Yes, the smart home still needs a smart hub

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Nest has been under a lot of fire lately, first with tales of strife from within the ranks of the company, and then with the unfortunately timed announcement that it was shutting down the Revolv hub system. While the latter should not have been a surprise — when the company was acquired back in 2014, it was made clear this would happen — many still cried foul. But where did the Revolv technology go? Is Nest using it in its own products now? Or does Nest just believe that a physical hub is no longer necessary? Some DIY hubs don’t even use physical hardware at all, instead relying on the cloud to connect all smart devices together. These cloud solutions, while convenient and cost effective, also carry risk. If your Internet connection goes down, for example, you’ll find yourself frustrated to discover that all those rules and scenes you spent so much time setting up are worthless.

Until the cloud becomes a more reliable technology for smart home devices, a physical hub in the home will always be a better solution. Even then, the cloud is still limited in what devices it can control, especially when trying to control your home remotely.

Let’s go back to Nest. If your Internet goes down, Nest officially states that its thermostat will still function at a basic level and allow you to control the temperature of your home (although personal experience suggests some challenges in this scenario), which means you have to physically walk up to it and adjust the settings. What you will not be able to do is control the thermostat remotely. If you are also using a cloud hub solution, the thermostat will no longer be integrated with other smart devices. This means the bedtime rule that I created to set the temperature to 72 degrees if all the LIFX lights are off after 11pm will no longer work.

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And sure, while this all may sound like #firstworldproblems, these sorts of instabilities are exactly what’s hindering mass adoption of smart home technology. Until the technology in the smart home industry is reliable and compatible, the DIY smart home will only be for early adopters and techies.

This is where having a hub that is physically located in the home is a good solution. If your external network goes down, you will still be able to control everything in your home. The hub acts as a connector, sitting on your internal network. This way, if you are in bed, and you want to turn off all the lights, set the temperature, and play some music off your iTunes playlist, you still have the control to do so.

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Ok, this may not seem like such a big deal if you have a small one bedroom apartment. In that case, it is easy for you to get up and turn off the lights and adjust everything else. But here at Josh.ai, our end-users are owners of large, high-end homes, usually 10,000 square feet and greater, with professionally installed Lutron and Sonos systems (among others). We have to deliver an experience that is easy-to-use, intuitive, and, above all else, reliable.

By having a central home base server installed in the residence, the user has the ability to fully control every device whether or not there is a working Internet connection. In addition, the home base server allows for remote access of systems that are typically not accessible when away. For example, while Sonos has been groundbreaking in its approach to the home audio experience, you actually have to be connected to the same network as that system to control anything.

I know what you are thinking, “Why would I want to control music to play if I’m not even home?” This is exactly how smart home technology can be a transformational experience: it allows you to do things you never even thought to do before. Say you are not home for your wedding anniversary because you travel too much for work, but you still want your wife to know you are thinking about her. Wouldn’t it be nice to have her favorite song playing as she walks through the door? You wouldn’t be able to do this unless you were actually logged into the system at home.

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Parents can communicate with their kids, even from outside the home on devices that require you to be on the same network, with a hub (photo credit)

The power that we have because of the smart home, and in this case a hub physically located in the home, will change how we live our lives. Reliability, though, is so important when it comes to interacting with the space we live in. The cloud, while a disruptive technology that changes how we interact and manage technology in our lives, needs to find a bit more stability and more creative solutions if it wants to take on the challenge that is the smart home.

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This post was written by Nader who heads Business Development at Josh.ai. Previously, Nader was managing partner at GenYrator and before that he was Vice President / Supervising Execution Trader at Bank of America Merrill Lynch. Nader has an MBA from USC and a BS in Electrical Engineering from UT Austin. He likes to play volleyball, travel, and rock out to pop music.

Josh is an AI agent for your home. If you’re interested in following us and getting early access to the beta, enter your email at https://josh.ai.

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