The home of the future is nearly here. Lights, thermostats, sound systems, security systems; they are all now digitally-enabled, and in a perfect world, would talk to each other in order to make your life better. Sadly it doesn’t always work that way. Most smart devices aren’t designed to work together, and instead people are pushed to stick with one brand, even if a company that does smart locks might not do connected light bulbs or sound systems.
Formed just over two years ago, Yonomi aims to make all those smart home devices talk to each other through apps, rather than expensive hubs. CEO Kent Dickson explains that his approach is successful because people realise that the smartphone should be the “beating heart” of the smart home ecosystem.
The free, Cloud-based app has been called the “IFTTT for the smart home”. It can stream weather updates to your music systems as well as automatically mute when you get a call. It can read your Jawbone to know you’re awake and turn your smart lights on for you. And maybe even get your connected toasters and coffee machines to make you breakfast
The company currently has compatibility with around 50 devices from over a dozen different vendors, and has just announced a new partnership with Logitech that will allow the Swiss company’s Harmony Hub to work together with smart products from companies such as Nest, Belkin, or Sonos.
We spoke to CEO Kent Dickson about smart home adoption, functionality and software-banded houses to learn more about the strategy.
What is your background, and why do we need something like Yonomi?
I had been involved in smart home technology, as had my co-founders, for many years. We were disheartened to see that although fantastic connected devices were clearly beginning to cross over into the mainstream – Sonos, Nest, Belkin WeMo –they were not designed to work together. They were islands of functionality.
There are exceptions to this in the cases of small, tightly controlled vendor ecosystems, but generally speaking, if you go out and buy your favourite connected speaker, your favourite wearable activity tracker, your favourite thermostat and your favourite door lock – those things will all be using different technologies and they will not work together out of the box.
We looked around to see who was going to solve this problem and all we saw were “God box” hubs. Those just add cost and complexity and we were sure those weren’t going to make it into the mainstream. So we decided that we had to go solve this.
How smart do you think the average home will be in five years, and what smart home devices will as standard as a washing machine or fridge?
Remember when we all got mobile phones? Then smartphones arrived and it really was amazing and it changed everything? That’s the transition we’re all about to go through with the smart home. All homes will be different, of course, but you can expect pretty much everyone to have connected lighting, music, environmental controls and locks. There will come a time, soon, when you won’t even be able buy those products without connectivity built in. That’s already true for TVs. And, like with smartphones, there will come a point when we take that “smartness” for granted. The smartness will be normal and we won’t even think about – until we go visit grandma and we can’t figure out how to unlock her door. “What? I need some dumb, jagged piece of metal to open this thing?”
Many see the idea of the smart home as one of the major ways the Internet of Things (IoT) will take off in the consumer space, but do you think there’ll be mass adoption unless these systems are pre-installed in new homes or people start using them as a way to increase value when trying to sell?
We don’t think that pre-installing connected gear in new homes is a prerequisite to smart home mass adoption. On the contrary, we believe that it will happen more in existing homes as folks add super useful devices one by one. As such, the devices must be very easy to install. You’ve seen ease of install and ease of use take some major leaps forward over the past couple of years and the next year or so will be even bigger.
If companies continue down the route of proprietary software, could we eventually see houses defined by what IoT-OS they use, almost in the same way phones are now and many predict cars will be once with Apple Play/QNX/Android Auto take off?
We do view that as a potential outcome and it would be a tragedy for consumers. People want what they want, especially when it comes to the home. There will be major consumer backlash if the industry starts telling consumers they have to buy new products only from certain limited, closed ecosystems. But this is why Yonomi exists, to build the bridges among all of these things so consumers don’t have to worry if their TV, lights and thermostat are going to be compatible with one another.
There’s been a lot written in the press recently about the issues of IoT security – how big an issue is this and what are Yonomi & Logitech doing around IoT security?
Of course, we cannot speak for Logitech, but we and our industry partners take the issue of security very seriously. It’s one of those issues that you are never done working on. We’ve implemented strong protections and encryption already and we’ll continue to evolve so that users can feel safe and secure. But it’s not an Internet of Things issue, it’s an issue that is prevalent throughout our lives. It’s a lot easier for someone to break your window than it is to hack your door lock.
What are some of the other issues you see that might stall IoT adoption?
FUD – Fear, Uncertainly and Doubt. It’s a time-honoured tradition in tech to have a large laggard who sees they’ve missed the next big thing announce that – “Hey, we’re doing that too. It’s going to be amazing! And it will be out real soon now.” It can freeze the market as customers wait for the big guy to come out with their amazing new thing, months or years can then go by before the ultimately disappointing 1.0 of that thing comes out. In the meantime, more innovative early movers may get overlooked.
How smart is your home currently?
We’ve got connected lights, music, wearables and a few switches. Lights and music come on when we arrive home. Coffee brews and customised weather plays when we wake up. My kids NEVER remember to turn off the lights when they leave so Yonomi takes care of that for them. My speakers remind me to set out my trash and recycling on pickup day.
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