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.