Wink, Home Depot Aim to ‘Take Confusion Out’ of Home Automation

Wink’s 24/7 tech support, product packaging, device discovery, real-time diagnostics expected to drive home automation sales; works with Android Wear.

The deal breaker with so many smart home systems is tech support: When the thermostat doesn’t work, is it a problem with the home network, the home automation system, the furnace or the thermostat itself?

Wink, the newly spun-off division of GE-backed Quirky, thinks it has tech support nailed. No one could be happier than The Home Depot, where Wink launches July 7. (also available on

“Wink has set up a customer service network for us,” says Home Depot senior merchant Randy Light. “They’ll be working with vendor partners to create a seamless experience for customers.”

Since Home Depot carries or will carry a big chunk of devices that attach to Wink – door locks, lighting controls, smart bulbs, cameras, irrigation controllers, HVAC systems, thermostats, motorized shades and more – the home-improvement giant better make sure that an $80 home automation hub doesn’t sabotage the consumer experience.

(Note: Through Labor Day at The Home Depot, the hub costs $49.99 if purchased alone. It costs $24.99 if bought with one product, and 99 cents when bought with two or more products.)

When a device connected to a home automation system doesn’t work, users are going to blame the app, says Wink VP Brett Worthington: “That’s how they’re engaging.”

Wink has an ambitious tech-support infrastructure that includes, most importantly, 24/7 access.

“You actually talk to a live Wink person,” says Worthington.

Wink recognizes that, no matter when you buy your system, you’re likely to install it at night or on the weekends, when most tech-support services are offline, Worthington explains.

Wink handles tier-1 and tier-2 tech support for connectivity partners as well, so users aren’t caught in the dreaded not-my-device blame game.

“We understand the escalation process,” Worthington says. “If we determine it’s an HVAC issue, we know how to hand it off to Rheem.”

Rheem, a maker of water heaters and HVAC systems, is just one of Wink’s 15 integration partners being announced today. Nearly 60 compatible products will be available at launch, including:

  • Bali – motorized window coverings (powered by Somfy)
  • Chamberlain – garage door controller with MyQ service
  • Dropcam – video cameras
  • GE – new $15 ZigBee smart bulbs, with more products to come
  • Honeywell – Wi-Fi thermostats
  • Kidde – 433MHz smoke detectors
  • Kwikset – door locks
  • Leviton – Z-Wave lighting controls
  • Lutron – Caseta wireless dimmers, Serena motorized shades
  • Philips – Hue smart bulbs
  • Quirky – Aros learning air conditioner
  • Rachio – smart irrigation controller
  • Rheem – HVAC and water heaters
  • Schlage – door locks
  • TCP – Store-brand 6LoWPAN bulbs from Greenwave Reality (which is moving out of the hardware business)

In addition to the (apparently) well-trained tech-support team, Wink has implemented some support elements in its software.

For example, Wink knows if a user tries to connect the system … and fails. Worthington says the customer might receive a message, “We see you tried to connect the hub twice. Why don’t you call us?”

On the back end, Wink can tap into the user’s system and “see” the connected devices, according to Worthington: “If you enroll Z-Wave or ZigBee nodes and they fall off or they keep falling off, we can see that.”

Speaking of device enrollment, it couldn’t be simpler.

The Wink hub uses Bluetooth for pairing, or users can add a device to the system by snapping the barcode within the app, where they also can find instructional videos.
6 Protocols? No Confusion Here

How do all of these products communicate with the Wink hub and the Wink cloud service? Either by Wi-Fi or Lutron ClearConnect (Caseta version) or ZigBee or Z-Wave or Bluetooth.

Some of the devices require the Wink home automation hub. Some do not. The devices with their own cloud services – such as Dropcam and the not-yet-shipping Rachio Iro Wi-Fi sprinkler system-will talk cloud-to-cloud with the Wink service, no protocol translator (hub) needed.

Confusing? Neither Wink nor Home Depot thinks so.

Worthington says his company’s top priority is to “take confusion out” of the home automation experience.

“That is 100-percent our thing,” he says.

So the products that require a Wink hub will be labeled “Wink App Ready,” while the ones that talk straight to the app will be tagged, “Wink App Connected.”

From the Wink press release:

“Priced at $79.99 with no monthly fees or contracts, The Wink HUB supports leading protocols including Wi-Fi, Bluetooth LE, Z-Wave, Zigbee, and Lutron ClearConnect, so consumers can easily set up the products without worrying about their compatibility.”

Well, not exactly.

Not all ZigBee devices are interoperable, for example.

Also, as I’ve noted many times in the past, Lutron ClearConnect comes in three different flavors, none of them interoperable.

For example, Sam’s Club sells a ClearConnect smart bulb that uses the RadioRa 2 version of ClearConnect, which is also deployed in certain Lutron shades, dimmers and thermostats.

These ClearConnect products won’t work with the ClearConnect radio embedded in Wink (and Staples Connect) hub. Those hubs use the (more affordable) Caseta version of ClearConnect, which currently is used in certain Lutron dimmers and Serena motorized shades. A compatible Honeywell thermostat is coming soon.

RELATED: Staples Connect Hub Slashed to $49; Newer Model Adds Bluetooth, ZigBee

Do you really need all those protocols? Why bother with a proprietary Lutron or Kidde protocol, for example, when there are so many other open-protocol products that do the same thing?

“Kidde makes a great life-safety product; Lutron makes great dimmers,” says Home Depot’s Light. “We could have begged Lutron to do ZigBee, but would that be the right thing?”

He adds, “At Home Depot, we believe in brands. We’re a brand house. We want customers to feel comfortable [for example] with a Schlage or Kwikset lock. We think brands are the hero.”

Instead of relying on a home automation vendor to dictate the brands, Home Depot wants the category experts to make those decisions, Light says: “We want the lighting merchant to buy dimmers. The same goes for door locks, life-safety and other categories.”

This isn’t Home Depot’s first home automation rodeo. The company began selling Wink competitor Revolv earlier this year, and it also carries Insteon-enabled devices and Bekin Wemo products in some stores. The company also offers its own store-branded TCP line of smart bulbs OEMed by Greenwave Reality, which is exiting the hardware business.

Last year, Home Depot began selling Quirky’s standalone Internet of Things devices, including the (wildly quirky) Porkfolio piggy bank, Egg Minder egg tray, and Pivot Power Genius power strip.

Wink Bonus Round: Wearables

Google only just announced its Android Wear platform for smart watches and other wearables, and Wink today is announcing an app for the platform.

So in addition to traditional Android and iOS apps, users can download the Android Wear version through Google Play to monitor and control their homes from their wrists.




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About the Author


Julie Jacobson, recipient of the 2014 CEA TechHome Leadership Award, is co-founder of EH Publishing, producer of CE Pro, Electronic House, Commercial Integrator, Security Sales and other leading technology publications. She currently spends most of her time writing for CE Pro in the areas of home automation, security, networked A/V and the business of home systems integration.

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