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Evolution Of The Smart Home: It’s Security, Stupid

Las Vegas — Purveyors of smart-home technologies agree on little, illustrated by the seemingly sudden cacophonous chaos of competing DIY smart-home platforms, protocols, wireless standards, APIs and vendors on view in the Sands Convention space at International CES last week.

But there was a startling amount of agreement among the panelists on the Evolution of the Smart Home Supersession conference: Michael Pessina, president of Lutron; Kris Bowring, director of new business development for Lowe’s Iris smart-home platform; Christopher Schlaeffer, CEO and founder of the Berlin-based Yetu smart-home platform, and Dr.–Ing. Rainer Kallenbach, CEO of Bosch Software Innovations. The conference was moderated by Grant Clauser, technology and online editor of Electronic House magazine.

The first concept all panelists agreed upon was the primary human need that initially attracts consumers to DIY smart home, regardless of the confusion they will face at retail: security.

“What would make people happy is to never enter a dark home,” opined Lutron’s Pessina. “The idea is, if you can be secure in your home because you home is lit up before you go into it, that’s a very good application. Consumers understand that.”

“That first initial experience [at retail] typically does start with a security mode,” agreed Iris’ Bowring. “Security is a known entity.”

Security doesn’t just mean personal security, however. Given recent system breaches and controversy surrounding NSA personal data security, all the panelists emphasized the need to protect the consumer data they collect to help make their smart-home systems work better, and to assure those consumers that their data is safe.

“We must keep user data protected,” Yetu’s Schlaeffer insisted. “Only the user can decide in certain circumstances to share their data. Otherwise, smart home will never take off.”

“Your home, that’s your castle, the last bastion of privacy,” Bosch’s Kallenbach concurred, noting that brand reputation could salve consumer data security fears. “The trusted brands are keeping up with keeping [consumer] data safe.”

According to Pessina, security, entertainment, energy and health make up the four pillars of DIY smart-home solutions, another point of agreement among the panelists. While security seems a universal pain point that DIY smart home can alleviate, Bosch’s Kallenbach pointed out that energy management was a close second in Europe, although not necessarily in the U.S. or other markets. “Global smart-home emphasis changes from where you live,” Kallenbach observed.

While opinions about DIY smart-home methodology diverged, all panelists agreed about the ultimate goal: keeping things simple.

“My wife doesn’t know how to spell ‘Z-Wave,'” noted Yetu’s Schlaeffer to knowing chuckles from the packed conference room. “We need to just make it work.”

“Have you ever brought home a product the retailer told you would be easy to install, and four hours later you’d throw it against the wall?” Bowring rhetorically asked to universal head nods from the panelists and the audience, followed by a burst of laughter from all assembled after an interjected reference to IKEA products from moderator Clauser. “If you fail here or fail there or anywhere in between with smart-home product,” Bowring continued, “that product is coming back.”

How smart-home systems are assembled is a concern, but figuring out what products work together and which don’t is a more pressing consumer pain point.

“It’s just not a matter of ease of use; it’s how can systems interoperate,” Bosch’s Kallenbach countered, citing his own company’s recently-announced open Home Connect appliance platform co-developed with ABB and Cisco.

“We appreciate what Bosch is doing,” responded Schlaeffer. “The consumer is overwhelmed, and we’re hoping some consortium will solve the [interoperability] issue. We as a small start-up have no choice but to offer all the technology in one box. We need open systems.”

“The important thing is to get the brands together and make things plug-and-play,” Pessina insisted. “We have a responsibility to make sure these systems work, regardless of application.”

One potential unifying force could be Apple HomeKit or whatever similar platform effort Google creates for Android. But all the panelists agreed that while the smartphone and mobile devices are important in the DIY smart-home universe, it will not always be the center of smart-home control — after all, the home contains a bigger, more important home-centric screen.

“We need to open up the application system [to go beyond smartphone],” Schlaeffer advised. “You can’t run an iOS app on the TV. There has to be a paradigm shift.”

But conversation circled back to getting consumers interested in DIY smart home to begin with. Pessina noted that DIY retailers were uniquely positioned to sell DIY smart home since DIY is their entire raiason d’être, which is why major DIY retailers Home Depot (Wink), Lowe’s (Iris) and Staples (Staples Connect) have developed their own in-house smart-home platforms.

“We have to work hard to build the customer experience, to build use cases that are practical because the connected home wants to be practical,” explained Iris’ Bowring. “It’s hard to communicate quickly and effectively a complicated solution in a retail environment. Once you’ve done smart home, once you’ve automated it, you begin to understand it and you find it more and more desirable. But we’ve still got some ways to go to make the customer experience valid and easy.”