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I’ve written in the past about how the home security market is one that is very ripe for disruption. 

To review, the reasons for this are:

  • Traditional home security is fairly expensive, often up to $40 or $50 a month for monitored solutions
  • Younger demographics, who are lower income and highly mobile, don’t generally buy home security services despite often living in higher-risk neighborhoods 
  • New technology in the form of low-cost sensors, smartphones and devices such as network cameras are the ingredients for new forms of home monitoring that are lower-cost, self-installable and more mobile

I’ve talked about these trends with a number of traditional security providers, broadband service providers who now offer home security solutions, as well as a number of new startups who are bringing products to market that leverage many of these new technologies.

After all of these conversations I come to the conclusion we’re entering a new phase in home security and monitoring market where more and more consumers adopt some form of home security over time, but not in the form it’s been traditionally delivered to market (heavy, installed, higher monthly service fees).

Instead, I believe most if not all the growth in net-new home security consumers will be in the form of self-installed, do-it-yourself solutions. Some will be willing to pay for monitoring, but many more will be ok with solutions where the burden of monitoring and actually calling the authorities will fall on them.

Many of these solutions are what some are calling ‘home awareness’ solutions. These can include something as basic as a Dropcam that is installed in their home where they can view comings and goings of people, as well as more focused offerings like that from Piper or Canary, where home security is the main purpose of the solution.

Now I know that there are downsides to self-monitored solutions.  These offerings can be more susceptible to power-failure, may not have 100% coverage of all the various entry zones and, in the end, rely on people who are not trained to actually know what to do when a viable threat happens.

But like everything, there are tradeoff calculations that we all make in the course of choosing what technology and services we pay for, and I think that as these solutions get better and consumers become better trained at what is a “situation” vs. what is their pet dog moving in front of a camera, the momentum will be towards solutions that provide a baseline of decent security and monitoring and a lower over cost of ownership.

Again, let me stress I don’t see traditional monitored solutions going away. Big cable is making a significant investment in the home security industry, and I think that this effort could grow the market to a degree, even if some of that growth is at the expense of traditional home security providers. But I think longer-term, future growth in this industry will be in the form of DIY, self-installed, self-monitored home security. 

Further Reading:

Further thoughts on iControl-Piper Acquisition

Analysis: Impact of Smart Home on Home Security Industry

Guest: Off Camera’s Sam Jones

Last year I discovered Off Camera, a beautifully done multi-platform project by photographer and filmmaker Sam Jones. Not only were his guests amazing (Robert Downey Jr, Dave Grohl, etc) but the project was done so well across multiple formats: Podcast-video-magazine.

It came back to mind recently as I was watching TV and saw a commercial for Off Camera. The podcast-web video-magazine had made the leap to TV.

Sam and I talk about the concept, how he makes it work so well across formats and how the show made it’s way to DirectTV.

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Image credit: Sam Jones


I’ve written before about how the hub itself is a temporary device, which will eventually start to fade as a category as we see more integration.  Joe, who heads up one of the leading manufacturers of smart home hubs, basically confirmed my belief. 

I talked to Joe for episode #6 of The Smart Home Show. It was a great conversation because I got some of the backstory of INSTEON and, as well as where Joe see INSTEON in the broader smart home and home automation space. 

But again, I thought his comments about the future of hubs were particularly interesting. Like me, he sees hubs as a means to an end, devices that are placeholders until we see further integration.

Here’s the exchange below with the comment by Joe about hubs highlighted (the full transcript of the conversation can be found here).

Mike: I’d be interested to ask you about the idea of the hub because I’ve written for some articles that over time you start to see smart home intelligence move into recognizable categories of devices. I think Linksys has tried it in the past, I think Belkin is thinking about it now, you see some start-ups that are trying to integrate, for example, Z-Wave, I’d be interested if that’s something you’re exploring potential deals with, for example, router manufacturers are putting Insteon into even something that’s a central-recognized category like a thermostat or even a TV. What’s your idea of the hub in terms of its place going forward in the smart home and are you working on other potential integration opportunities?

Joe: We absolutely are and I’m excited that it won’t be too long before some of those announcements come out. That’s right, there are several always-on devices in the home that are connected and I don’t think the thermostat is the ideal place, certainly not for dual-band technology, because it’s not connected to the power lines. Routers, set-top boxes, just devices that are already in the communication business and already sitting there alive, the hubs that we’re making today, like the Insteon hub, they’re going to disappear. They’re a means to an end and until, like your laptop, we used to have to have a WiFi dongle to plug in if you wanted to put your—right?

It’ll go through an evolution. Right now we’ve got the little WiFi thing that you plug into the wall and plug into your computer, then it’ll become a dongle that plugs into the USB jack on the back of these boxes and then eventually it’ll get engineered right into their cases.

An evolution, with eventual integration into boxes themselves like routers, TVs, thermostats, you name it.

Sounds about right.

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I wrote a piece for Forbes about the iControl acquisition of Blacksumac, the company behind the Piper DIY smart home security product.

In the Forbes piece I explained why iControl decided to go into the DIY and consumer-facing space to attack a bigger addressable market, but let me make a few more points:

iControl realizes “fixed” security doesn’t fit needs of lower income, younger consumers

Traditional security is “heavy”, meaning it’s installed and it doesn’t move. Think about that. Now think about you in your twenties (or you young readers, imagine the future).  You moved. Maybe a lot. I know I did.  And not only did you move (or are moving) a lot, chances are you rented as well.

Both those factors, being mobile and renting an apartment or house are very likely indicators that a person doesn’t pay for monitored home security.  They also likely never would be an iControl (through one its partners) customer.

Now? A much better chance. Younger people embrace technology, they’re ok with DIY solutions, and are more likely to do something if it’s only a one-time cost vs. a subscription. 

This is a huge strategic shift for iControl

On it’s surface it’s an acquisition of a pretty straightforward device. Peel the onion back, and this represents a big strategic shift for iControl.

This is a company that has over 1 million customers who use their service every month, and not one of them pays iControl directly, instead paying Comcast, ADT or another customer-facing service provider.

With Piper, iControl is now in the B2C business, touching consumers directly.  

This move means all sorts of things, but most of all it shows that iControl realizes that for certain consumer demographics, providing smart home and security necessitates a new model beyond their current two-tier, go-to-market model.  

iControl’s move into DIY could presage others to make a similar move

I think this is only the beginning of more traditional smart home providers expanding into the DIY space. Already we’re seeing high-end providers moving downmarket, and I think now we’ll see more do so, some all the way to a true DIY offering. 

I’ll likely have more thoughts in coming days, but in the mean time you can listen to my conversation with Greg Roberts from iControl about the acquisition at Technology.FM or by clicking play below. 

This is a special edition of The Smart Home Show, where we talk to iControl’s Greg Roberts about the reason they acquired Blacsumac, the company behind the DIY home awareness and security solution, Piper.

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Guest: Andrew Brooks of SmartThings

In this episode, Mike talks to Andrew Brooks of SmartThings. We talk about the SmartThings smart home platform, the developer community for SmartThings, what’s new with SmartThings, how the smart home landscape is changing and more.

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In this show, we talk to Jamie Siminoff, the CEO of Doorbot. Doorbot is a Wi-Fi connected doorbell.

I was on the New Media Show today with Todd Cochrane and Rob Greenlee and we go pretty deep on the podcast business. 

Will your brains be Google or Facebook’s next moonshot?

The term moonshot is bandied about quite a bit lately. Not without good reason however, since now more than ever, each day holds the possibility for us in the tech world to look at our Twitter feed and say “wait, they did what?!”

The ‘they’ I’m referring to is Facebook and Google GOOG -3%, who are locked in a technology arms race where seemingly out-of-nowhere acquisitions or new initiatives are announced with increasing frequency.

The latest example is Facebook’s $2 billion pick up of Oculus VR, the virtual reality company behind the Oculus Rift headset. Zuckerberg announced the deal via status update, saying it  would help the company bring Facebook users more immersive experiences.

This deal follows Google moves into smart home, self-driving cars, robotics and balloon-powered broadband.

As I explain at Gigaom, the reason for these big, unpredictable bets on markets that seem to come straight of out science fiction books is, unlike the previous generation of tech visionaries who largely focused on growing the domination of their core market, these leaders are just as willing to spend a significant amount of today’s war chest on securing control of new, non-adjacent markets in tomorrow’s world.

In other words, these leaders are creating the multi-faceted, diversified conglomerates of tomorrow, stepping into nascent businesses that could be $10 or $100 billion a decade from now.

While these types of new businesses and acquisitions are hard to predict because they are so out of left field, I thought I’d give it a try anyway since, after all, my column is about looking for the next billion dollar technology market.

So here goes:

Magnetic Field Motion Interfaces

One of the key areas that both companies are exploring are new machine to consumer interfaces. While Google has invested heavily in voice and inertial-based motion they, unlike Apple or Microsoft, have yet to make any big bets on free space motion interfaces.

One of the interesting new forms of free space motion detection is that of magnetic field free space motion sensing. Technology from company Sixense includes a multipoint motion tracking system for gaming as well as a product for 3D free space modeling that can do some pretty amazing things and is based on entirely different technology than that of what Microsoft uses in Kinect.

One could envision this technology being integrated with, oh I don’t know, an Oculus Rift headset?

3D Printing

While not exactly a new area, like robotics 3D printing is an older tech whose time has finally come. Interestingly, none of the new big tech players like Google, Facebook or even Amazon have yet to make any significant bets in this space, and there are a few companies who control a significant amount of intellectual property and have a variety of products.

Stratasys, which combined with recent acquisitions Objet (high end) and Makerbot (consumer), leads the 3D printing world in total patents and has a fully diversified product line of printers as well as services business. Following right behind is 3D Systems which also holds significant IP as well as a hardware and services business.

It seems just a matter of time before someone takes a moonshot at 3D printing by acquiring one of these companies.

Brain to Machine Interfaces

Brain to machine interfaces are admittedly the most science-fiction of all the moonshots discussed here, but as long as these companies are looking for new ways to interface with machines, why not take the most direct route?

A technology called electroencephalography (EEG) has been in use since the 1920s, and most of the work with this technology that monitors the electrical activity along the scalp resulting from ionic currents coursing within the brain’s neurons has been centered around medical activity.

However, in recent years there have been a number of startups trying to take EEG into gaming and other consumer-facing applications. While many will bristle at the idea of Google or Facebook having direct access to their brain activity, don’t be surprised if these companies haven’t talked to EmotivNeuroskyInteraXon or other companies doing work in this space.

This post was originally posted at Forbes. 

Behind the scenes on Shark Tank with Doorbot’s Jamie Siminoff.