-go functionality. That was great ten years ago, but users expect more now. Design your system around real-life use cases and workflows, and tailor the UX to the specific devices you’re targeting.

Admittedly, the home automation market is a bit of a user experience mess right now with only a few notable exceptions (e.g., Control 4). You have an opportunity to fill a gap in the more affordable market by offering a highly-usable out-of-the-box solution with your next release. Please, please, PLEASE step up to that challenge.

Crestron’s Analog Sunset Ads Seem Misleading and Deceptive

I recognize that a large segment of high-end customers don’t want to be bothered with the licensing and legislative details of digital content protection on their devices and content, but that’s no reason for Crestron to be spreading fear, uncertainty, and doubt by making false claims in ads. Crestron’s latest ads make the following statements:

Analog audio and video is being killed. By the end of the year component outputs will only support standard definition signals, and by 2013 component outputs and analog video will be gone forever.

These statements are false. Are they lies designed to mislead the otherwise ignorant public? The reality–the truth–is that the “analog sunset” to which these ads allude affects only Blu-ray players manufactured and some Blu-ray content distributed after December 2010. The AACS License Agreement that Blu-ray uses stipulates that after 31 December, 2010, manufacturers must stop designing Blu-ray players with analog component HD output capability, and content providers will have the option (but are not required) to disable analog HD output on new Blu-ray discs. Further, Blu-ray players with any analog output capabilities cannot be sold after December 2013. This is a digital rights management restriction imposed only on Blu-ray technology and nothing else. That’s all.

What doesn’t this affect?

  • Consumers’ current Blu-ray discs played on Blu-ray players manufactured by December 2010 (or, more realistically, as late as December 2011, depending on how quickly existing pipelines and stock are depleted)
  • HD and SD content from satellite and cable providers, with the singular possible exception of some new FCC-permitted constraints on first-run content like movies that are still in theaters
  • Content on or recorded to DVRs
  • Standard, progressive, and upscaling DVD players
  • HD and SD output from game consoles
  • Any content from Internet media streaming devices like RoKu, Media Center, Apple TV, and others
  • Existing HD and SD content on installed media distribution systems from Crestron or any of its competitors
  • Consumers’ existing high definition monitors and TVs that have any digital input options
  • Any other pre-existing component device in a consumer’s home

It’s baffling to me that Crestron would resort to such deceptive advertising practices. I understand that times are tough, but is misleading customers really the solution? These ads likely violate the Federal Trade Commission’s truth-in-advertising rules, satisfying key criteria in its policy statement against deceptive advertising. Primarily, consumers’ existing audio/video equipment is not going to suddenly stop working on 1 January, 2011, and the term Blu-ray doesn’t appear anywhere in these ads, even though that’s the only technology potentially affected by these ridiculous, fear-mongering claims.

I can hope that people wise up and see through Crestron’s false statements. But I can also help. I can share this very information with Crestron, on my blog, on Twitter, and with the FTC.

So that’s exactly what I’m doing.

SmartLabs a No-show at CES

SmartLabs, the company behind the INSTEON home automation technology, is noteably absent at this year’s Consumer Electronics Show. In the space listed as their booth–the largest in the Home Automation section–stands…nothing. Vast emptiness. Hopefully it’s not indicative of anything going on at the company.

An E-mail Message to Smarthome

I am very disappointed to see that you’ve significantly revised (read: increased) prices on your Insteon products. While you continue to lag in releasing much-anticipated products to the Insteon line (motion detectors, wireless controllers, etc.) and the Insteon technical specification continues to be a moving target, I find it hard to understand how you justify such significant price increases for your products. Specifically, it appears that Insteon switches have increased in price anywhere from 15 to over 100 percent!

SwitchLinc and KeypadLinc devices have leap-frogged inflation costs since Insteon’s introduction, but the real offense is with the devices from your ICON line–your supposed budget Insteon solution. Icon switches now cost as much as SwitchLinc devices cost last year. To be clear, this is more than twice their price just one year ago! How do you explain this?

Adding insult, your tenuously updated Web site continues to advertise that ICON devices are a “fraction of the price” of SwitchLinc devices. For clarity, that fraction is now a whopping 87%. Hmmm…not such a great deal any more, are they?

I really can’t imagine what you’re thinking with this new pricing strategy. While the repricing of ICON devices at SwitchLinc rates tastes quite a lot like bait-and-switch, it’s your continued claims that Insteon is an economical solution to home automation that baffles me.

I’ve invested in Insteon already for my own home, but I have a hard time recommending this solution now as compared to more flexible and comprehensive automation solutions that don’t really cost significantly more for initial adoption. Zigbee and Z-Wave technologies are closing in on SmartLabs solutions with more and more third-party support and adoption. I’d think that if you really wanted to compete with these technologies, you’d get your products to market and realize the advantages that your initial price points once gave you. Sadly, you’ve done neither.

Sincerely,

Richard
Early adopter, home automator, long-time Smarthome customer, blogger

cc: Dan Craig, CTO, Smartlabs; [this blog]