Logitech CEO on smart homes, hearables and the importance of Alexa

We chat to Bracken Darrell about the Jaybird deal and Logitech's smart ambitions
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"People like us, we're a little Swiss company, we're a harmless partner. We don't want to be threat for anybody. We we want to play with anyone that is going to make a difference."

Those are modest words from Logitech's president and CEO Bracken Darrell. This is a company that has been splashing the cash this year, buying up headphone specialist Jaybird for $50 million; along with spending $13 million on Saitek, a company that builds simulation game controllers.

The "little Swiss company" is firmly in the business of making accessories for the likes of Apple and has made a bigger push into the smart home world, a world that it's actually been involved with for a some time if you consider that its Harmony remote controls have been smartening up a staple home accessory we all now take for granted.

"We took that little remote control and enabled you to manage almost anything over Wi-Fi," Darrell explained. "Whether that was your Nest thermostat, Sonos speakers or even your Philips Hue lighting. Then we added the ability to aggregate things, so they could be operated at the same time."

After the Harmony remotes came a venture into home security cameras with the Circle and its latest smart home addition is the Pop Home Switch, a controller that jumps onboard your smart home's Wi-Fi and scans for compatible devices it can control.

"It's kind of fun", Darrell said of the Pop. "We don't know how it's going to do. We're not holding our breath it's going to be a big category, but we did it really because we already had the cloud infrastructure from our remote control business."

Logitech CEO on smart homes, hearables and the importance of Alexa

Logitech might be taking a bit of a backseat to see how the smart home space develops, but Darrell has some clear thoughts on how he see things shaping up right now.

"It takes a while for the consumers to catch up with the technology and the technology to catch up with the real needs. That's exactly where we are. It's going to be a bumpy ride to the top," he told us.

"You don't buy something unless it makes your life better. There aren't enough things out there that make your life better. But it doesn't hurt if you have a few big players. Amazon, Google and Apple will do wonders for the smart home because they are pushing on so many levels. That makes a big difference."

One company that Logitech's lead has really been impressed with in this space is Amazon, specifically the Echo and Alexa (winner of our Smart Home Platform of the Year award). Darrell believes the role that the digital assistant has played has been huge for the adoption of smart home tech and could well shape what happens next.

"In your life, you engage with things," he said. "You engage your home by walking up to the front door and opening it or walking up to a switch and turning on the lights. Now we're into this intermediary stage where you can engage the news by telling Echo you want to hear the news.

"The next step after is that is when it starts to engage you and maybe help you without even thinking about. Those neural networks are going to happen over time. If you think of everything being about an engagement it all sounds pretty exciting."

That multiple platform debate

Setting the standard. It's a topic that we always seem to return to when we talk about the masses embracing what smart home tech can offer. Everyone wants a piece of the action, but in the process, it has made things very messy. Especially when trying to build that ultimate smart home, as our editor-in-chief Paul found out for himself.

Darrell has his own thoughts on whether these myriad of options is actually a positive thing. "It's good and bad of course," he said. "The bad part is that you'd like to have everything that works together. The good is that you got a lot of people trying to make a difference, which helps with adoption of smart home tech.

It's a lot like operating systems for PC. It reminds me a lot of that in the sense there is different ways to slice this, but if you take a step back there's several big players that will form the backbone. Apple, Amazon and Google will help build this backbone."

Sounding out hearables

Logitech CEO on smart homes, hearables and the importance of Alexa

While Logitech is keen to see how the great smart home race plays out from the distance, there's one particular area of interest that it's taking a little more seriously and that's hearables. The very same place where Apple and Samsung among others are making a big play for.

It's spent big bucks on Jaybird, a company that has been in the business of making wireless sports headphones as well wearables including the Jaybird Reign, the first fitness tracker to include heart rate variability monitoring. So what's the big plan?

"We like to play in things that are relatively small," Darrell told us. "We try not to play in those testosterone driven categories like smartphones or cars. This is the biggest category we've been playing in for a very long time and the reason for that makes a lot of sense to us because we think it's a category where a lot of exciting things will happen. We've been working on things around headphones for a long time and we like this space."

A smarter future

It's still early days for Logitech's in its plans to invade the hearable space, it continues to find ways to help our homes become smarter. "We entered the home camera space about a year ago and that's a really interesting space," Darrell told us. "There's a lot more to come from us there. We think the camera space is very cool, Stay tuned."

And what about the future of the smart home? Darrell remains positive that we are on the right tracks, but realises we still have some time to go before we're experiencing truly seamless connected living.

"All of us will have completely smart homes at some point in the future and maybe not too distant future. We're really excited about what's happening but also impatient with the progress because we know it's going to take a while.

"We just have to be there playing in our small micro way. We're not going to change everything. We do what we say what we can do. I think over the next year the smart home will continue to grow, I think you will have more devices in more rooms and I think voice recognition will play a major part as Amazon has already shown."


How we test

Michael Sawh


Michael Sawh has been covering the wearable tech industry since the very first Fitbit landed back in 2011. Previously the resident wearable tech expert at Trusted Reviews, he also marshaled the features section of T3.com.

He also regularly contributed to T3 magazine when they needed someone to talk about fitness trackers, running watches, headphones, tablets, and phones.

Michael writes for GQ, Wired, Coach Mag, Metro, MSN, BBC Focus, Stuff, TechRadar and has made several appearances on the BBC Travel Show to talk all things tech. 

Michael is a lover of all things sports and fitness-tech related, clocking up over 15 marathons and has put in serious hours in the pool all in the name of testing every fitness wearable going. Expect to see him with a minimum of two wearables at any given time.

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