The trouble with today’s smart homes is that they’re not quite smart enough. If you want to live the Jetsons’ lifestyle, you’ve got basically three choices:
1. You can pay a custom installer thousands of dollars to create a proprietary system in your home (and then call the company whenever it breaks).
2. You can DIY it by buying all your components in a single system, like Staples Connect or Lowe’s Iris, and deal with any limitations and hassles baked into those systems.
3. Or you can cobble together the best and latest gadgets from different manufacturers — like Nest thermostats or Dropcam cameras — and try to find a way for them to talk to one another.
SmartThings just made that last option a lot easier. Today, the company announced a new mobile app and a new direction. Instead of being a one-stop-source for smart devices, SmartThings is becoming a platform for third-party smart home products. It’s adding support for more than 100 devices, including popular gadgets like the Jawbone UP24 fitness band and Dropcam cameras, as well as apps like Life360. SmartThings is also launching a test lab where it will certify third-party devices and apps for compatibility and security.
The goal is to boost your home’s IQ without busting your budget. The new version of SmartThings looks like a step in the right direction.
I got an early look at the new SmartThings app and found it to be both more streamlined and more sophisticated than previous incarnations. A simplified dashboard lists all your connected devices by function (doors and locks, lights and switches, safety and security, and so on). You can view each group of devices or get the overall status of your home with a single tap.
Adding new devices and assigning tasks to them also got easier. Hitting the + button at the bottom of the dashboard brings you to the new SmartSetup module, where you can view Things (connected devices), Alerts (doors open or closed, leaks, smoke), Actions (the jobs assigned to each device), and more.
SmartSetup features dozens of prefab smart apps that make it easy to do some pretty cool things, if you’ve got the right devices installed. For example, with a few taps on the screen, you can set up a night-light that snaps on when motion is detected in the kid’s room, but only after dark. Other smart apps can send a text to members of your carpool when you’re parked outside their house, or notify you if your aging mother leaves her bedroom during the night but doesn’t return (the “Slip & Fall” alert). And the next time your Jawbone UP wakes you by buzzing gently on your wrist, it can also tell SmartThings to flip the light switch, turn on the coffee maker, and crank the stereo.
If you want to add a new device to your house, like a Dropcam, the app will show you the kinds of automated actions you can perform with it, an installation video, and an instruction manual. It will also display multiple locations where you can buy it locally or online.
SmartThings will continue to require a $99 hub that connects to your wireless router and offer a series of starter kits featuring different combinations of sensors and switches, starting at $199.
But the focus will be on supporting third-party hardware, CEO Alex Hawkinson said. That’s why the company is launching a test lab that will certify new devices and apps built by its army of 5,000 unpaid developers.
For example, the company has now certified apps that work with Sonos wireless music systems, after unofficially supporting them in earlier versions. Other devices in the “unofficial” category now include Samsung Smart TVs — making SmartThings the first DIY smart-home system I’m aware of that can link to TVs.
If you want SmartThings to work with your Nest thermostat, by the way, Hawkinson said that Nest has not yet opened its application programming interface to developers.
Finally, if all of that still seems like too much work, you may be able to call on a custom installer to stitch it all together for you (at a price, of course). SmartThings has inked a deal with Cross Country Home Services, a national provider of home warranty and maintenance service, to handle custom installs for those who want it. That service will be launching in the third quarter; pricing was unavailable at press time.
Though I didn’t have an opportunity to run the new SmartThings product through its paces in a real-world environment, the new direction looks promising. An open system that works with products people already own is almost always preferable to a proprietary one that works with only some devices. Crowdsourcing product development is the fastest way to support a lot of devices quickly, and certifying them first gives consumers confidence that they won’t be bollixing their entire home automation system thanks to some klutzy amateur coder. Finally, giving you the option of professional installation removes one of the final barriers to getting this stuff up and running, if you can afford it.
Ultimately, the point of all this is to make your life easier. Supporting as many devices as you can, as painlessly as possible, is the fastest route there. It’s also the smartest.
Editor's Note: A paragraph containing inaccurate information has been removed from this story.
Questions, complaints, kudos? Email Dan Tynan at ModFamily1@yahoo.com.