CES 2014 was a huge event for home automation. We’ve of course seen interesting home control solutions for the last decade, or more, at CES, but this year it really felt like one of the biggest bright spots of the show. There has always been a plethora of competing technologies and protocols, like X10, INSTEON, ZigBee, and Z-Wave. INSTEON has been one of the biggest winners in the consumer DIY space due to its stylish devices and great price points. It’s always been held back by the fact that there is really only one vendor producing devices for it though. This year really feels like the year that Z-Wave moves to the front of that market.
Z-Wave isn’t a new technology, but it’s been held back for the past few years. One of the biggest reasons for this is that so many of the devices have been created by companies who clearly didn’t put a lot of thought into how devices that we’re permanently installing into our houses should look. It’s obvious that many of these devices had been designed, not just developed, by engineers. The other aspect holding the protocol back has been a lack of really great, usable, control and automation interfaces. Much like the physical products, many of the applications used for setting up and using these systems looked like they were written with almost no thought to designing around human usability.
On the physical hardware side we’re starting to see truly stunning devices to put into our homes. While at CES this year we saw a set of gorgeous touch-enabled switches. Unfortunately, the manufacturer is still looking for a U.S. distributor, but we would love to have these devices from MCO Home in our houses. We also saw many devices from a Polish company called Fibaro that blew us away. Do you think Nest did an amazing job with the Protect smoke detector? Fibaro’s smoke detector in far prettier, in many ways, than the Protect. It’s also significantly smaller. Their switches and outlets were also beautiful. They make a motion sensor that is smaller than most of what the competition is offering, but you might mistake it for the Eye of Sauron. The color of the light can be changed, so hopefully the creepiness can be dialed back a little on that device!
Another area where Z-Wave has been picking up a lot of steam is in the widespread distribution of control options. We saw a great system called Piper that would be a fantastic offering for someone just starting to get into home automation, or perhaps someone who moves a lot and doesn’t want a plethora of devices hard-wired into their home. The Piper offers a single device, about the size of a coffee can, that has multiple sensors, and a camera built in. It also serves as a Z-Wave hub. With it you can see what’s going on in your home, and control other devices, right from your smartphone or web browser. Other bigger companies are going with Z-Wave too. We’ve talked a lot about the Staples Connect already, and the first protocol they decided to support was Z-Wave. Systems from Alarm.com, Iris from Lowes, and the Revolv all support Z-Wave also.
2014 is going to be a very big year for home automation, and the folks behind the Z-Wave alliance are a huge factor in that trend. As more beautiful products come onto the market, and we continue to see better control interfaces from companies like Zonoff/Staples, Revolve, and others, Z-Wave will force its competitors to improve to stay relevant.