This week's IoT news
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Stacey Knows Things
Rough waters ahead for smart home startups
by Stacey Higginbotham

“This is the year of the culling.”


Chris Allen, CEO of home automation company iDevices, thinks that the spate of connected devices launched in the previous two years has resulted in too many “smart home” companies chasing too small of a market. Thus, he says that this year will be one where a lot of those companies get bought or go under.

The iDevices outdoor switch. Image courtesy of iDevices.

As the man behind the iGrill, one of the first connected devices on the market back in 2010, Allen has plenty of experience trying to build a business in connected products. The iGrill, a meat thermometer that connected to an iPhone, sold to grill maker Weber in February for an undisclosed sum.


After selling iGrill, Allen turned iDevices into a home automation company. He dedicated $10 million to building products for Apple's HomeKit platform.

Apple asked iDevices to join the HomeKit platform in January 2014, six months before Apple announced HomeKit at WWDC.  By January of 2015, iDevices was showing off a connected outlet that worked with HomeKit. Now it has a line of products including a thermostat, an outdoor outlet and a light socket.

But by CES 2015, Apple had seemingly pulled back from HomeKit. The devices were a no show and at the 2015 WWDC event in June and less attention was given to the platform. Developers working with Apple complained that the HomeKit effort was not settled and that Apple was having trouble bringing Bluetooth devices on board. Later that year reviews of the platform started appearing and they weren’t generally positive.


But Allen (pictured left) said the emphasis on HomeKit at Apple has changed. In the last year, the team behind HomeKit has “grown exponentially” and Apple has started putting more weight behind the smart home with iOS 10 out later this year. So while it may have taken longer than originally anticipated for the $10 million bet on HomeKit to pay off, Allen believes that the smart home will happen, and it will happen soon.


“We were just waiting for the market to mature,” he says. “This year is a transitional year for the startup companies being acquired by the larger companies sharing the space.”


As the market matures, Allen is betting on two other big platforms, the Amazon Echo and Google’s Home ecosystem. He will launch an Alexa integration in July. Of the three big bets he has made, he thinks Google and Apple have the biggest advantage because they control a phone operating system.


He’s also launching a new service to help acclimate newbies to the smart home. Later this year iDevices will start selling a bundle of connected products and, after the customer gets the package, they’ll get a call from an iDevices representative who will set up an appointment to walk the customers through their device install and show them what the combined products can do.


I’ve never heard of anyone doing this level of market education, but it makes sense given the complexity of installing some of these products and figuring out how to link them together in compelling ways. I had thought iDevices might be a little bit bitter about waiting so long for HomeKit to come through, but Allen has run iDevices conservatively, and offered not only the HomeKit compatible products, but also consulting services, that make up about 30% of the company’s sales.


At this point, he’s eager to see the smart home take off. Even if a few of the smaller firms have to fade away.


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ComfyLight wants to tap into security demand
Security is the No. 1 reason consumers invest in the smart home, which is why ComfyLight is adding the ability to learn and replicate normal usage patterns into its connected light bulbs.  CEO Stefanie Turber says that being able to mimic the ways lights turn on and off when people are at home acts as a theft deterrent, making her version of a smart light different from the many other competitors.
ComfyLight is one of more than a dozen smart lighting startups. CEO Sefanie Turber is seeking a Series A round.
CEO: Stefanie Turber
ComfyLight makes connected light bulbs that will also double as a security system.
Based in Zurich, Switzerland
Raised $1.2 million. Bosch is an investor.
As the number of connected light bulbs proliferates, buyers can do so much more than turn them on remotely. Some companies pack speakers or colorful LEDS in their smart lights to give them an edge. Others, like ComfyLight and Stack lights, are adding motion sensors in the bulb so they can respond to people coming and going.  

With the machine learning aspect tied with ComfyLight, Turber has tried to add another layer of functionality. Today it provides a security service but it could broaden over time to offer things like detailed presence or energy savings suggestions. Meanwhile, the security angle is compelling.  

I've been trying to get my lights to mimic my typical usage patterns once my home is set to an Away mode, but I've had little success. I have tried using a SmartThings app, the Nest and Philips Hue integration and even schedules tied to the sunrise and sunset. In all cases, I've been disappointed.

So I can't wait to try the ComfyLights to see how those bulbs fare, although I will need deep pockets and a lot of patience. The lights will retail for $120 for one bulb at first, and won't hit the market until December. That's almost triple the cost of the $45 downlight from Stack Lighting, which boasts a motion sensor and could add similar functionality to that of ComfyLights over time. Turber says the ComfyLight uses a microwave sensor which provides more granularity than the sensor the Stack Lights are using.

The ComfyLights will use Wi-Fi as opposed to requiring a hub like many connected lights do today. 
Do you need money? Want to buy or sell an internet of things startup? Then this week’s interview is must-listen stuff. Matt Turck, of FirstMark Capital gives some advice to those seeking financing, discusses the overall funding landscape and tries to pinpoint where the next big exits are going to come from. Why Turck? Because a few months ago he covered this whole topic in amazing depth. So listen up to see what has changed!
Sproutling was one of the VC exits this year.
Before you listen to Turck, Kevin shares his karaoke picks, we dig into the upcoming Bluetooth 5.0 specification and lay out what we think Apple’s HomeKit and Home app mean for the industry. We also talk about Samsung’s plan to invest $1.2 billion in the internet of things, its cloud, and Elon Musk’s offer to buy SolarCity. It’s not that crazy, y’all!
Picture This!
Not everything on the internet of things is small

Most people think of the internet of things as a network of sensors, sending small bits of data up to the cloud. But as Cisco's latest survey of network demand shows below, there are a huge number of items that will attach to mobile networks — from cars to trash cans. What's notable isn't the number of things, but how much data Cisco expects some of them to generate.

It believes that machine-to-machine cellular connections will grow from 4.9 billion in 2015 to 12.2 billion by 2020. That 2.5-fold increase will lead to a sixfold increase in data usage. In 2015 it was one exabyte (EB) per month, but by 2020 it will reach 6.3 EB per month. That will still only be 3.2% of global IP traffic, so it's small potatoes against our giant demand. And the reason for this? Video.

Cisco expects some elements of the internet of things to send significant chunks of video across the internet, in the form of surveillance cameras, drone footage and navigation maps for connected cars. If we can lower the cost of delivering data, I expect there will be even more. 


* Other includes Agriculture, Construction, and Emergency Services.

Source: Cisco VNI Global IP Traffic Forecast, 2015–2020

News of the week
Icontrol bought by and Comcast: Icontrol, a company that provides the back end software for various service providers' home automation efforts, has been acquired. I wrote about the deal two weeks ago, and am glad to see that it turned out as expected, with taking the all-in-one security product Piper for $140 million and Comcast taking Icontrol's home automation software for an undisclosed sum (I heard it was less than $300 million). Comcast will continue to support Icontrol's other service provider customers including Charter, Rogers and Cox. isn't yet saying what it plans to do with the Piper product. This deal is exemplary of the type of culling that will continue to happen in the smart home space this year.  (Icontrol)

Columbus, Ohio is the next smart city: Columbus, Ohio has won the Department of Transportation's Smart City Challenge. The prize comes with $50 million in grants through the DoT and Paul Allen’s Vulcan Inc., plus $90 million in local money.  Columbus' plan included a smart pass, platooning trucks and autonomous cars and buses. It beat out my hometown of Austin for this grant, and it's becoming clear that Columbus is getting hotter. It is home to Drive Capital, which has made some investments in IoT companies, and also Beam, a company rethinking how dental insurance should be sold. I'd actually like to visit. (TechCrunch)

Pearl launches: I love retrofits, and so I love that these ex-Apple engineers are creating a back-up camera for cars that fits around a license plate. The problem of the fast pace of technology change meeting long-lived expensive devices means that retrofits are welcome, but it's unclear how much people will spend on them. A number of  people driving the oldest cars may not have the $500 required to upgrade their vehicles. (Fast Company)

Securing the internet of things just got more complex: Not only do we have to worry about device manufacturers, cloud providers and software designers getting security right for the internet of things, we also have to worry about the companies selling the gear to us. Someone on Reddit posted about his experience with a Netgear Arlo camera that he had returned to the store, only to later find out he could log into his Arlo account and see the camera's new owners in their home. Netgear maintains that this isn't a security fault in the device, but a breakdown in the system of authorized retailers who are not supposed to resell the cameras after they have been authenticated. Ugh. (original RedditNetgear's response

Fewer trips to the glue factory: More than 150 of the UK’s 14,000 racehorses are killed each year, which is a pretty grim statistic. That's why a French startup has created a device called the Equimètre that monitors race horses for stress fractures and overexertion. As sensors become cheaper and we become more familiar with the data these sensors can generate, we'll be able to protect more and more living creatures, not just high-value thoroughbreds. (New Scientist

Samsung's $1.2 billion IoT bet: Samsung said it will invest $600 million in internet of things startups and $600 million in R&D associated with the chips and core technologies associated with IoT in the U.S. over the next four years. It's a lot of money, but it's not crazy money, especially when compared to Samsung's giant $14.1 billion R&D budget. (The Wall Street Journal)

Excellent analysis of the promise of machine learning: If you want to see the future (and also why the cheap data the internet of things enables is so important) go read this post by Benedict Evans. I'm sure you've seen it float by, or someone has sent it over, but just go read it. He distills a lot of the promise and challenges associated with building machine learning systems into a cogent analysis between Google and Apple.  (Benedict Evans

Now this is a smart oven: Putting Wi-Fi on something doesn't make it smart, but Whirlpool's plans to add recipes from kitchen startup Innit to its Jenn Air ovens would go a long way toward making this necessary appliance easier to use. (Engadget)

The internet of things ... in space! NASA has built a new type of network on the International Space System that could act as a template for a solar system network, but also as a model for the Internet of things. The Delay/Disruption Tolerant Network was developed by NASA working with Vint Cerf. It aims to shrink the amount of bandwidth needed to send data. (NASA)
Stacey Higginbotham's weekly Internet of
Things news update and analysis.