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It’s a hits-driven business. Nest, Dropcam, Kevo and others are bringing consumers into the smart home market.

I talked to Zach Supalla to hear about what Spark OS is all about. Check it out!

If you sit in the board room of a retailer of home electronics, home improvement products or pretty much anything that uses batteries, chances are one of the topics of discussion over the past few months has been the Internet of Things.

Just look around if you don’t believe me. Home improvement stores like Lowe’s and Home Depot, office retailers like Staples, big box retailers like Best Buy and even old-school retailers like Sears are all ramping up their efforts to play in this space.

So, why all the sudden interest in making our homes and everything around us smarter?

New Categories, New Business Model

With increased competition from the Amazon.com’s of the world, the decade-long shift towards a new world order in which every home and personal system talks to each other and is controllable by a smartphone represents an opportunity to enter new categories or reinvent old ones.

In the old model, a sale in a given category such as watches, lighting, TVs or sprinklers was an isolated event, unrelated to the other. In an Internet of Things world, this changes. Someday your watch will talk to your TV, which may talk to your lights and even possibly control the watering of your lawn.  As a consumer, this means that one purchase decision has implications for another purchase decision, and at some point you find yourself not simply buying a random hodge podge of stuff but instead investing in a system of interconnected products that work in concert to organize, simplify and better your life.

Hold The Utopia, Please

Granted, it’s a utopian vision we’re talking about here, one some say may never materialize. A problem looking for a solution, some might suggest.

Maybe, but the big investments being made by large technology players such as Intel, Google and Apple, not to mention those big consumer product manufacturers such as Philips and GE, tell a different story. All are working very hard towards a day where the ‘solution’ of an interconnected, smart world is good enough to convince consumers maybe they did indeed have a problem.

But why retailers? After all, technology and product companies are the innovators when it comes to technology, and retailers just move product.

Not so fast. As suggested above, in an IoT world device purchases are not made in a vacuum, but instead could become an interdependent chain of decisions where consumers start looking at boxes to see if their device is part of a broader system.  Maybe that’s HomeKit, Android, Wink or WeMo, but at this point in the game retailers are asking why shouldn’t it also be them?

Lowe’s is a good example. Early on, they started selling their smart home hub and would group all those devices that work with the device in one place near the front of the store. They were educating the market, but the broader vision is to someday have every aisle filled with products that say “works with Iris”, essentially creating themselves a consumer purchase pipeline for years into the future as consumers look to grow their collection of smart “things”.

And let’s be honest, not for a minute does any sane retailer think they’ll replace Apple or Google in lives of the consumer, but when devices like Staples’ new Connect Hub has the ability to connect to multiple types of smart home networks AND likely work with technologies like Apple’s HomeKit someday, it’s a sign that maybe the future Internet of Things land grab may have enough waterfront property for more than just Big Tech to participate.

This post was originally published in Forbes.

Last week at Google I/O, the company unveiled its third attempt at creating a connected TV platform.

The first two efforts, two generations of ‘Google TV’ (which used, confusedly, a customized version of Android), didn’t exactly set the market on fire, garnering an meager installed base of about a million TVs and set-tops three years after its introduction.

But after a couple less-than-stellar attempts, why exactly would Google head back for another crack at the notoriously tough TV technology market?

Easy. TV is a massive business, with over $70 billion in ads alone, and the pay TV market representing a quarter trillion dollars annually.

So while it’s easy to figure out why Google keeps trying, what isn’t so easy to figure out is whether this third time will be a charm or strike three. To answer that, let’s look at what’s different this time around.

Here are the highlights:

  • A true Android stack. Unlike last time when they forked Android, Android TV is true Android, meaning despite a customized UI for TV viewing it should be more familiar to developers as well as have full access to the Android apps, including games available on the Google Play store.
  • Speaking of games, Android TV is going to have a big emphasis on gaming. It’s giving games its own separate category on the Android TV UI, and they are also enabling a fairly wide variety of remotes to work with games downloaded for Android TV
  • Voice control. With voice increasingly becoming an important TV interface, Google finally integrated voice control into its TV software.
  •  Android TV will feature Google Cast, the technology which powers the popular Chromecast dongle-streamer from Google. This means Android TV powered boxes will be able to seamlessly take viewing sessions enabled on a mobile device and stream directly through the TV, as well as do screen mirroring of Chrome browsers tabs from another device.
  • Simplified – and more uniform – UI.  Unlike in the past, Google will allow for only fairly limited UI customization by TV OEMs.

On the surface, Google’s new approach makes sense. By simplifying the look and feel and bringing the TV platform much closer to core Android, the company is giving TV OEMs a fully turnkey platform they can build around without investing huge R&D into developing their own software. It also gives consumers something they may actually want, such as access to Android games and Google Cast.

But will it succeed? Ultimately the answer will hinge on two things: How dedicated TV OEMs will be over time to the platform, and how compelling the offering is to consumers.

With TV OEMs, the upside of Android TV is a consistently powerful, updated software framework that they can count on to power their models as they continue their march into the connected device era. On the downside, TV manufacturers have to be increasingly wary of the tight control that Google is taking over the look and feel of the consumer-facing platforms.

Samsung, clearly resistant to ceding too much control and brand value to Google, has started to migrate more of its TV models to Tizen, its own TV software. LG bought WebOS to power future smart TV models for similar reasons.

As for consumers, Android TV is a clear upgrade over Google TV. However, with Apple TV’s continued momentum, Roku new smart TV platformand increased focus on TV viewing from game consoles, it’s unclear if these changes will be enough.

The bottom line? Android TV represents another big swing for the TV fences by Google, but it’s still too soon to tell if the company will hit it out of the park or soon be walking back to the dugout.

This post was first published in Forbes.

Guest: Richard Nash

This week Mike visits with Richard Nash to hear about some of the difficulties Byliner, one of the most high profile publishing startups of recent years, faced as the company sees most of its senior management leave in the last few weeks. We also talk about the broader book publishing business and Richard makes a prediction about Amazon’s future.

Mike also catches you up on what he’s been up to (and why it’s been a month since he’s had a podcast) and tells you about a new podcast he and a few friends are trying out looking at the lighter side of the tech & startup world (which you can find here: http://www.technology.fm/disrupt-this/2014/6/26/episode-1-the-alpha-episode

You can find out more about Richard at http://rnash.com/

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In a recent report I wrote for Gigaom on emerging technology interfaces, I outlined three defining changes that the consumer technology “experience” will is undergoing over the course of the next decade. 

Basically it went something like this - Consumer technologies, as a whole, are getting more:  

Contextual - technology you are using will better understand you, the world around you, the moment in time. In other words, context.

Anticipatory - technology is increasingly anticipating your future needs rather than just reacting to place-in-time commands.  It will know you are going home and turn the heat on, start the oven, and so on.  Antipatory.

Continuous - Technology experiences are no longer islands, but will seamlessly continue from one life “zone” to the next. The experience you are having now will be recognized and continue (in a way that is deemed appropriate and contextual) into the next space. An example would be your TV will know to turn on to the game as you walk into your home from the garage since were you listening to it in your car. 

Of course, the reasons for these changes are well understood. I created a basic graphic (see below) for the same report, in which I outlined how new interfaces, cloud computing, emerging network technologies - as well the related trends within these bigger trends like big data and social graph - are all contributing to these changes. 

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The reason I bring all of this up is that I think today’s news of "Works With Nest" program and the opening of its API are part and parcel of the move towards this new convergence and the resulting changes to the technology “experience” we are witnessing.  

If you don’t believe me, watch the video below. You can see all three changes highlighted throughout the video as Nest new hardware partners outline various scenarios: A Mercedes telling the Nest it’s coming home to turn on the lights (anticipatory, continuous), a Jawbone Up letting Nest know if you’ve gotten up early (anticipatory, contextual), LIFX smart bulbs and Nest Protect working together to signal emergency events and even using color coding to communicate which kind (contextual).

Google Now, Google’s own anticipatory and contextual assistant, is one of the apps that has access to the Nest API.  Nest took pains to make sure everyone knows Google is getting no special treatment here and that privacy will be respected. All that said, I have no doubt Google Now will become an important interface over time for Nest devices for those who use Android devices.

The Nest API announcement is big news, coming (maybe not so coincidentally?) the day after Quirky announced their Wink spinout and a bevy of hardware company partnerships.  One thing that I saw in some of the sub-text in both announcements is the idea that a discrete smart home hub is something both companies see as temporary. Nest is bypassing it altogether by making its learning thermostat the smart home hub, while Quirky/Wink made it known that while they will sell a hub to start, the hub business itself is something they do not want to be in the long run.

We talk about Google’s acquisition of Dropcam, Quirky’s smart home spinout Wink, HomeKit and, of course, Greenwave. All with Nate Williams!

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 Possible Wink Mascot

If you blink your eyes nowadays (or go camping for the weekend), there’s a good chance you’ll miss a new smart home initiative.

This weekend was particularly busy, as I wrote for Forbes, with Friday’s news of Google’s acquisition of DropCam and today’s announcement by Quirky that they are spinning out a new smart home company called Wink. 

Since I’ve written quite a bit about smart home security, Google and Dropcam and believe my analysis of Google/Dropcam holds up, I want to quickly touch on what I think will be the long term impact of Quirky/Wink.

Here are some early thoughts on the implications of Quirky’s smart home spinout:

  • I don’t know if Quirky has a big technology advantage relative to other smart home management and hub platforms, but the company’s business model around crowdsourced product innovation is truly differentiated and puts it in on the ground floor on some really innovative new products. If Wink is, by both proximity and ‘ink on paper’, the de facto smart home hub platform for any product coming off of the Quirky innovation factory conveyor belt, this instantly puts Wink in a good place to fast-build an ecosystem of compatible products. 
  • Without a doubt, the biggest challenge for smart home startups is distribution of their product. You can have the best idea in the world, but unless your product is seen and exposed to millions of consumers in a retail or online environment, chances are it won’t succeed. That is why a partnership like Home Depot’s is so absolutely crucial. By becoming the preferred platform for Home Depot, Wink is assured continued exposure through the biggest home improvement storefront for years in the future. It also gives Wink instant credibility for its platform, which will mean that smart home point products will almost assuredly will want to make their product part of the Wink ecosystem.
  • I imagine at some point we’ll see more details on Wink’s technology, but what we do know is that Quirky’s smart home efforts thus far have been built around Electric Imp’s platform. Electric Imp provides an open API, cloud and system software to built smart home hardware, so if, as I imagine, Wink continues to push those building smart home devices to Electric Imp’s platform, I think this is a big win as well for Electric Imp.
  • As for the impact on other smart home hub and platform products, I think the biggest disappointment may be not winning preferred status at Home Depot, which may have been the belle of the home retail ball. That said, I don’t think that the competition to be the center of the smart home is at all over, but with Wink (as well as HomeKit), things are certainly getting a lot more competitive. 

I’ll have more thoughts in coming weeks, so be sure to follow me on Twitter, sign up for my newsletter or listen to the Smart Home Show.

Latest episode of the Smart Home Show, with Vera/MiOS’s Lew Brown!

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By now you’ve probably heard the term Internet of Things, and while we can go into the historical or technology specifics of what these omnipresent buzzwords mean, what’s important to know if you’re a consumer is that soon  everyday devices you once took for granted will change.

From a practical sense, this means they will become smarter, have their own app, will be connected to the network, and will spew data about you and your world. Depending on what your general inclinations are about technology’s role in our lives, this will alternatively sound great or terrible, but make no mistake, its gonna happen, so you might as well embrace it.

To help you do so, here are four everyday, ordinary things about to change.

Doorbells

If there’s one thing in our lives we don’t give much thought to, it might be the doorbell. Press-a-button, make-a-sound, it’s a pretty simple technology

But what if you made your doorbell smart? Maybe added a camera, sprinkled in a little facial recognition technology?  Suddenly you have a device that not only could alert you when someone is at the door when you are away, but also tell you who it is and even let you talk to them.

Believe it or not, there are a few startups who are already busy reinventing the doorbell. You may remember Doorbot from its appearance on Shark Tank. Another, Chui, has created a connected doorbell  that ships with facial detection technology.

Sprinklers

Back when I was a kid, my dad would initiate a lawn-watering session with voice control (and by voice control, I mean he’d tell me to go turn on the sprinkler). While that may have been pretty smart way for him to keep our grass green, nowadays being “smart” about lawn control means controlling the sprinkler through your phone.

Now, you might be saying I already have a water-control system for my lawn, but if your’s is like mine, it’s kinda complicated and not very smart. It doesn’t really know if I’m home or away, and I certainly can’t control it via the network. But with new offerings from the likes of Rach.io and Rainmachine, I can monitor, control and conserve all through my smartphone.

Cups

Of all things in our life we probably would have predicted to stay dumb, that cup you’re drinking out of has to be near the top of the list. Since caveman times people have been drinking liquids out of vessels, and while there’s been all sort of innovation around ways to hold our drinks, for the most part the cup has stayed pretty dumb.

Until now. This past week a new product called Vessyl (see what they did there?) debuted as the world’s first smart cup.

What exactly does a smart cup do? Basically it tells you what ingredients are in your drink, how much of each type of ingredient (like, say, how much caffeine is in that coffee) and how much you have drank in a given time period.

While some were skeptical about the need to monitor ingredients in a beverage since most prepackaged drinks come with that info, I think that type of thinking is very limited. After all, I’m not sure I trust those corporate overlords packing up my sugar water, and even if I get with the buy-local times and source my beverages at the farmer’s market, it’s probably a good thing to actually check what’s in that murky stuff concoction I just bought from that witch-doctor looking dude.

Clothing

Over a decade ago, I remember reading stories about adventuresome uber-nerds who were loading up their clothing with portable computers. Observing these early attempts at “wearable computing”, at the time I thought it might be a while before the average consumer wants a hard drive under their armpit.

Luckily for us, Moore’s Law has marched on, ushering in an era of wearable computing that doesn’t require anyone holster a Seagate. And while most folks talking wearables are busy yakking about smartwatches and Google glass, there’s tons of interesting work going on to commercialize the integration of computers into our clothes.

Intel, for one, is working on sensor-laden smart shirts that allow you to track your vitals.  While this may seem crazy, I guarantee there are a hundred thousand college, professional and even grade school coaches and athletes that would love to use this technology around the country and worldwide.  And going beyond athletics, I can imagine health use-cases like heart-attack survivors monitoring their health with a piece of “smart clothing”.

All this may sound futuristic, but it’s not. It’s now, and like it or not luddites, over the next decade everything around you will become smarter and more connected.

So you might as well order that smart cup.

This post was originally published at Forbes.