Smart home technology is finally leaving the “Tinker Toy” phase and becoming a viable solution for average consumers. Samsung wants to be a part of that revolution, which is why, last year, it bought SmartThings, a smart home technology startup with a very open view.
Now SmartThings is ready to ship its first product line since being gobbled up by the consumer electronics giant.
On Thursday at IFA 2015, SmartThings introduced a fresh line of slimmed-down sensors for water, presence and motion and a much smarter hub. The company also gave its app an overhaul, making it easier to manage all the products you connect to the SmartThings hub. The app can automatically assign actions for tripped sensors or users can go in and easily program if-then actions. In a brief demo I got, it all looked pretty easy. There are also thousands of custom-build apps from the user community.
The new hub has a more powerful processor for video monitoring, as well as a 10-hour battery backup. The latter allows the hub to basically operate a small network on its own — without the need for power or an Internet connection, which means it can continue to monitor battery-powered sensors and send alerts to you as soon as connectivity is restored.
One of the hub’s most powerful new features, though, is its video monitoring capability, which SmartThings is implementing with some care.
“We wanted to be thoughtful about it because we saw a lot of security and privacy things [with these kinds of devices],” SmartThings CEO Alex Hawkinson told me. “An always on streaming eye is concerning for people,” he said.
As a result, SmartThings’s hub collects the video stream, but does not send it to the cloud unless you specifically request a livestream through the app or if something happens that triggers an alert (a door opens when you’re not home). In that case, the hub will securely push just the portion of the video related to the incident to the cloud so you can view it.
For access to unlimited clips from an unlimited number of cameras, SmartThings will charge $4.99. Still in beta, the video feature currently only connects to D-Link and Samsung cameras.
That’s atypical for SmartThings, which actually supports over 200 smart devices, many of them from third-party companies including Cree Honeywell, Schlage, Yale and First Alert. SmartThings can do this because, Hawkinson explained, they’re “connectivity agnostic” and support everything from Wi-Fi and ZigBee to Z-Wave and Bluetooth. They even support cloud-to-cloud connections.
The key, said Hawkinson, is that they’re open and ready to adopt all future protocols. “We hope the open model is winning. It’s certainly the best one for consumers.”
There are exceptions. SmartThings does not support Apple HomeKit. “We love Apple products generally — half of our users are using iOS and we have an Apple Watch app,” said Hawkinson.
But the new hub is not HomeKit compatible and the reasons are two-fold. First of all, Hawkinson said it’s too soon. There aren’t enough HomeKit products in the market. Those that are out there already support SmartThings natively. And there’s Apple’s approach: “Our other hesitation is the proprietary nature of HomeKit. We like most open.”
The SmartThings hub goes on sale in the U.S. today (and the UK 10 days from now) for $99. Sensors cost between $30 and $55 apiece.
Samsung is also making a bigger bet on quantified human space, introducing a new sleep monitoring solution called SleepSense. The flat, circular device slides under your mattress and monitors heart and respiratory rate during sleep. A connected app will give you your sleep quality reports. SleepSense is also a connected device and can work with other third-party smart home systems like the SmartThings hub so, for example, it can turn off a connected television when SleepSense senses that you have actually fallen asleep.
Pricing and availability have not been announced.