Category Archives: Life360

What’s wrong with the Smart Home?

For a while now we have had a slew of companies big and small promise us that the age of the Smart Home is finally here. The industry has seen a rash of early products that have raised soaring expectations and contributed to an expanding universe of ideas – it has become one of the hottest topics in IoT over the last two years (see my post about CES earlier this year – http://www.itamarnovick.com/internet-of-things-is-all-the-rage-at-ces-this-year/)

The “Smart Home” is an idea representing the culmination of many consumer-focused technologies, resulting in a magical residence equipped with lighting, heating, electronic devices, information, entertainment and other home components interacting together seamlessly and controlled remotely. This concept has fueled the imagination of entrepreneurs and tech savvy homeowners. Even my wife got used to having August the Smart lock gracefully unlock the door for her when she comes back home. Yes, she is loving it, thanks for asking.

However, Despite the “future is now” proclamations by industry observers, Smart Home technologies have been in the works for years and even though the first wave of Smart Home products is out there in the market I think we are very early in this cycle.

There are too many blockers and products are not working as well as they should. Here are a few challenges that have been plaguing this market.

Products not yet ready for mass market
While people are interested in the technology, they also aren’t ready to buy it. And I don’t blame them. Many products feel like a V1 or even a beta, with a disregard for usability and an incoherent story about what the product can do for people. This mean that anyone interested in buying a connected product quickly encounters a cautionary tale that makes them think twice about spending $200 on a connected door lock.

Connectivity standards
WIFI and Bluetooth are just not a good fit for connected home devices. Even Bluetooth Low Energy (BLE), which is a newer standard is not a great fit. It’s nobody’s fault, but the devices and consumers who buy them end up paying the price. These standards haven’t been designed with IoT devices in mind and don’t support use cases such as super low latency with consistent very reliable connection.

ZigBee and Z-Wave have been touted for years but market adoption of both is still anemic. Case in point – have you ever seen a smartphone that has any of these new IoT standards?

End point solutions vs. Platforms
So far, with the exception of SmartThings and a few others, the big promise of having connected devices talk to each other has not been delivered. The solutions that are selling well are actually all point solutions – Dropcam, Nest Thermostat, Canary, etc.
Non of these devices are “Platform” today. Unfortunately, the few platforms that are out there are not playing nicely with the leading point solutions leading to a frustrating user experience.

I think 2016 or 2017 will be a wonderful year for Home Automation filled with breakthroughs. Now all we need to do is fast forward to that time… I can’t wait for my fridge to start talking back to me when I forget to throw out my out of date eggs.

“Internet of Things” is all the rage at CES this year

IoT had a massive presence at CES this year (2014), with a big focus on Smart home devices. The hype around the “Smart home” is just getting started… Who doesn’t wants to a have a fridge that can tweet all by itself?

More seriously, It’s fascinating to see how quickly new devices are getting to market these days. Hardware is hard, and yet a lot of startups are building devices quickly. Here are some cool devices that I’ve seen on the floor:

Canary

A DYI all-in-one Home Security system still in pre-order. It’s had a very successful IndieGoGo campaign and the excitement over it seems well-founded. The Canary is a powerhouse of sensors with HD camera, microphone, thermometer, motion detector, air quality sensor… you name it.

The also have a friendly mobile app that goes with the device, enabling you to see what went down in your home in the last day (or more if you pay for the extended plans). It’s basically a life-stream of the HD camera showing highlights of the day (based on movement and such). Looks pretty neat.

With no Door Open/Close, just a single motion sensor, and no home monitoring solutions Canary will be hard pressed to replace a full-blown home security system. However, if you Rent or don’t want to pay a monthly subscription fee Canary might be a good fit for you.

Revolv Hub

The Smarthome needs a brain to be smart and quite a few folks are off to the races to build a so called “hub”. The grand vision beyond this is that in the future all the “smart” devices will be able to talk to each other and somehow make sense of all the chatter.

Revolv is one of the latest contenders to this category and has been working on some cool stuff. The Revolv Hub is a master controller of devices, connecting your devices to a smartphone app. The Hub supports 10 wireless standards , including Z-Wave, Zigbee and a slew of others. Off course it also supports regular Wi-Fi devices to backlink it all to the cloud. Revolv is working with some big names like Sonos, Philips hue, and Yale locks, but with automatic firmware updates the team is committed to bring many more devices to the fold.

The intriguing part is how Revolv puts all those devices together through their app via triggers. For example, If you move within 100 yards of your house, the Kwikset smart lock can unlock the door and yous Sonos device can turn up the heat.

SmartThings

SmartThings is another hub that wants to lord over your home devices and also a successful graduate of crowdfunding campaign. While SmartThings handles smart devices using Z-Wave and Zigbee wireless protocols just like Revolv, SmartThings’ secret weapon is optional sensors that tell you when the dog leaves the house or a window is left open.

The SmartThings app also works with IFTTT (disclamier: IFTTT is a Life360 partner) meaning you can setup protocols like “If I come within 50 feet of the hub, Then unlock/heat up house.”

SmartThings made quite an impression at CES with their “house” (Check it out – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5DQfhdK5qMw)

Nest Protect

Nest (the smart Thermostat company) is coming up with yet another product that is aimed to disrupt a dormant and un-sexy category. This time they are going for… Smoke Alarms.

The Nest Protect smoke alarm is all about the human touch. Instead of having annoying sirens go off, it it kindly speaks in a human voice and alerts you of smoke (and where it’s coming from) or a carbon monoxide leak. To dismiss, simply wave at the Nest device. It’s also got a beautiful design (compared to any smoke detector I’ve ever seen) and a battery life that lasts up to ten year.

The Family Networks is the next big thing, and it’s different then anything that came before it

For a couple of years now people have been fascinated by Social Networks and how they have impacted our lives. We have seen social networks raise to become some of the most prominent tech companies of our times – Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter. When you think about it, it makes sense – People want to share, like and interact with others. Social Networks are the natural evolution of online interaction.

However, not all Networks were created equal, and they are not all “Social”. More broadly, in our lives there are three distinct networks that really matter – Social, professional and family (not necessarily in that order). The Social Networks, which can be divided to sub-networks (i.e. friends from college, friends from back home, etc.) was conquered by Facebook. The professional network, the digital extension of one’s rolodex, has been conquered by LinkedIn. The last big network that really matters is the family network.

The social Network builds-up on basic social behavioral needs – Sharing an exciting moment in your life, Peeking at a profile of a potential blind-date, and social conformity (You better like that wedding photo, or else…). Social Networks is where you go when you want to catch-up with your friends and see whats-up. Google+ is trying to rebuild the social network graph, and with the amazing tech machines called Google behind it, it’s bound to have an impact. A lingering question still remains – does the social graph need rebuilding?.

The professional network is quite different. it’s social to the extent that people use it to communicate, but what drives the interaction is very different. It’s not about sharing a moment, it’s more about reaching a goal – Getting an introduction, finding your next exciting position, or poaching a key employee from a competitor. It’s business oriented and driven by a different set of wants and needs, which are not really “social”.

The Family Network is different then anything that came before it, and is even less “social”. Think about how families interact and what they do – families sit down for dinner 7pm, they ask “where are you? when will you be here?”, and they share their lives in different, more intimate, way.
That is exactly why the family network requires a completely different approach. it’s about a private network – not about shouting out to million of fans on Twitter, It’s about staying in sync – not about liking a cool filtered picture, and it’s about people you communicate with daily – not about a random friend you met 10 years ago at a party and can’t even remember why you like.

One big network has been left on the sidelines. Time is ripe for that to change.

Credit for most (if not all) of the inspiration for this post goes to Chris Hulls, CEO at Life360.

Privacy on the web is dead. Geo privacy is next

Back in 2010, Mark Zuckerberg went on stage and told TechCrunch’s Michael Arrington that the age of Internet privacy was over and hinted that we should get over it.

2 year later, web privacy is officially dead and every other thing we do is posted online on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram. Major and minor details of our lives are being broadcasted openly to hundreds of friends, family, and random people we last met 10 years ago, befriended on Facebook, and have not yet deleted because of some obscure reason.
Then, as some of those posts get shared with friend of friends and their friends, we can wake up on day just to find out that the embarrassing picture you posted, by mistake, via Facebook’s automatic iPhone sync, is viral and trending with teenagers in Estonia.

This is just the beginning. As humanity takes the next step toward a world where everything is digitally documented in real time, geo-privacy is next. And it’s dying. Quickly.

However, location sharing is a bit different. Location sharing requires refined controls about who you share your location with and for how long. Several companies are already seriously hacking into this and are making significant progress (full disclosure: Life360, the company I work for, is one of them). Those companies are taking the friction out of location sharing. However, they are doing much more then that – they are making the advantages of making your location public seriously outweigh the disadvantages.

I believe we are approaching a tipping point. This one is a bit harder for adults to grasp, but kids are all over it. They understand it’s the future. A 12 year old that just got his first smartphone will grow up in a world where location sharing is a must – finding where your friends are, hauling a cab to your location, checking-in with your mom so you don’t get that “Are you okay?” embarrassing call in front of all your friends, getting that special discount at Starbucks when you check-in. The list of use cases just keeps getting bigger everyday and some of them are killer features.

It might take a little bit more time (as with any technology that needs to leap past the early adopter phase into the mainstream), but eventually we will live in a world where it just doesn’t make sense to not share your location. Ten years ago, if somebody told you that your parents will shout at you for not posting recent pictures of your baby boy on Facebook, you might have dismissively laughed at them. Less than ten years from now, don’t be surprised if other people will just know where you are, whether you like it or not.

Geo-privacy is dying, we just need to get over it.