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SmartThings Interview

SmartThings Interview

The Internet of Things ("IoT") is a topic we're crazy about, specifically within the discussion of The Connected Home.

Along with a wide variety of smart products being developed in this emerging market, there is also a movement, if not a race, to develop a scalable platform for new products to be developed within.  As TechCrunch puts it, the ultimate IoT prize “is to become the software platform upon which all vertical applications in the Internet of Things will be built.

This motivated idea is based on the fact that with so many individualized IoT products, consumers will quickly establish "app fatigue" while trying to manage so many devices that all have individual apps on your smartphone or tablet.  To solve this, the industry is watching a collection of companies working to establish an aligned experience for developers and users to engage within an aligned experience.

SmartThings is an innovative startup based in Washington DC.  What began as a Kickstart Campaign, SmartThings received $3M in Seed funding in December 2012, then secured $12.5M in their Series A funding less than one year later.  The team at SmartThings believes that everyday objects around us can do more to help make their lives easier, better, and more fun.  These YouTube videos explain how SmartThings works.

SmartThings DevicesAlong with the SmartThings hub and an introductory line of smart products, which can be seen in the photo, the SmartThings development community is also opening the door to third party developers who want to build new products on a platform that's aimed on establishing a "Physical Graph" platform.

With so much happening at SmartThings, we had to learn more about their vision for the Internet of Things.  In fact, Maria Thomas, CCO at SmartThings took some time to talk with Ben McDougal here at Drake Homes.  This interview is wonderful and we hope you enjoy a glimpse into the future...

BEN: With such an emerging industry, what do we even call this transition to smart products in the home?!  "Home Automation" seems outdated, while "Connected Home", "Smart Home", and "Internet of Things" all seem to work.

MARIA: We agree -- all seem to work!  The Oxford English Dictionary recently added the phrase “internet of things” to its publication.  They defined it as: “A proposed development of the Internet in which everyday objects have network connectivity, allowing them to send and receive data.”  At SmartThings, we’ve trademarked the term “physical graph.”  We are entering an era when the most mundane items in our lives can talk wirelessly among themselves, and we can set them up to perform tasks on command, thus creating the possibility of consumers being able to monitor and control their homes from their smartphones and creating a truly “connected home”.  As we see it, the next epoch of the Internet will see everyday objects connect and digitized to form the physical graph.

BEN: Assuming we call it "The Internet of Things", or "IoT" for short, what has been the most exciting thing your team has seen since launching SmartThings?  What inspired the company's innovative products? Any new products coming soon?

MARIA: Going all the way back to the start of the company, we were overwhelmed by the response to our Kickstarter campaign in 2012.  The support from the community validated our plan to build the easiest way to turn your home into a smart home.  Since then, there’s been a lot going on with SmartThings.  At CES 2014 in Las Vegas, we debuted the SmartThings Labs program.  SmartThings Labs is a new category in our SmartApps catalog that makes it easier to control more connected devices in your home -- including Sonos, Philips Hue, and Belkin Wemo -- directly from your SmartThings native app.  Labs showcases new product integrations created both by the SmartThings team as well as by our growing community of developers, and we plan to continue adding integrations to more third party devices.

BEN: With home automation, wi-fi, and smartphones being around for some time now, why does it feel like "The Internet of Things" is only now starting to really take off?

MARIA: Home automation has been around for decades.  Remember the Jetsons?!  We see increasing consumer interest in home automation largely driven by the uptake of smartphones, the accessibility of cloud computing, and the proliferation of connected devices.  Together, they allow consumers to use software apps to monitor and control everyday objects in their lives using their smartphones.  Anytime, anywhere (there’s Internet).  This year we anticipate that the IoT will be about the convergence of smarter connected things that are more affordable and even easier to use.

BEN: Your collection of products seem to be unique, in that they work together to provide an inexpensive, more all-in-one experience for homeowners.  I strongly believe you're on to something with this approach as people don't want a million apps to control a million different things. That said, I'm curious if you have thoughts on this approach compared to individual products with their own app experience?

MARIA: We’re committed to building the open platform for the Internet of Things and the connected user experience.  Let’s take an example.  If you’re just looking to control your Sonos, the Sonos app is still the best place to do that.  SmartThings lets your Sonos talk to your motion sensor and to your Philips Hue lights and to your phone all at once.  Say there’s unexpected motion in your house, which you’re notified of via text message to your phone.  The information from the motion sensor that detected this motion can also trigger your Sonos to play the sound of a pack of dogs and flash the Philips Hue bulbs as a warning sign.  This would not be possible from a single product or app.

BEN: On the topic of your specific collection of products, do you feel like they are multiple categories within this emerging industry?  For example, your products seem to be geared more for consumers who want to update an existing home, while other products seem to work best by building them into a new home from the start.  As a home builder, we think we have a unique opportunity here, so I'm excited to hear your thoughts here!

MARIA: With SmartThings, very little “installation” is required.  Our Hub simply connects to your Internet router and our sensors are easily places around the home to meet your needs.  It’s the a flexible, modular and portable system.  Having said that, as a new home builder some things to think about might include:

  • placing a neutral at every switch location
  • installing a ZWave or Zigbee smart  thermostat
  • using smart locks on the exterior doors

More importantly, SmartThings is generally device and protocol agnostic.  If there are automation products that are well suited for new construction that use industry standards such as Zigbee HA, Z-Wave, and IP - SmartThings can talk to them.  If the industry moves new protocols, we're set up to respond and support those as well.

BEN: Your team seems to really embrace 3rd party developers with SmartThings Labs.  What are a few cool project examples and how do you hope the community will advance the ways your products are used?

MARIA: SmartThings is the open platform for the Internet of Things.  Developers and device makers can build new connected objects and new apps that increase functionality and bring new possibilities to life.  There is so much to come from the space at large and we rely on this open community to build and create the next big things. In the coming months, you can expect to see a simpler way to share and publish apps with the entire community.  To date, there have been some really exciting creations on the platform - from the practical like the Belkin WeMo integration in SmartThings Labs to the fun and eccentric like the Bartendro.

Maria Thomas - SmartThings

About Maria Thomas

Maria Thomas is the Chief Consumer Officer at SmartThings.  Before SmartThings, Maria served as the CEO of Etsy, SVP & GM at NPR Digital, and was an early team member at Amazon.  Maria welcomes questions or comments anytime and invites you to follow her on Twitter.

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