This shadowy character is listening to a podcast
Our guest this week on the Tear Down Show was Rob Walch, VP of podcaster relations for Libsyn. Given Libsyn’s position as the biggest podcast hosting company in the world, Rob always has interesting numbers to share which shed light on what’s happening within the space.
This time it was no different. Below I look at a couple of the trends we talked about which I found especially interesting. If you find these interesting as well and want to hear all that Rob to say, you should listen to the podcast (embedded at bottom).
Most interesting to me was that Android had lost ground in podcasts as of late relative to iOS after years of slow but steady progress.
According to Rob, one year ago (February 2013), the iOs to Android ratio for podcast downloads was 4.7 to 1 (this means that for every 4.7 podcast downloads to an iOS device, there was one to an Android device).
This compared to about 10 to 1 in April of 2012, a drastic improvement. The numbers continued to get better until August of last year when the ratio of Apple podcast downloads to Android dipped to 3.9 to 1.
But now? According to Libsyn’s numbers, the numbers have started back the other way, and at the end of February the ratio stood at 4.88 to 1.
So the question becomes why did Android lose ground to iOS? Rob pointed to two reasons, the first being the lack of native support for podcasts on the Android side compared to Apple (which has its own podcast app and a little thing you might of hear of called iTunes).
Second was the resulting momentum for iOS due to the update to the Apple podcast app in October. While there were decidedly mixed reviews for the 1.0 version of the app which was released in mid-2012, the response was fairly positive to the new version. This likely resulted in some folks finally giving up on iTunes downloading and syncing to their mobile and going to direct downloads on their iOS device.
Overall I think Rob is right on. Android’s (and by extension Google’s) complete lack of native support for podcasting has been a little puzzling to me, and while the sheer momentum of Android and continued growth of well done third party apps has done a good job in recent years to narrow the gap, there’s only so much that can be done against Apple’s long legacy of support for podcasts.
Another data point that was not surprising but worth mentioning is the continued growth of mobile podcast consumption. According to Libsyn, at the end of February mobile accounted for nearly two thirds of all podcast downloads at 62.7%. Desktop/computers were responsible for about 37%, and set tops were at a measly .05%.
The mobile slice of the pie is up from 43.2% in August 2012. This growth - from about 4 in 10 in August 2012 to 6 in 10 in February 2014 - coincides well with the fairly robust growth we’ve seen in podcast listening overall.
We also talked about third party apps and services. Rob said Stitcher continues to be the leader among third party podcast streaming services, across both iOS and Android (it’s actually the number one app in Android, number two behind Apple’s podcast app in iOS).
He pointed out a few other apps with momentum. On the Apple side, Castro appears to be the hottest newcomer, as Rob said that it’s seeing very strong growth in total downloads to the app. On the Android side, he said the number two app behind Stitcher is Shifty Jelly’s Pocket Casts.
One last thing I wanted to note from our conversation was the explosive growth of the business podcast category. I asked Rob which genres were hot and he said the business category is exploding. He pointed to marketing podcasts as being especially white hot.
Take a listen!
Don’t be sad smart home people - your day has come
Having followed the smart home market for over a decade, I can tell you it’s an easy market to get cynical about.
That’s because for years the smart home never delivered on its early promise, despite a number of big investments in the space.
But that’s all changed. Today there is no shortage of signs that this market has finally arrived, perhaps the biggest being Google’s acquisition of Nest.
And that’s not the only sign. Look around and you’ll see signs everywhere that 2014 is primed to be a year for both major innovation and significant consumer adoption of smart home technologies.
So why is that? I’ve identified four major reasons that the smart home has finally arrived.
A brand change
One of the most simple reasons that smart home is finally taking off is that companies in the space are no longer trying to entice consumers with the words “home control and automation.”
While consumers may tepidly agree that automated lighting and temperature control sounds neat, they were never excited to pay for it. And studies* have shown that 55% of US adults fall asleep between the words home and automation.
Not so with smart home. Not only is it a better overall term, but consumers have shown they will pay for technology that allows them to monitor their home via remote camera, lock their door when at work, and other services that make their life better.
The great recession
The great recession of 2008-09 was brutal for most industries, including the home integrator market. This channel, which had been the lifeblood of the home automation market for decades, saw many installers go out of business as the number of customers willing to pay $10 thousand or more for a smart home set-up shriveled dramatically during the downturn.
But not all of system integrators went out of business, and those that stayed searched for alternative, lower-priced offerings that would appeal to budget constrained consumers. At the same time, companies like Mi Casa Verde and Schlage with Schlagelink (now Nexia) rushed to fill the void with lower-priced smart home services.
In the end, the great recession recalibrated the entire industry to be more mass-market.
Smartphones and Tablets
In the past, a typical home automation system required a proprietary and expensive controller that could cost thousands of dollars. Not only were these devices sometimes clunky, they only worked for one purpose: controlling your home automation system.
But that all changed with the release of the iPhone. Soon after, the app revolution began and every major smart home system maker eventually created their own control app.
Not only does this make the overall solutions more affordable, but the controller is usually much better. The smartphone and tablet as controller has also widened the market significantly, as nowadays 90% of typical first-time smart home consumers buy their first smart home system specifically because they want to control security, lighting or some home system with their phone.
The rise of lean-startup methodologies, cloud computing and democratized capital raising platforms has released a resulting wave of smart home product innovation.
In the past, companies would often need their own ASIC chip and significant financial backing to create a new smart home product. Nowadays, open source hardware and crowdfunding sites like Kickstarter have changed all that.
Smart home companies like Lockitron and SmartThings grew out of crowdfunding campaigns. These companies and others like Belkin are embracing maker technologies like Arduino that serve as low cost and accessible building blocks for new smart home products.
People in the smart home space would often say how the market is always on the verge of becoming the next big thing, but never quite becomes the next big thing.
Well time to buy a ring, folks. For the reasons above, the bridesmaid days are over and the smart home has finally arrived.
Image courtesy of Flickr user Sam Stanton
If you look at today’s off the shelf smart home kits, the vast majority use a “hub and spoke” model.
This means that one device (the “hub”) acts as a central command center, connecting to all the different devices and relaying commands from your smart phone, tablet or through the web.
Everyone from Lowe’s Iris and Staples’ Connect to self-install kits like SmartThings and Revolv use a hub.
But is a hub necessary?
If you look at Belkin’s decentralized architecture, you can install smart home systems today that do away with a separate hub. And certainly point solutions like the Nest thermostat or a Kevo lock are smart home products that can operate without the need for a hub device.
But looking forward, I think that we’re going to see a wave of products from new entrants into the smart home that utilize the TV as your smart home command center.
Why? Well, first off, the TV is maybe the most commonly used piece of consumer electronics in the home. Secondly, it’s almost always centrally located, which is important when thinking about large US homes and the reach of the smart home network.
But more practically, I think if you’re Samsung, LG or Vizio and you have smart home aspirations, why try to create an entirely new product category that most consumers still don’t really understand in a hub when you can simply embed smart home intelligence into a product that you ships millions, if not tens of millions, of per year.
Samsung may already be thinking along these lines. At CES they announced their new smart home platform. While they were fairly vague on the details, the company talked about how Samsung smart TVs will act as a control point.
I have no doubt that others, including Google with their Android TV platform, are thinking the same thing. And as I’ve written before even Amazon, who many believe will release a TV box soon, could be thinking about embedding smart home capabilities into such a box.
Clearly TVs are not the only potential alternative to the smart home hub. In a recent post at NextMarket, we’ve explored how the TV and other potential devices could become the smart home control point.
But with the likelihood so many big TV-centric players getting into the smart home game, there’s no doubt the TV has a good chance to be prime contender to be your next smart home hub.
When you look at almost any consumer-installed smart home kit, nearly every one on the market utilizes a smart home “hub”.
What’s a hub? Basically it acts as the central command center and connection point for your smart home network. It takes instructions from you via smartphone or other device and relays those to the nodes on the network via RF (usually Z-Wave, sometimes Zigbee). In this sense it’s also a “bridge” device to the traditional home network, meaning it’s often connected to a home router and, by extension, to the Internet.
Which smart home platforms use a hub? I as said, pretty much all of them: SmartThings and Revolv to Lowe’s Iris and Staples Connect use hubs to connect to the home automation network. Smart home services from the likes of AT&T, Comcast and Time Warner use a hub too, as do home system integrators use them too.
The smart home hub: A necessity or endangered species?
But despite their popularity, is a hub necessary? With so many “smart” devices in the home today, packed with advanced processing power and powerful software, couldn’t another device simply incorporate smart home functionality?
I don’t see why not.
It should be said that this is not a new idea. I remember as far back as the mid-2000s talking to large home network companies like Linksys who, at the time, were considering putting smart home intelligence into their routers.
While ultimately they decided the market wasn’t ready, that was then and this is now. I believe we’re entering an era where we’ll see “smart home” intelligence built into a number of device categories.
So which categories are leading contenders to take on the role of the smart home hub? Here are a few:
The Router/Home Gateway
While Linksys may have been 5 or 10 years too early, nowadays the router as smart home hub makes perfect sense.
There are some startups thinking along these lines. One such startup is Securifi, who crowdfunded a home router with embedded Z-Wave/Zigbee in the Almond+. And then there’s router giant Belkin (who owns Linksys now). While Belkin doesn’t use a “hub and spoke” model for its WeMo platform, I could still envision integrated WeMo connectivity at some point in the next six to twelve months.
Netgear offers a line of Wi-Fi/Z-Wave/Zigbee home control “gateways” which work with iControl’s smart home platform. While I wouldn’t consider iControl a DIY smart home solution, it shows that we’re already seeing smart home integration into traditional home network hardware.
The TV market has transitioned from one exclusively focused on screen fidelity five years ago to one today where embedded intelligence and smart-features are now table stakes.
At the same time, we’ve begun to see smart TV makers take notice of the smart home. At CES Samsung announced they would enable future smart TVs and mobile devices as control points for smart home nodes. What they ultimately showed off the show was more a proof of concept than actual commercial product (it was CES after all), but I expect that this is a sign of what’s to come: TV-centric OEMs who want in on smart home will leverage their smart TVs, if not make them the central control/point or hub.
Will we see radios like Z-Wave or Zigbee in a smart TV? Too soon to say. I think some newer entrants to the smart home space will be on Wi-Fi and Bluetooth-centric RF rather than Z-Wave or Zigbee, but I wouldn’t completely write off the possibility of embedded Z-Wave/Zigbee or an adapter.
And while we’re talking TVs, I would also include smart TV “boxes” like an Apple TV or Roku as a potential control point in a smart home. I’ve already written about how I think Amazon could be thinking along these lines.
Thermostats or other “Google-centric” device
I’ve written before about why I think Google’s plans for Nest go beyond just a few point solutions for smart home. I think the company wants to own the full smart home platform, and I think either (or both) the thermostat or smoke detector could act as the central control hub. Neither offer traditional smart home RF in Z-Wave/Zigbee, but there’s nothing stopping them from doing it in the future or, more likely, simply creating a smart home platform build around low-energy Wi-Fi as the main network.
We’re in a new era of smart home, where nearly every major consumer hardware manufacturer is looking for an entry point into the market.
If you’re a hardware vendor, you can either be a point-solution provider within another company’s smart home platform or you can create your own. I think those in the latter camp will look at their core products and evaluate whether they should leverage those, rather than create an entirely new product (a hub).
And this is a good idea. While smart home hubs are generally accepted as a key part of today’s DIY smart home platforms, they’re still not widely understood or in demand from consumers. Consumers today are still just learning about the smart home, and chances are they’d be just as open (or even moreso) to an architecture that leverages a well-understood device (like their TV) as they would to adding another box.
There is also a chance that newer architectures for the smart home will forego the hub altogether, virtualizing it or moving to a hub-less network utilizing Wi-Fi. Google could go this route, and Belkin essentially does this with its WeMo product line. This is how many of the newer point-products (Bluetooth smart locks, Wi-Fi doorbells, etc) operate, and someone like Google or Apple could unify multiple point products like this through a software control point or through the cloud.
Bottom line, the smart home is changing fast, and today’s hub-centric architecture may not be a blueprint for every smart home.
Michael Connelly may be the most respected mystery novelist of his generation. The writer behind such novel-turned-movie hits as The Lincoln Lawyer and Blood Work has been pounding out best sellers for two decades, and after 26 novels hasn’t shown any signs of slowing down.
But for all his success, Connelly’s most famous character, Hieronymus “Harry” Bosch, had yet to see the movie or TV screen until this year. When I talked to Connelly recently, I asked him why.
"It started gathering dust after a pretty substantial effort to get something done."
According to Connelly, he’d sold the rights to Bosch to Paramount in the mid-90s as a way to help make enough money for him to quit his day job as a reporter for the LA Times, but after three scripts that didn’t quite capture the complicated detective character, the studio shelved the project.
While Connelly thought it wise not to force a movie or TV show with scripts that didn’t work, he became frustrated when Paramount wouldn’t release the rights to Bosch. So when the deal finally expired in 2012, he decided to look for a partner to help him realize the Bosch character on screen.
After deciding serialized TV was the best way to bring Bosch to screen, Connelly and his agent let the word get out. But instead of a traditional Hollywood Studio, this time it would be Amazon who would aggressively pursue Bosch.
The large online commerce company had recently started it Studios project, trying to compete with the likes of Netflix and HBO, each of whom have had made original content core to their strategy.
"We started writing a script, and doing preliminary talks," said Connelly. "I happened to know through my publishing experience the guy who ran the publishing arm of Amazon, and I’d gone to a baseball game with him and mentioned what I was doing, so he hooked me up with a guy named Joe Lewis at Amazon Studios. He wanted to meet with us, and see what we we’re doing and talk about it.”
So how did that first meeting with Lewis go?
"By the end of the lunch he said ‘we’ll take it.’”
Unlike HBO and Netflix, Amazon uses the wisdom of crowds principle to help them find their future hits. The company puts each round of pilots to customer vote, and those with the most votes get the green light for a full season.
The voting window is about halfway closed for this season’s pilots and Bosch is doing pretty well, running neck and neck with The After, a pilot from X-Files creator Chris Carter.
I asked Connelly if he thought about what happens if Bosch isn’t made into a full series with Amazon.
"The lesson I learned (from Paramount) is you can’t make a deal where you don’t think about failure," he said. "This won’t be the end of me trying to bring Harry into this visual medium in some way."
You can watch and vote on Bosch here on Amazon.
This post originally appeared in Forbes.