Microsoft has been quiet on the home automation front for about a decade, but the software giant is finally taking action with an unusual bedfellow: Insteon, the technology created by leading home technology distributor Smarthome.
Microsoft funded development of a Windows 8 app for Insteon and will sell Insteon devices online and in its 53 U.S. stores, “marking Microsoft’s retail entry into the connected home market,” according to a press release.
The union is unusual because Insteon rarely gets the buzz that Z-Wave and ZigBee get, even though the smart home technology has been around for 10 years. Also, Insteon products are pretty much available from one vendor only – Insteon itself, which makes everything from security sensors to smart LED bulbs (arguably the first in that category) to thermostats and home automation software.
And, the technology isn’t hip and trendy like all the crowd-funded start-ups.
Insteon does double-duty as both a wireless RF and powerline carrier (PLC) technology. Any Insteon product that plugs into an outlet employs both technologies, while (naturally) battery-powered devices offer RF only.
“They like that we offer soup to nuts,” says Insteon founder and CEO Joe Dada, who also is CEO of Smarthome.
During the Parks Associates Connections conference this week, Dada offered CE Pro, SSI‘s sister publication, the first glimpse of the new Windows 8 app, featuring the tile interface that so many people love … or hate.
The tiles feature live status updates from various Insteon devices. Click on any tile to drill down for more information.
Insteon products are similar to DIY home automation systems, for example Lowe’s Iris, Staples Connect, Schlage Nexia, Vera (MiOS) and so many others. Users can create rules/scenes like “home” and “away,” view video cameras from afar and otherwise remotely monitor and control their homes.
Unlike many products on the market, the system features a built-in Web server, eliminating the need for cloud services and associated fees.
The downside to that scheme is that the system requires port forwarding for remote access, which is neither simple to configure nor particularly secure.
That will change, Dada says.
Why Did Microsoft Pick Insteon?
Dada says the Microsoft partnership entailed some good ol’ fashioned luck. A top exec at IT giant Ingram Micro (later Synnex) happened to live near Smarthome’s Irvine, Calif., store and was a customer and later good friend of Dada’s.
Synnex is a major Microsoft partner and one thing led to another.
Dada confesses that he had never used Windows 8 before but picked up a phone when the Microsoft deal looked like a real possibility.
He was surprised how much he liked the tiling and says the interface is “very suited to us.”
Insteon devices and kits will debut June 1 at MicrosoftStore.com and by early July they will be available in most of Microsoft’s retail stores across the U.S.
The stores will offer a Starter Kit, Home Kit and Business Kit, as well as five standalone devices, including the Insteon Leak Sensor, door/window sensor, LED bulb, plug-in module and Wi-Fi camera. Prices will range from $29.99 to $79.99, with kits starting at $199.