In this day and age, everything needs to be smart – even our homes. Smart home is the buzzword of the late 2010s. From the inevitable Wikipedia article to universities offering specialized smart home courses to “top 10 live changing inventions” lists: smart homes are everywhere. Heck, there are entire companies dedicated to providing hard- and software for smart homes. And some of them are doing pretty well. So I guess smart homes are here to stay.
After all, they do offer some rather compelling incentives. A fridge that tells me that I need to buy milk, because once again my flat mate has used up the whole bloody carton without buying a new one? An app that lets me turn off my home’s heating system from literally anywhere? Because let’s face it, I always forget to turn off the heating system before leaving for the holidays. A lighting system that automatically adjusts to natural lighting and syncs with the circadian rhythm to help me out with my insomnia at night and gently wake me up in the morning? Count me in!
Now, with all these (and many more) ways to make our daily lives that much more comfortable, why doesn’t everybody have a smart home? Why does my fridge refuse to talk to me when I’m at the mall and can’t find my shopping list? Why do I sit at the airport, realize I’ve forgotten to turn off the heating system… and all I can do is calculate how high my power bill will be this month? Why don’t my lights have any other features than on and off? And I have to manually press a button to achieve that like a bloody Neanderthal!
Well, for me, the answer is simple: smart home systems and devices are generally not exactly available at the discounter. And when I purchase something that costs me € 200 or more, it better be awesome and void of bugs. Unfortunately, creating smart homes that are actually worth their prices seems to be a tough challenge, even for leading smart home companies.
Three of the market-leading smart home providers are French based Somfy, which focuses on automated window shades, the Austrian company Loxone, dominant in the field of lighting systems, and Wink (recently bought by Samsung), which also provides smart window shades and lights. As these alleged giants were new to me at first, I did what I always do to find out a product or service’s quality: look for reviews. The verdicts were usually of the “good, but…” type.
In 2016, for instance, David Priest1 deemed Somfy’s MyLink smart window shade system worthy of 6.2 out of 10 points. His main point of criticism is that “the system often requires a separate product for each new feature you want to access”, which results in high total costs. Next up: Loxone. Here, I found an article on smarthome-guide.de.2 After testing the Loxone Miniserver Go, i.e. the central unit of the smart home system, and other Loxone products, the authors pointed out that they had had a really hard time installing the smart home system and that the configuration software for the product only runs on Windows. Out of the three market leaders, Wink and its Wink Hub 2 usually got the best reviews. However, even Christopher Null3, who entitled his July 2017 review “This second-generation smart-home hub is one of the best choices for do-it-yourselfers”, gave it only 4 out of 5 points. It seems even the best is not good enough.
Are smart homes doomed, then? Will we never have a smart home system that fully lives up to its expectations? One that makes reviewers happily give the product a perfect 5/5? Will there always be at least some small hiccups? Well, the flaw in many self-proclaimed smart home system experts is a simple lack of innovation. Trying not to reinvent the wheel, they copy what already exists and paste it into the product they sell. But then again, smart homes are not wheels, are they? The current smart home approach still has massive room for improvement. So improve it, we did.
The biggest problem of the majority of smart home systems on the market is the system part. Whenever you purchase a smart home system by Somfy, Loxone, or the like, you will have to buy a central unit – such as the aforementioned Loxone Miniserver Go. This central unit, an edge gateway, is necessary for your home to be smart. Without it, your smart devices can’t communicate. Aside from the fact that you’ll have a stupid box just sitting there apparently not doing anything but taking up space, you are at the mercy of what my boss has poignantly dubbed “rooftop technology”. Say you order smart shades from Somfy. These smart shades will then use your edge gateway to interact with an app on your phone and vice versa… and that’s it. You want a new feature, you’ll have to buy another product. Whether you are a private user or a manufacturing company, you’ll have to keep asking Somfy (or whatever other company of your choice) for new implementations, paying them for their smart home system’s lack of interoperability. So you’re basically paying for your dependency.
So we at guh thought: why not develop a software that eliminates the need for a system’s central unit to make our homes smart? Products that are equipped with nymea.io, our operating system for smart things, do not depend on an edge gateway, a central unit, to be able to communicate. Nymea’s entire architecture has been planned and created with the aim to facilitate connectivity. What is more, we – and by we I mean our developers that are far cleverer than me – can easily install additional software, such as Home Assistant or Somfy/Loxone/Wink/whatever libraries, alongside Nymea. So if you want to make your home smart, there really is no excuse for not contacting us.
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