Featured image of post The dawn of Home Automation: An Epic Journey through its Platforms

The dawn of Home Automation: An Epic Journey through its Platforms

Dive into the fascinating world of home automation as we explore the stories, features, and evolutions of major platforms like Google Home, Alexa, Home Assistant, and more. Discover how they have emerged and transformed our lives.

Welcome, readers! Today, I invite you on a journey through time. A journey that will take us through years of intense battles between companies, battles that have left scars that still affect us today. We will talk about unexpected alliances, forged in the crucible of innovation, and about heroes ready to empower people with the gift of home automation. We will explore where we come from and where we are going. Who will be the winner of the home automation platform war? Get comfortable, our story begins now…

To be honest, this will be a condensed and adapted version of our story. We don’t want this article to be longer than the extended trilogy of The Lord of the Rings. So, let’s get started!

Chapter 1: The Beginnings

Our journey begins in 1975, with the launch of X10, one of the first home automation platforms. This system allowed control of different devices through a house’s electrical installation, and different radio frequency devices joined this system for more comfortable control without depending on cables.

Chapter 2: The 90s and Expansion

In the 90s, the protocol grew with the arrival of many different devices such as automatic irrigation, smoke detectors, thermostats, but they were not yet interconnected.

Chapter 3: The Arrival of the Internet

In 1998, with the arrival of the Internet to many homes, the X10 communication standard for home automation was created, which allowed devices to talk to each other and encouraged this system to evolve and integrate with other network protocols and other technologies. At the time it was the only one, but today its use is residual. However, it was the pioneer that gave rise to the development of home automation and the rest of the platforms.

Chapter 4: The 2000s and their Turbulences

We move forward to the 2000s, which were a bit… turbulent. Although X10 was established, the devices were still expensive and niche. You couldn’t create as many automations as today, and you couldn’t control home automation from outside the house, so people didn’t have much interest. The general public had the odd smart device if the need arose, but they didn’t think big… the technology still had to evolve.

Chapter 5: The Birth of Z-Wave and Zigbee

Z-Wave was born in 2002, but it took years to settle and evolve. Remember that Wi-Fi was born only 5 years earlier, in 1997. And although during those years the 3G and 4G mobile technologies emerged, which brought us the Smartphones that we all use today, the first iPhone did not arrive until 2007.

Seeing that Wi-Fi and Bluetooth were not valid solutions for local networks, in which communication between many devices is required, and at the same time, a long battery life, in 2005, Zigbee reaches the general public with an alliance behind almost 200 companies.

Chapter 6: The Arrival of the First Devices

A little later, in 2008, not only do two titans come to the world, Google Play and Apple App Store, also one of the first smart thermostats arrived, launched by Ecobee, the EB-STAT-02 cost about $400, which made it very expensive for most, but very affordable compared to the smart devices that had come to market until then.

Chapter 7: The Perfect Storm

A year later, 2009, the New York Times publishes an article indicating that most consumers saw no interest in home automation and smart devices. What the New York Times did not know is that the perfect storm was looming, one that would change this whole story…

That same year, the Wi-Fi Alliance deploys its 802.11n protocol, which revolutionized wireless networks and the Internet as we know it, going from 54 Mbps supported by its previous version to 600 Mbps.

A few months later, Bluetooth announces the Bluetooth Low Energy standard, that is, an update of its protocol for devices with really low consumption. Brands start launching new devices on the market that can run for several years without needing to change batteries or recharge batteries.

Chapter 8: The Era of Home Automation

We land with these changes in the 2010s. The technology had advanced enough for home automation to start reaching the small consumer, small and unknown brands, as well as large multinationals start launching smart products. Let’s go with the most important ones:

In 2011 the first generation of the Nest thermostat goes on the market. With wireless communication, which allows the control of heating not only inside the house, but from any point on the planet. Only your mobile, the Nest app and an Internet connection are needed.

In 2012, Philips announces its line of Hue products, the first mass-produced smart bulbs, controllable through the mobile phone, and that support, millions of colors, effects, alarms and notifications.

In 2013, August Smart Lock was launched. The first smart lock controllable locally via Bluetooth. Home automation was not only about automating routine tasks and little lights, security could also be automated.

Chapter 9: The Awakening of the Titans

And in 2014… well in 2014 something happened that nobody expected… the titans woke up…

We had barely finished digesting the New Year’s grapes. When at CES 2014, the most important consumer electronics fair in the world, which was held from January 6 to 10, Samsung showed the world the demo of its SmartThings home automation platform, the world was amazed at the capabilities it offered.

But then, just 4 days after CES ended, Google slammed the table and bought Nest Labs, the company behind the Nest thermostats for about $3.2 billion.

This revealed how large companies saw a “gold mine” in home automation, and bet heavily on being the first to enter it and take the largest piece of the pie.

At the end of 2014, this revelation was reaffirmed with the release of Amazon Echo, Amazon’s smart speaker that not only included Alexa, a voice assistant that resembled what had already been seen with Google Assistant, but also emphasized its use as a home automation Hub, capable of connecting with devices and apps from different manufacturers to create a unique home automation platform never seen before.

At the same time, Apple introduced HomeKit in iOS 8. A home automation framework or protocol that facilitates the integration and control of home automation devices in the Apple ecosystem.

With these moves, the cards were on the table, all the big companies were looking to create their home automation platform and be the only ones, this created a war to see who had compatibility with more devices, who included more features in their Hubs and in their voice assistants, who had more market share.

Although without leaving aside one technology or another, each of them bet more on one protocol or another, Samsung Smarthings for example, embraced Z-Wave, Amazon, focused on Zigbee, Apple, for a local and reliable approach, and Google, for its integration with Android.

Chapter 10: The Evolution Continues

Time moves on and 2016 arrives…

Google launches its Google Home application and smart speaker, which integrates not only its voice assistant Google Assistant on Android devices, but also an interface where you can unify different home automation devices and create different routines and scenes in a simple way.

Amazon launches new Echo dot devices on the market, with more features and focused on home automation. The rest of Alexa’s functions take a back seat.

Apple shows the world its Apple Home app, with it, Siri and using Apple Homekit creates a home automation platform with few compatible devices, but very robust and reliable. And as usual with Apple, with a simple and beautiful interface.

Samsung, for its part, continues to evolve Smarthings without major news.

Chapter 11: The Rise of Big Companies

In 2018…

Amazon buys Ring, a company dedicated to selling smart doorbells and video intercoms for 1.5 billion dollars, creating a native integration between its Amazon Echo and Ring.

Apple launches its own smart speaker, the Homepod.

And at this point, the three titans compete on equal terms, with smart speakers, voice assistants, control interface and therefore, with a complete home automation platform.

At this point, companies see that the world is increasingly interested in home automation, there is not a large market like with mobiles, but they do discover that it can be a good lure to keep people within their ecosystem, home automation forces consumers to stay tied to their company and buy the rest of their products.

Chapter 12: Consumer Confusion

When you get interested in this world, and you start buying smart devices, you discover that each of them is compatible with one or several home automation platforms, but not with all. This forces you to choose one and continue buying products compatible with that platform. This creates quite a bit of confusion and limits quite a bit when it comes to buying one device or another.

Each company negotiated with device manufacturers to add compatibility with their platform. But at the same time, each manufacturer wanted not to depend entirely on this platform. Their products could be compatible with Alexa or Google Home, for example, but they also wanted to give the option to those who do not use these platforms to buy their product, so each manufacturer had one or several apps to control their devices. These apps also offered settings and options that the platforms did not have available.

This generated having different applications installed on the mobile, at least one for each manufacturer. What’s more, in order to try to get these devices to communicate with each other, and to be able to perform routines or tasks linking, for example, door sensors with an alarm, there was no other option but to install different skills in the home automation platforms that served as a hub, a meeting point for all devices.

Chapter 13: The Heroes of Open Source

Although it may seem that this story ends here… In the shadows, other actors, heroes of Open Source, platforms like Home Assistant, OpenHAB, Homebridge, Domoticz or Jeedom joined the home automation battle. These key actors, each with their own strengths and weaknesses, added more layers of complexity and possibilities to the home automation universe for those who wanted to get away from the dependence of large companies or their closed and cloud control.

Home Assistant, with more than 10 years revolutionizing home automation as we know it, attracted technology enthusiasts with its promise of customization and total control, always looking for, if possible, the management of devices locally. OpenHAB (since 2011), Domoticz (since 2012) or Jeedom (since 2014), work offering robust and flexible complete solutions for the most adventurous. On the other hand, platforms like Homey (since 2016) focus on offering a simple and accessible user experience, gaining popularity among those who were looking for an easy entry into the world of home automation.

And this to mention a few, the list of projects is endless. Home automation enthusiasts have been helping the community create platforms and solutions for years.

Chapter 14: The Battle Intensifies

This made, just like in Game of Thrones, the battle intensify with each new combatant who joined the fray. Companies of all sizes and shapes fought tooth and nail, seeking a larger portion of the coveted market. Unexpected alliances were forged in the heat of battle, all with a single goal: to achieve glory.

In the midst of this chaos, the Zigbee Alliance surfaced. Which had been growing silently, strengthening over time. The prices of their licensed products became increasingly attractive, and thanks to the universal coordinators and their local operation, there was no longer a dependence on one manufacturer or another, so an army of followers coming from the most remote corners of the Internet, joined their cause.

Chapter 15: A New Order

Finally, the Zigbee Alliance made a bold decision: to gather everyone under its banner. They changed their name to the CSA (Connectivity Standards Alliance), and thus, in the midst of the storm, a new order began to take shape.

In December 2019,** Amazon, Apple, Google, Samsung SmartThings and the Zigbee Alliance announced collaboration** on the Connected Home over IP (CHIP, which would later change its name to Matter) project.

The goal of the project is to make product development for the home easier for brands and manufacturers, plus, it increases compatibility between all devices. Matter aims to avoid the problems we have been dragging of having a hub and app for each manufacturer and dependence on one or other home automation platforms.

The 1.0 version of Matter was published on October 4, 2022.

And until today… Matter has been evolving and incorporating, more products and more types of devices to its standard every few months.

Chapter 16: The Future of Home Automation

What will home automation be like in the future? Is Matter the universal standard they promise? We will see that in another article.

Conclusion

Returning to the question at the beginning of the article, who do you think is the winner of the home automation platform war?

If you ask me, I think the winners are us. Having so much competition between manufacturers and brands, and thanks to Open Source platforms, the perfect framework has been created for home automation to become simpler and more fun with each step.

That’s why, there is not a single winner, each of us will choose the platform that we like the most and that best suits our needs.

And that’s all for today, remember to share this article, you help the blog a lot by doing so, and see you in the next article.

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