To date, getting into smart home technology has been a bit limiting. If you wanted home automation, the options weren't exactly vast. If you wanted a smart speaker, Amazon's Echo-system was where you turned. If you had other needs, or if other platforms that worked better for you, you were out of luck.
This has slowly gotten better. Google Home has come along, HomeKit is off in the corner doing its own thing, and companies like Honeywell, Ikea and LIFX have entered the smart home arena. However, this week's news has shown us that it's about to get a whole lot better a whole lot more quickly.
Soon enough, customers won't have to bend their lifestyle and device preferences around what smart home products are available.
Golly jee willikers, consumer choice, you say?
Let's take a look at the smartwatch world. You have a helluva lot of choice there. There are square screens and round screens, specialized smartwatches for running, health and good old fashioned adventuring. If you're into style, there are a bunch of options from the big watch brands. Whatever your niche, there's a smartwatch for you.
And I can't do that in the smart home world?
There are two difficulties in the smart home world that makes that level of choice hard: price and platform. It can quickly get expensive to make your dumb home smart, and your options can be limited by whatever platforms you like to use. It's kind of like putting a jigsaw puzzle together, except you have to buy all the pieces separately.
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And those pieces are pricey...
Exactly. Hive, a British smart home company looking to make inroads into the US, knows that. So they're putting together a subscription package that'll allow American consumers to more easily dive into their ecosystem. Prices start at $9.99 a month, and you'll get a thermostat and hub, some door and window sensors and a couple of lights.
Why don't more companies do that!?
Because they didn't have to. That's the beauty of competition, my friend. The more companies enter the smart home space, the more they'll experiment and try something new to win over consumers.
Just look at Microsoft's strategy for its Cortana speakers.
Yep. Rather than create a signature flagship speaker, like Amazon has with the Echo, Google has with Home and Apple will with whatever it calls its Siri speaker, Microsoft is partnering up with third parties to make a bunch of different smart speakers. The first one is the Harman Kardon Invoke, and there are more on the way from the likes of HP.
That... sounds like its Windows strategy.
Pretty much! Speaking of Windows, these Cortana speakers will give those of us with a Windows fetish a smart home platform to play it. All of the skills developers build for these Cortana speakers will also carry over to Windows PCs with Cortana, cars and all kinds of other Cortana-enabled devices. Even your smartphone.
Isn't Amazon also trying to get Alexa into as many things as possible?
Oh totally. Last week we heard about GE's fancy Alexa lamp and the Echo Look, which is basically like a smart fashion consultant. This week Amazon debuted the Echo Show, which is basically an Echo with a big touchscreen display on the front. You can use it to video chat with other folks who have an Echo Show, and - of course - more easily buy stuff on Amazon. An Echo with a screen also opens the device to new demographics, like the elderly, which is abundantly clear if you look at Amazon's promotional video for the Show.
Oh, and remember that competition thing? We've known for a while that Microsoft's Cortana speakers would bundle in Skype support, because duh. This week, Amazon started rolling out Alexa calling to all Echo devices. Coincidence? You be the judge.
Phew, that's a lot of choice
Indubitably. Soon, there'll be plenty of choice in the smart home world. Whether it be jumping into home automation in an affordable way, smart speakers better suited to your Windows-based life, fashion-forward style or the need to video call relatives on a whim, you'll have a healthy choice.