Smart Home Consultation: Why Amazon, Not Apple, Will Win the Home Automation Game

Amazon’s Smart Home Consultation will help Amazon win the home automation game. Here’s proof that your home will be run by Alexa, on Amazon devices, in the next couple of years.

Amazon recently launched the ability to schedule a Smart Home Consultation (you may be able to schedule one for free by clicking here).This strengthens the argument that Amazon is trying to own the home automation game.

Amazon Smart Home Consultation

On the surface, the 45-minute consultation includes:

  • A personalized recommendation on setting up your smart home from a trained Amazon employee
  • A wifi assessment to identify and troubleshoot any issues
  • A demo of “popular smart home products”

But looking deeper, you can see that this is a very deliberate way for Amazon to position itself as the power player in the home automation market.

Echo Was Just the First Step

Amazon Echo and Echo Dot

Do you know anyone who didn’t get an Echo or Echo Dot recently? An estimated ten millino people already have one.

I use mine daily to read me the news and play music (and when I’m feeling super lazy, even change the temperature).

However, if you would have asked me six months ago, I would have told you that you’re crazy. I would have said that there’s no way Amazon will create a virtual assistant that’s any good, and that Apple is going to win this battle.

Boy, was I wrong.

I Was (Am?) an Apple Fanboy

Apple iPhone iPad Macbook

When I started designing my smart home, I was determined to only install products that worked with HomeKit. My wife and I have iPhones and Macs, we have an Apple TV, and we use iTunes and iCloud. We even have an Airport Express.

If Apple ever made a TV, I’d most likely consider buying it.

I assumed that Apple was the strong player, with a strong hardware userbase, and that they would figure out how to make the connected home easy for the common man.

But HomeKit Failed Me Right Off the Bat

Ecobee Screen

The first device I installed was the ecobee3 smart thermostat. I picked it primarily because it had the ability to use remote sensors, but also because it would connect with Apple HomeKit.

Read: Ecobee3 Installation (The Easy Way)

I was so excited to get my ecobee3 thermostat up and running, but I was even more excited to show my wife that we can ask for, and change, the temperature by talking to our phones.

From the very beginning, I had problems getting my ccobee3 to appear in HomeKit.

One thermostat would never register correctly. Remote sensors wouldn’t respond.

Not to mention that Siri takes forever to react.

This wasn’t Ecobee’s fault – it was Apple’s. HomeKit failed me.

Alexa Worked Immediately, Which is Surprising. But Should It Be?

Amazon Kindle

On the contrary, making my ecobee3 to work with Alexa took a couple of taps.

And that’s it.

Alexa just feels like magic. If you’ve ever used it for more than music, you probably feel the same way. (And if you’ve used Alexa for music, you probably feel the same way, too.)

I’m legitimately surprised that Amazon put out hardware of this caliber since the relative failure of the Amazon Fire Phone wasn’t that long ago.

But then I thought about all the products that Amazon has done a great job building and selling:

Each of these are some of the best-reviewed in their market (the Paperwhite has a 4.5 star rating with 37,000 reviews!).

And each of them are the lowest priced device in the market.

Amazon makes high-quality, inexpensive items that people love. It shouldn’t surprise us that Amazon can build hardware.

So Let’s Stop Being Surprised That Amazon Nailed Product Market Fit for Alexa

Amazon Devices

I think Amazon is going to win this battle because it’s great at building products.

Think about it. There are so many things that Amazon has executed on really well:

Amazon has seemingly figured out how to get an always-on speaker in homes without creeping people out. It’s stylish, it’s powerful, and maybe most importantly, it’s cheap.

Amazon has nailed product-market-fit with Alexa, and made it work before home automation hit mainstream.

Siri Won’t Win the Smart Home

Their biggest home automation threat is from Apple HomeKit. But HomeKit isn’t ready for prime time yet:

  • The HomeKit interface is clunky. As an example, I set up some aspects of my Ecobee in the Ecobee app, and some in the Home app. But I couldn’t tell you which settings are supposed to happen where. The exact same thing happens with my Lutron Caseta lights. I have given up on using the Home app.
  • Apple requires specific hardware. Manufacturers who want to create a HomeKit product are required to use special HomeKit chips priced up to $2, along with specific WiFi and Bluetooth chips. Those devices just got $2 more expensive to be included in a more clunky interface.
  • Apple requires manufacturing in specific factories. HomeKit devices have to be made in factories designated by Apple to be MFi Manufacturing Licensees (see the entire list of MFi Manufacturing Licensees here). The device creator loses a significant amount of control over the manufacturing of their own product.
  • Apple requires final approval. HomeKit devices then have to be sent to Cupertino for rigorous testing, a process that can take three to five months and must be conducted in secret. Now, the manufacturer gets even less control over time-to-market. Apple has a history of rejecting iOS apps with little-to-no explanation. This may be a deal breaker for new manufacturers.

The Amazon Smart Home Consultation Will Help Amazon Dominate the Smart Home Market

Amazon’s Smart Home Consultation is proving that they will go deep on home automation. And I think they’ll do great.

  • The Smart Home Consultation will reduce the mental barrier of what a “smart home” is. There’s a lot of confusion around what a smart home is. Having a friendly person visit your home to answer questions is one way of overcoming that barrier.
  • The Smart Home Consultation will allow Amazon to get a better understanding of the current smart home and automation landscape. I would even bet that these consultants work on the Amazon product team.
  • Alexa’s interface is as simple as is possible. You control Alexa with just your voice. No UI, no fingers, no colors or fonts. You talk to Alexa, and she takes action.
  • To integrate with Alexa, you simply write software. Amazon makes it easy to create and run software on Alexa.
  • Simple hardware integration. If you’re a device manufacturer, you can use whatever hardware you want, built wherever you want, as long as it can connect to the Internet. You don’t need Amazon to approve it – you just need people to buy it.

Amazon’s Next Move: Alexa-Branded Smart Home Hardware

Alexa Devices

And when they do go deep on home automation, they’re going to build their own home automation hardware that uses Alexa as a hub.

  • People are comfortable with Amazon in their home. Amazon is not considered creepy.
  • The software works, and people love it. There are more than 8 million Alexa items in homes today.
  • Smart home and wifi devices are becoming available on white-label sites like Alibaba. This shows that manufacturing these devices is cheap and plentiful.
  • Amazon has experience selling and shipping their own white-label products. Amazon Basics works for them.

The writing is on the wall.

It wouldn’t surprise me to see Amazon (or Alexa) branded sensors, light switches, light bulbs and electrical outlets on sale in 2018. Maybe cameras and thermostats in 2019.

See if you can get a free Smart Home Consultation by visiting the Amazon site here.