With the multi-billion dollar acquisition of Nest, people are talking a lot these days about the connected home. It came up at the Canary board meeting the other day. Canary is the world's most easy to install home security device, connecting to its homeowners via the cloud.
As the lead investor in the company's seed round, you'd think I'd be really bullish about the connected home, especially after their record Indiegogo pre-sale netted them almost $2 million in purchases.
In fact, I think the term is kind of weird.
I don't know about you, but my home has been connected for quite a while now--to the internet. More and more of the things in it are connected to the internet as well--but calling it a "connected home" is kind of a misnomer. There's this idea of a centralized system interfacing with all the items in my apartment and a hub of some sort where I "manage" them, but if you look at the way technology has trended, it's not clear to me that makes sense at all.
Almost ten years ago, I bought a Netgear MP101 to take songs from my home computer and stream them to other locations in my house. I bought a couple of these to wire my place for music. Recently, I threw them out after years of neglect.
I've been getting effectively that same service because there's a web connected device in every room, and I stream. Between my phone, my iPad and my Chromecast enabled TV, I'm pretty covered when it comes to having music everywhere. There's no need for the devices to talk to each other across my house, because they're all connected to the web, and to the services that I stream from.
In fact, my phone has become a sort of universal remote for everything. When I walk into my house and want to watch or listen to something, I turn on my TV and then navigate through my options on the phone, sending them to the TV via Chromecast.
I don't need a centralized server in my house. That's what the web is. As long as something connects to wifi, I can get an app for it to do what I need. The trend isn't connecting within the home--it's a trend of physical devices being made better because they're connected to the cloud.
One way to think about it is to imagine whether or not this device needs a better screen. Screens help me navigate through choices and visualize data. There are some things, like my refrigerator, that don't really need those things unless they can tell me what's inside. I don't need or want a screen for my fridge if it has anything to do with being cold or making ice. That seems to add unnecessary complication on top of a function that fridges have been performing quite well for decades.
Start telling me what I have in there, which would help me shop, and now you're talking screens, choices, and data that might be useful--in a fridge app, not transmitting to a central place.
That's why it's not surprising that music and TV were some of the first things in the home to get internet connected. Anything whose output is digital is going to have a lot more range of choice and needs for display than nobs and dials could ever get you.
Still, they don't need centralization. My entertainment experience isn't centralizing along the lines of my home server--it's aligning along catalogs like Netflix that are available across any device.
If you're building cloud connected products, I'd assume the user doesn't have anything connected to anything else, nor do they want to, and let a series of standalone apps make your product better. Netflix phone and tablet apps work just fine for someone who doesn't have a "connected" media center at home.
To me, this echoes the social network trend where everyone swore that you'd need something central to manage all your social profiles. We got services like Friendfeed to be our "connected home" in a social world, but they didn't take. People were perfectly content having different social products for different activities--sharing photos, running, connecting professionally, sending secret messages to each other, and voice calls--and we didn't need or want a "hub" for them.
If anything "hubs" run counter to everything we've seen from the development of the internet, which moves us away from hubs, not towards them. We don't use the Yahoo! home page as our first screen on the web anymore and so it's not clear to me that Nest is today's Yahoo! home in the home.