Machine-to-machine (M2M) technologies combined with smartphones are set to play a crucial role in the next generation of the Connected Home, which includes remote control over your home's heating, lighting, and media. Major cable providers, such as AT&T (Digital Life), XFINITY (XFINITY Home), Cox Communications (Smart Home), Time Warner Cable (IntelligentHome), and Verizon FIOS (Connected Home), are putting smartphone apps at the forefront of their connected home offerings and strategies. Even third-party original equipment manufacturers like Belkin are launching products that enable the control of household devices from a smartphone.
However, even at the current early stages of deployments across the United States, it's already becoming apparent that the Connected Home technology market is in need of a centralized standards body in order to effectively work with M2M phones. Currently, the Digital Living Network Alliance is offering DLNA Certifications for mobile devices. Also, the Wi-Fi Alliance Wi-Fi Direct Certification is trying to corral device and smartphone standards from a disparate world of operator converged services, mobile cloud services, and fragmented vendor standards into a platform ecosystem where consumers can control their home using a smartphone.
Smartphones as a key to the connected home
Smartphones are comfortable and familiar in many homes today, even for the non-techies in the house. Making smartphones into a central home controller can give consumers finer control over their home environment and security. After all, these controls are tied into the cloud and a home network, which turns the smartphone into a central controller vs. a basket of individual controllers strewn around the house.
Where things get complex is connecting a device that isn't a computer to your smartphone -- and that's where M2M technologies come into play. Think of their roles this way:
- The smartphone is the primary interface into home controls through apps and M2M technologies. During the Connected Home setup process, a consumer is directed to download app(s) from the App Store or Google Play to their smartphone, which provide a convenient interface to home controls.
- M2M provides the building blocks for the connectivity between the smartphone and devices that need to be controlled. While many M2M devices are proprietary, there are open source M2M development platforms, such as DeviceHive, that aim to change all of that.
Here are some examples of Connected Home apps from major cable providers:
- AT&T Digital Life has apps available from the iTunes App Store and Google Play that enable customers to have full control over their account features, including home security and environmental controls. The app is also available for the iPad.
- XFINITY Home has apps available on Google Play and in the App Store that give customers access to features such as automatic alerts, remote lighting, thermostat, and security controls.
- Time Warner Cable Intelligent Home has apps available on the App Store and Google Play that provide full control over IntelligentHome features from your smartphone.
Typically, the cable company installs the Connected Home devices in your home. Once the devices are live on your home network, you should have full control over them from your smartphone.
Smartphones and M2M for energy conservation
Within the whole Connected Home concept, perhaps the greatest promise for the technology platform is energy conservation. While its rare to find a thermostat geek, smartphone apps provide a user-friendly tool for monitoring and adjusting the home thermostat during the day. It's just not the cable company connecting home offerings with smart thermostat controls; third party developers are getting into the act, as well. Some examples include:
- The Nest Mobile app (iOS/Android) lets you control your Nest Thermostat from your smartphone over W-iFi or the cellular network. The Nest Thermostat is getting a lot of attention, because one of the original Apple iPod designers is behind the product.
- Honeywell Connect Comfort includes an Android app and iOS app that enable Honeywell thermostat owners to view and change heating/cooling settings, view/change system fan settings (in supported thermostats), and view/change humidifier/dehumidifier settings. It also includes thermostat alerts.
These smart thermostats are available in most markets. However, you may need to check your wiring to ensure that you can replace your current thermostat with one of these new smart thermostats.
Smartphones as buffer against connected home fragmentation
Cable providers are the primary provider of Connected Home services for consumers, but there is growing lineup of third-party manufacturers releasing Connected Home products that have their own smartphone apps. For example:
- Belkin WeMo Motion has a free iOS app available from the App Store that lets you control the WeMo Switch and WeMo Motion.
- Netgear VueZone, a remote video monitoring solution, includes free iPhone and Android apps you can use to monitor your VueZone video cameras.
The smartphone saves you from yet another controller being lost in your couch cushions or misplaced by your children or spouse.
M2M and Smartphones lead to the connected home
Smartphones and M2M make the Connected Home a reality that is both very possible and usable for all smartphone users in the house. Born from convenience, the adoption of M2M and smartphones for the connected home make for a compelling solution for consumers to enhance their home experience through better environmental, security, media access, and appliance controls.
For a comprehensive look at the issues and technologies surrounding the Internet of Things and the emerging M2M ecosystem, check out ZDNet's latest feature page, Tapping M2M: The Internet of Things.
Will Kelly is a technical and marketing communications writer based in the Washington, DC area. He has written about SMB technology, data center management, project management applications, mobile computing, Microsoft Office, and productivity applications for online and print technology publications. You can reach Will at firstname.lastname@example.org.