Smart homes sound awesome. The idea sounded awesome 15 years ago, when Microsoft teased some of their ideas in a concept video, and it sounded awesome when Apple announced HomeKit last month. But do you know anybody that actually lives in a smart home and reaps all that awesomeness? Probably not. And Quirky wants to change that.
This week, Quirky is launching the ambitious next step of its mission to win the smarthome platform competition—starting with Wink Hub, a platform that controls not only Quirky's cadre of connected appliances, but 60 others smart products from 15 partner companies. A bit like IFTTT, the Wink Hub will also let you write simple programs, called Robots, that let you hack your house so that all of your internet-connected (and probably pricey) devices will work together. Along with the Hub, Quirky's released a revamped Wink app and added a customer support service run by real human beings to help you set everything up. The whole project is being rolled out in a nation-wide partnership with Home Depot.
As Quirky adds more and more products to its array of connected appliances, it only makes sense that the company would build a platform for them. As I saw at a demonstration of the new Wink technology in New York City this week, the orchestra of smart home devices works automagically: Want your air conditioner to turn on when you leave the office to head home and your garage door to open when you pull up to the driveway? Heck why not preheat the oven, turn on the radio, and open the blinds too—all without touching your phone? The Wink Hub makes all that possible.
But it does so at a price. Wink only works with Quirky products and 60 other Wink-enabled partner products, so unless you've already shelled out for smart home favorites like the Philips Hue lighting system or the Aros smart air conditioner by Quirky, you're going to have to buy a lot of new stuff. And—how convenient!—you can do just that at Home Depot, Wink's launch partner.
I don't mean to sound cynical. Awesome technology costs money. This is not news. And smart home technology has always been expensive. That's part of the reason so few people are turning their lights on and off with an iPhone, despite the fact that it's been possible for years. Smart home technology has also, historically, been a bit of a nuisance. Everything could connect to the internet, but for the most part, each device worked with an independent app. That made it hard to have that Star Trek-like moment, when you walk in your house and everything adjusts to your preferences automatically.
That's exactly the problem Wink is trying to fix by creating a platform that works with most—if not all—smart appliances. Most people won't get to have that experience all at once, though. The Wink executive that showed me around Quirky's model smart home explained that it makes sense to start with lighting and then build up from there. Meanwhile, some of the devices, like the Aros air conditioner or Rheem's new Wi-Fi enabled water heater, are supposed to pay for themselves in energy savings. Smart ovens and refrigerators are a reach, but I'm told the major manufacturers are working on a solution that can add smart home functionality to old appliances.
Could Wink be building the platform that will win out over a handful of other systems that are emerging? It's hard to say. We're witnessing the opening salvo of the smart home wars this year. Apple and Google are nipping at Wink's heels. Apple's HomeKit is due out later this year, and Google's Nest acquisition is increasingly looking like a very smart power play to take dominate the smart home market. Their new developer program looks a lot like what Wink's doing.
Wink is lucky because it's the first to market—and it's making it very easy to buy its new Hub, which will go on sale at Home Depot on July 7 for $50. If you buy one smart home device with it, the price drops to $25. If you buy two, the hub is just $1. Don't forget that the cheapest Wi-Fi lightbulbs, the GE Link, are still $15 a pop. An Aros AC unit will set you back $300. You don't even want to know how much that water heater is. A sampling of other products that will work with Wink include:
We'll have to wait and see how people—and other companies—respond to Quirky's entree into the wider world of ubiquitous computing. From what I saw, it's a pretty cool way to make your house a little bit more high tech. Now, whether creating geofences to activate programs that do simple things like open blinds and turn on lights make your life better enough to pay a premium for? That remains to be seen. [Wink]