Will Google’s Android@Home bring home automation to the mainstream?

As part of Google I/O 2011, Google announced Android@Home which brings automation to your home. There have been plenty of technologies like X10, Insteon, ZigBee, and Z-Wave that have tried to get home automation to the mainstream, but it has never happened.

Google is not really coming up with anything new here. People who have implemented the above systems can do what Google is touting. For example, with my Android phone, I can turn on lights, set my thermostat, open/close my garage, and much more. I can do any of those things from anywhere in the world.

My overall observations come from using Insteon which I have been slowly implementing in my house for a few months now. The 2 biggest reasons that home automation has not taken off is price and complication.

As far as price goes, plug in lamp modules cost about $35 and light switches cost about $45. As you can see, this is not cheap if you are looking into implementing your entire house.

Now as far as complication goes, there are 2 elements. The first is installation. The plug in modules are easy, but a lot of people are not comfortable replacing light switches. The second item is the programming. To me, the programming is not hard, but if you remember the old VCR days, most people never set the timer on them because they just didn’t get it.

In order for Android@Home to be successful it needs to win on price and complication. I think they will eventually win on price, but complication is going to be tough. As far as price, the only item we know of is a light bulb made by Lighting Science that will be available later this year. The cost is expected to be around $30.00. This does not seem cheaper since you need to replace all bulbs. For example, if a set of 3 or 4 lights were wired to the same switch, it would cost you $90 to $120 to replace the bulbs. With Insteon all you would need to do is buy a light switch for $45. Changing the bulbs does take away the factor of fooling around with electrical wires, but at a bigger cost. Ultimately, the costs will come down so I don’t think we need to be overly concerned with it. It is also likely there will be light switch replacements offered, but again this leads to consumers fooling around with electrical wires which they may not want to do.

What about programming? This is where things get interesting. Controlling your lights on your phone is cool, but home automation is not really about that. It is about setting timers, making sure your lights are off if they are left on, and setting lighting scenes. Lighting scenes let you activate dramatic lighting moods with the press of just one button. For example, you can set all your lights in a scene to dim to 50% when watching a movie, or turn certain lights on while turning others off. All of this requires programming. This is where Google has its biggest challenge. Mainstream consumers just don’t like setting all of these things up, and believe me there are a lot of cool things you can do with the programming. A lot of this programming can help defray your energy costs.

One major thing Google has on its side is its name. Consumers do not recognize Insteon or ZigBee. Google is recognizable so more consumers will look into it. On the other hand, people may be skeptical that Google will know too much about them. For example, will Google know that you have left the house or could a thief somehow find out?

What all this comes down to is the Android ecosystem and how it will truly dominate. Google has built a platform that is totally open sourced so it has the ability to grow leaps and bounds with developer support. Some of these concepts and ideas will take off and others won’t. I am leery that Android@Home will take off, but then again we don’t have enough information about it. Whether it is a huge hit or not does not matter, something else will. What we know for sure it that Google’s Android is on a seriously fast freight train with no end in sight.

About the Author: Robert Nazarian

Robert lives in upstate New York where he was born and raised. Technology was always his passion. His first computer was a Radio Shack TRS80 Color that used a cassette tape to save programs, and his first laptop was a Toshiba T1200FB that sported a CGA greyscale screen and two 720kb floppy drives (no hardrive). From the early 90’s through late 2011, he only owned Motorola phones starting with the MircroTAC all the way through to the Droid X. He broke that streak when he bought the Galaxy Nexus. Now he's sporting a Galaxy Note 4, and absolutely loves it. He has a wonderful wife and a 6 year old son. In his free time he enjoys sports, movies, TV, working out, and trying to keep up with the rapid fast world of technology.

  • JPB

    Google I/O 2001?

  • Tony Hedges

    as far as lights are concerned, is it not possible (in theory) to have some i/o device that plugs in in-between the bulb and the fixture, this can then be wirelessly incorporated into the system. Might prove to be cheaper in the long-run. Its like NFC. Your phone doesn’t need it in it per se, just get a NFC keyring and link that to your phone, and jobs a good-un!

    As Captain Picard would say, theres more than one way to pickle a beetroot.

  • Schwin97

    I hadn’t thought that the lightbulb is what has the ‘smarts’ to connect with the phone, but that does open more possibilities if the price is close to other LED lightbulbs. What I see is the ability to combine NFC with this technology to easily link lightbulbs with locations based on the NFC in the bulb or the packaging for the bulb. So when you go to install a bulb, you hold your phone to it and then assign the bulb to a ‘room’. Then the phone has an application to light a room – or go even further and use GPS on the phone (thinking tasker) to turn on lights when I get closer to home or if GPS was good enough to turn on lights to the rooms I am in…? Maybe also use NFC/Bluetooth receivers within rooms to determine where I am in the house to determine what lights should be on and off?

  • Schwin97

    Also it looks like these lightbulbs will be a comparable price to other LED bulbs. So look to spend 20-30 per bulb versus 100 as stated in the article. The amount per bulb is even less than the switches you were talking about…

    • I mention in the article that the bulbs cost $30, but if you have 3 or 4 bulbs tied to one switch, you have to pay $90 to $120 to change the bulbs. If you instead replace the light switch it will be $45. Of course you have to fool around with the electrical. The prices of the bulbs will come down in time anyways.

  • I’ve had x10 stuff in my house for years now. I rewired switches, etc. While it is nice for impressing visitors, I’ve found that most people really don’t care about it in day-to-day use. They want to flip a switch.

    One of you mentioned NFC for light bulbs to turn them on when you enter a room… Motion sensors with x10 already kind of take care of this. I chose x10 because it was super cheap. I got three switches for like $20 off ebay. I got a wireless system and a motion sensor all for around $30 of ebay too.

    There has been an opensource program for controlling all of this, which is even usable from a smartphone, called misterhouse. Its been around for years as well.

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  • What are you comments regarding this article:
    Google caught cheating in Android@Home demo –

  • net thermostats are awesome. Today there is no issue if i forget AC powered on.

  • grayson

    I agree that this can add up in price, but it may be worth it in my opinion. I also came across sabines smart home products, you guys should check it out. They have some cheap home automation products. http://sabinessmarthome.com