Since it revealed the Staples Connect home automation system in 2013, the office super-store has only showcased the system in about 32 stores, using an interactive display with a $99 Linksys-made hub and a handful of connected devices.
Now Staples is “all in,” says Bob Cooper, chief marketing officer for Zonoff, the platform provider that powers the Connect system. On July 15, Staples will roll out Connect displays to 500 stores, featuring eight feet of Staples Connect and a new 8-foot section dedicated to wearables.
In addition, Staples has slashed the price of its original $99 smart home hub made by Linksys. The device, which supports Wi-Fi, Z-Wave and Lutron ClearConnect Caseta wireless technology, becomes one of the cheapest on the market at $49.
D-Link, then, will produce a step-up version of the hub priced at $79, adding Bluetooth and ZigBee connectivity to the ecosystem. The enhanced model was announced at CES 2014, where Staples battled Lowe’s Iris in the battle of who-supports-the-most-devices.
At the time, Staples said the new hub would add Insteon support along with ZigBee and Bluetooth, but Insteon will not reside natively in the D-Link Hub.
Zonoff tells CE Pro, SSI‘s sister publication, that Insteon support will come at a later date via an add-on supported by Zonoff’s Distributed Radio Architecture.
So why ZigBee? So many DIY products are throwing the protocol into the mix, but there are precious few consumer-friendly devices on the market that actually interoperate. That is changing, however, with the newish ZigBee Light Link protocol, which ensures at least some interoperability among compliant lighting controllers. Philips Hue employs the technology, as does the new game-changing $15 GE Link bulbs announced last week.
“ZigBee does come up and people want it,” says Zonoff’s Cooper. “If someone falls in love with a wall sconce, they don’t want to know what protocol it is.”
Wearables & Apps
In addition to the forthcoming D-Link hub, Staples Connect is announcing new integration partners today, including Jawbone, whose UP wristband can trigger automation scenes within the Connect ecosystem. For example, users will be able to turn on the lights or open the blinds by turning off the SLEEP mode on their Jawbone UP.
Jawbone and Connect will create a “perfect storm, sitting right next to each other in the store,” says Peter Gerstberger, director, new business development at Staples.
Staples selected Jawbone as its first wearables partner because the UP line was built with integration in mind, Gerstberger says.
Other solutions, he suggests, suffer from “a little too much latency.”
Ultimately, though, Gerstberger envisions support for “any wearable that has the ability to integrate in the system.”
“Aspirationally,” he says, smart watches would be incorporated into the ecosystem.
In addition to new radios, new protocols and new supported devices, Staples announced today two new app partners: Windows 8 and Samsung Smart TVs, each of which will have its own Connect user interface.
“We probably have one of the widest selections of UIs,” Cooper says. “We started out with a native iPad app, Android and HTML 5, and now Windows 8 and the Smart TV.”
Competing with Lowe’s and Home Depot
The retail home automation battle between Staples and Lowe’s has been raging for quite some time, but now Home Depot is a serious contender, having just announced its commitment to Wink, the new smart home platform recently spun off from GE’s Quirky. (Home Depot also carries Revolv.)
Gerstberger says Staples welcomes the competition from Home Depot, which has a “different audience,” than the small business owners that frequent Staples.
He explains Staples can distinguish itself by the “sheer number of partners,” which numbers 35 companies and 148 devices.
“That’s the first-mover advantage of Staples Connect,” he says. “We will continue to innovate and add partners.”
Staples also can differentiate its offerings with technical support and customer service, according to Gerstberger, who says, “Tech support has been great so far.”
Staples has its EasyTech support staff in stores, and trained in the 32 shops in the test markets The rollout continues now to all stores, where techs will be trained on all facets of Connect. At the EasyTech call center, a complete system with supported devices is set up for hands-on training and troubleshooting, and the associates know when—and to whom—they should hand off certain calls.
Connect hubs will be given to associates “so they wont just be informed ab out the system, but they can be evangelists,” Gerstberger says.
As for the Wink system, it is not exclusive to Home Depot, and Staples may very likely carry the system in the future.
“Staples and Quirky have a very close relationship, and as with all of our partners, we are continuing to explore product roadmaps and system integrations that add value to Staples Connect and our customers,” says Gerstberger. “From a platform perspective, Staples chose Zonoff as our platform provider based on our belief that they have built the preeminent home automation platform in the industry, and as such, they will continue to serve as the driving force behind Staples Connect.”