A Very Connected Christmas

Holiday decorations can be one of the most exciting parts of the holiday season, but seeing trees and houses lit up against the snow comes with its drawbacks. Nobody likes the hassle of hidden switches and plugs which can only be accessed by crawling, or going out in the cold.

The ConnectSense Smart Outlet offers the perfect solution to this inconvenience. This HomeKit-enabled smart plug allows the user to turn off whatever is plugged in from the most convenient location. Whether you forgot to turn them off on the way out the door or simply want to avoid the uncomfortable nuisance of turning them off, the Smart Outlet fits all cases.

The user can even set timers for their lights and monitor the power usage of more dazzling arrangements. Order a Smart Outlet today to experience some good cheer in comfort and style.

Happy Holidays!

Now Available: Power Monitoring!

We are excited to announce the release of power monitoring for the ConnectSense Smart Outlet! This feature will allow for a whole new range of functionality, such as the ability to monitor devices and set rules based on how long a device has been on, or how much power it is consuming.

These features will open up avenues for new applications. Some of us at ConnectSense have already started coming up with new ways to apply this functionality in our own homes. For instance, Erik, Head Developer at Grid Connect, is using the new update in conjunction with his movie projector at home. Since this projector uses a lot of power, he wanted to monitor how long it would be on and automatically shut it down after period of time or when a certain amount of power has been consumed. Erik has set a rule that dims the lights when the projector gets turned on in preparation for movie time. This allows him to control the entire room with one simple rule.

Brittney, VP of Marketing, had the idea to plug a hair straightener into her ConnectSense Smart Outlet. With a time-based rule for the device to shut off automatically if she forgets to do it herself, Brittney can have a sense of safety about her home when she leaves it, knowing the device will turn off no matter what.  

Power monitoring makes the Smart Outlet useful to a whole new group of devices: TVs and video game systems can now have an automatic parental shutdown; dehumidifiers and standalone fans can have a designated lifecycle; and a nightlight for the kids can be safely triggered off when the whole family is asleep.    

There are so many possibilities for new functionality with this update, and we are excited to see the other ways it can be used. Of course, there is no cost associated with this for existing owners or those thinking about picking one up for themselves.

Click here to learn more about the capabilities of the ConnectSense Smart Outlet!

Why DIY Home Security Makes Sense

Installing a security system is often portrayed as a daunting and expensive task, but the Internet of Things (IoT) is changing that. Smart home technology enables individuals to establish a network of security devices that are controllable and affordable. Installing security systems usually require hired professionals to install them, which is often costly and intimidating. DIY security installation provides home owners with the power to customize security systems easily to fit their respective needs.

The most beneficial aspect of DIY installation is that it is extremely cheap in comparison to hiring professionals. Smart home security devices allow users to purchase devices as they see fit. This means that a security system can start with only a few devices and be built up overtime, allowing individuals to build a secure home on a budget. With a professional installation, the user is required to purchase an expensive and complex system, which they might not even need. In addition to this, professional systems usually have very expensive installation fees. IoT devices are very inexpensive; they can be purchased and installed easily at without complicated procedures.

With internet-enabled security devices, the user has complete control over their security system while they are at home as well as when they are away, which is a feature that professional systems don’t offer. Another DIY benefit is the ability to completely customize and alter security networks at the user’s convenience. Devices can be added or removed from a security system with ease. Home owners also have the ability to reinstall any security device in an alternative location within their home environment. Professionally installed systems simply do not offer this luxury. Once a system is installed in this fashion, there are essentially no customization options. This is especially inconvenient if someone decides to move into a new house or wants to move their security system to a new area in their home. DIY security systems can be transported to various environments and can be installed with minimum difficulty.

When it comes to personally installing a security system, there are some extremely powerful tools to assist in building an integrated network of IoT devices. The ConnectSense Wireless Security System and Wireless Motion Sensor are very effective in keeping a home secure. The Security Sensor can monitor doors, windows, cabinets, and more in any home. The Motion Sensor is able to track any motion that occurs within a given environment. Each of these sensors is able to notify home owners if there are any changes in their environment before it becomes a problem. These ConnectSense sensors are some of the many robust smart devices that can be utilized to monitor a home.

Establishing a smart home ecosystem can also be done with ease using Apple HomeKit, which is a very reliable and efficient DIY smart home security software. HomeKit equips homeowners with the ability to create a dynamic and affordable network of security-based devices. There are many industry leading products that are compatible with Apple’s innovative software. HomeKit assists home owners in creating a secure environment in a way that is both convenient and accessible.

It is often said that if one wants something done right, they should do it themselves. This is precisely the case regarding the creation of in-home security systems. DIY home security is significantly cheaper than professional installations and the ability to fully optimize a network of devices to fit a specific home environment gives DIY installation a major advantage. The accessibility and customization of security networks created with software such as Apple HomeKit makes IoT security systems much more powerful and reliable than professional installations.

A Smart House Divided Against Itself Cannot Stand

At the WindyCityThings conference this year, the Vice President of Grid Connect, Adam Justice, spoke on the current standards in the Internet of Things (IoT) world. The amount IoT devices are estimated to increase to 25 billion by the year 2020. In the smart home space, there really needs to be some sort of established standard in order for that growth to happen and to have integration between devices. There has been rapid growth and expansion for these types of standards within the past couple of years. This isn’t only an issue at the consumer level, it is an issue for the industrial IoT as well.

In terms of IoT standards, the IoT is moving extremely quickly. So things that are discussion now will be totally different than the things in discussion a couple months from now. The issue is that every manufacturer is doing their own thing and moving along too quickly. Initially the solution for the smart home seemed to be through proprietary companies. This is essentially one company trying to do it all, such as Nest or SmartThings, but in reality it is very difficult for one company to do everything and have a hub at the center of the IoT.

Standards are extremely important for the IoT because it really allows us to have interoperability, and with interoperability comes adoption and increased functionality of the smart home. In addition to this, there would be an improved experience for consumers. At this point in time, the IoT operates with an app for every different product, so consumers need to have a folder or page on their phone with an assortment of apps that all do different things. Having a system like this isn’t really a better solution to the standard devices we have today. People often wonder “how is this any easier than just turning on the lights myself?” This is because sorting through pages of apps and finding individual devices can be a cumbersome task. In order for there to be widespread adoption, there needs to be better standards in place to help improve the user experience.

Another important thing to consider is that no individual company knows how to do everything well. The companies with hub solutions often fail because they are trying to do too many things at once. So even though they have a lot of the features people are looking for, each individual aspect isn’t up to par, thus reducing the overall user experience. Instead of using this method, there needs to be different companies that have expertise in their field, contributing something to a broader system. A great example of this would be a company like Chamberlain that knows garages. There is no reason that another smart home company should go out and try to make a new and better garage door opener because Chamberlain already knows how to do that well. So they can contribute with their MyQ system to the broader smart home ecosystem.

As far as standards go, there seems to be new organizations and standards created regularly. Standards are being adopted through all different layers of technology. There is an application layer, a networking layer, and plenty of other layers along these lines. With these layers, come standards such as security layer standards and cloud standards; there are plenty of opportunities for different standards in different areas. However, the one we will primarily focus on are the application layer standards.

One of the standards that has been around for a while now is one that is called Alljoyn, which was established by the AllSeen Alliance. AllJoyn is an application layer protocol dedicated to enabling the interoperability of IoT devices. It is supposed to make it easier for devices to communicate, getting deeper into the networking layer, focusing on applications. This standard is primarily supported by Qualcomm, the Linux Foundation, Cisco, Microsoft, LG, and HTC. Some of the big pros for this is that its open source and internet access is not necessarily needed. It was created by Qualcomm and they seem to be heavily “driving the ship” and not really letting a lot of others contribute to it. This has been a standard that has been out for a while, but when examining the market, there aren’t really a lot of consumer products adopting it. So even if this is the best standard out there, if it doesn’t get adopted, it doesn’t do too much to help the industry.

Another popular standard is the Open Interconnect Consortium (OIC), which was recently rebranded to the Open Connectivity Foundation. This is also an application layer protocol with the goal of interoperability. Major supporters of this are Intel, GE, Qualcomm, Microsoft, Dell, Samsung, and Cisco. A lot of these companies are the same companies that supported the AllJoyn standard. These companies are supporting different standards, hoping that they can be a part of which ever one wins out. This standard is open-source, so there is collaboration between all of its supporters. It’s still very early in development, they released the framework early in 2015. They seem to still be in the process of figuring out their purpose as well as their identity, that’s why there was a name change.

The next big standard can be found in Apple HomeKit; which Grid Connect is very familiar with as we have a product that supports HomeKit. This is a common network protocol that features end-to-end encryption. Similar to devices operating on iOS, security and privacy are at the center of this protocol as it is something that is very important to Apple. A couple key aspects of HomeKit are that it is very easy to set up, Siri voice control is built in, and there is one common app for controlling any and all devices. At Apple’s developer conference, WWDC 2016, they announced the Home app for iOS10 that will be used to control smart devices. They are still leaving it open for third party developers to develop common apps to control devices. This seems to be a great step forwards in terms of interoperability. It will be really important as we head more towards automation of the home. This means going beyond opening an app and just telling the voice assistant to turn on the lights or do something along those lines. Users have the ability to set up “if this then that” functions or even create scenes so that when they leave their home, automation can do something like turn off the lights, adjust the thermostat, and close the garage door. Joining Apples NFI program will provide anyone interested with more details.

Apple’s standard is being developed extremely quickly because they are the only ones working on developing this standard, unlike the previously discussed standards. That being said, this is only a great standard for iOS users. Those using Android and other platforms are essentially cut off from this standard. That being said, it does seem to have the most traction in comparison to other major smart home platforms. There have been a lot of HomeKit products introduced to the market thus far and there are a lot more coming soon.

The next thing to examine is the “Works with Nest” program, which has been around for a long time.  This is essentially reliant upon Nest as the center of home automation. Unlike HomeKit and some of these other standards, which are network layer communication. This is an API level, device to device integration, going towards the cloud. This doesn’t allow for connection between edge devices, internet is required to do anything. It seems to be pretty simple and easy to set up, which is why a lot of people integrate with it. However, those integrations don’t seem to be entirely useful as it’s more of a checkbox people want to checkoff to be in the smart home space. Since the Google acquisition of Nest, things seem to be a bit troublesome. There are some issues with the new CEO and things of that nature. It will be very interesting to see where this platform goes over time.

Another major platform on the Google side is called Brillo and Weave. Weave is Google’s answer to HomeKit. Brillo is essentially a stripped down version of Android, so it is a high horse power, computing intense platform. It doesn’t really belong on end devices as it is more for things like routers or something with a lot of computing power. Weave is a device to device protocol, so it includes cloud services and is very similar to HomeKit. It has one app, easy setup, and device to device integration. It looks as if it will be a really solid solution for Android, but it does appear to be a couple years behind HomeKit. Everyone at Google’s conference this year was waiting to hear more on Brillo/Weave, but the conference passed and there was no mention of it. So it appears to be in somewhat of a building mode, but they should not be counted out. One of the major ways people are going to choose their smart home ecosystem is going to based off of what they have in their pocket and what will work with that. Android has a huge market share and that is something that needs to be addressed, especially in comparison to what Apple is doing.

The Home App for Apple HomeKit (Part 2)

Apple recently unveiled the Beta 1 version of its newest operating system, iOS 10, at WWDC 2016. In order to discover more about this exciting release, Adam Justice of ConnectSense upgraded all of his devices to iOS 10, Beta 1.  There are innovative new features that can not only be accessed on the iPhone, but on the Apple Watch, iPad, Apple TV, and even using CarPlay.

Once iOS 10 is up and running on the iPhone, there is a pretty useful function that can be accessed on the home screen. The user has the ability to 3D touch the icon for the Home app and run a scene from there, without having to open the app itself. There is also an option to add a new scene from this menu, and once this option is selected, the app will launch and the user will automatically be directed to the scene creation screen.

The Apple Watch also unlocks some very powerful functions with watchOS 3, Beta 1. The Home app can be accessed by clicking on the dock button on the Apple Watch. Once the Home app is launched, there is a simple list of the accessories. The user has the ability to scroll through all of their HomeKit accessories using the digital crown. For any outlets or simple devices, there is an on/off button that can be used to control each device. For anything that is dimmable, the digital crown can be used to set the level of brightness. At the top of the menu, there is a list of all of the user’s scenes that can be controlled with the touch of a button. If the user has multiple home’s set up, they can use force touch to change to an alternative location.

Another device in Apple’s arsenal is the iPad Pro, which can be used in order to further explore the new features of iOS 10, Beta 1. The first important thing to examine can actually be found in the iPad’s settings. Once in settings, head down to the settings for the Home app. There will be an option titled, “Use this iPad as a Home Hub.” If the user has an iPad that is always at home, they can check this setting and use that iPad as a home hub to access any of their HomeKit devices while away from home. This is a really powerful setting if there is an iPad that can always be left at home.

The Home app on the iPad is fairly similar to the one we see on the iPhone, except there is a lot more screen real-estate so the user can easily see their favorite scenes and devices. In the top left corner of the screen, there is a summary of all of the devices that are on within the user’s home environment. The next thing to explore is the “Rooms” tab, which can be accessed with the middle button on the bottom of the screen. Instead of going through the rooms menu at the top, the user can quickly switch between their rooms by swiping the screen to the left or right.

The last section of the Home app is the “Automation” tab, which is the bottom right button. In the first ConnectSense walkthrough, we didn’t have access to the automation section, but there are ways three ways to access the functions of this tab. The first way to do this is by enabling an iPad to act as a home hub, which was discussed above. The next way to do this is to have an Apple TV running tvOS 10, Beta 1. However, the simplest way is by downloading another HomeKit app, such as the ConnectSense app, that has support for things like triggers, automations, or rules, and then adding a new automation within that new app. This will enable the user to be able to see the automation tab in the Home app. Once this is complete, the user has some really powerful options. New automations can be set up by clicking the “create new automation” button in the middle of the screen.

There are four options for automation that are based off of when the user’s location changes (geofencing), the time of day, when an accessory is controlled, or when a sensor detects something. These are all great tools to get started on home automation. Setting up automation based on time of day is very useful. One of the really awesome new features in this section that was not available in iOS 9 is the ability to trigger something based off of the sunrise and sunset. So if the user has outside lights or any other devices that need to be controlled based off of the sun, this is a great option because the time of the sunrise and sunset will change based off of what time of year it is. The user can also select a specific time of day and set it to repeat on various days of the week. The accessory based options also give the user quite a bit of control. This is a really great way to set up automations so that doing one device will trigger other devices. An example would be if the someone turned on a light in the morning, it could then trigger a “good morning” scene that would turn on other devices in the home. Another great thing is that these automations sync across devices. This is a big upgrade because any rules or automations set up on an iOS 9 device were unable to be transferred to another device.

The last major function of the Home app on the iPad can be found on the “Home” tab. The user can further examine a device by holding down on its icon. A menu will then pop up with information on the device. Within the device details, there is actually a link to the manufacturers app. So if the user is using a ConnectSense Smart Outlet, they can access the ConnectSense app from this menu. Even though the Home app is very powerful, there will typically be certain manufacturer features, firmware updates, and things like that, which can only be accessed through the manufacturer’s app.

The Apple TV can help expand the functionality of HomeKit with the use of tvOS 10, Beta. With the use of this Beta, we can now utilize Siri commands with the Apple TV remote. The user has the ability to say something along the lines of “set my thermostat to 72 degrees,” or “set my home for ‘I’m leaving.’” This will help give home owners much more control over their network of HomeKit devices.

One of the coolest new features for iOS 10 is the fact that HomeKit works with CarPlay, which it did not for iOS 9. The user has the ability to use Siri voice commands within their car in order to control their various HomeKit devices in their home. An example would be if someone was about to leave their home and was in their car, they could say “set my home for ‘I’m leaving,’” which would trigger a scene for the home from the car. This gives the user much more control over their home environment.

(Part 2 of 2) Adam Justice is back from WWDC and has upgraded all of his Apple Devices to iOS 10, Beta 1. In this episode, Adam Justice of ConnectSense continues from his first video of the Home app (https://youtu.be/A-m1afEEoHo?list=PLsluzrxrM99peR-ucD7lrzrF_mgQfgjqe) to show you more of its new features not only on the iPhone, but on the Apple Watch, iPad, Apple TV, and even using CarPlay.