Home Automation Vector

In the SmartThings Is Over thread, some statements were made that home automation is dead, or has no adoption, or that Google and Apple have or will have won. That’s not fully on-topic for the thread, so onto a new thread…

I started with home automation as a young teen in the late 1970s, using the BSR X10 system from Radio Shack. It was pretty common and actually not all that much weaker than SmartThings. By the mid-1980s, you could use timers, ladder-logic (cascading conditions) and sensors to do things like, If my door sensor goes off, If sunset has passed, If it’s before midnight, Turn on the porch light.

Okay, a bit geeky, but reasonably popular. Both Radio Shack and Sears, two huge retailers back then, carried them prominently.

The Clapper was heavily advertised around 1998 or so, and ExtendaSwitch remotes (a remote wall mounted or handheld lightswitch and a plug-in module) have been common in hardware stores for over 20 years. Those too are home automation.

Most of us aren’t the sweet spot. I used to write for a long-gone Home Automation magazine, and I wrote a complex plug-in for HomeSeer many years ago. So I can look at SmartThings and say, there’s nothing new here, and what there is, isn’t reliable. And the lack of reliability is a real problem. But what’s new with SmartThings (and Wink, etc., relative to the past) is that for $100, you get:

  • The processing hub. You don’t need to dedicate a home PC to it
  • Multiple radios. Each interface (Z-Wave, UPB, Insteon, X10, Zigbee,…) used to come separately and require an additional plug-in if allowed at all.
  • Phone interface. We carry the phones with us all the time; being able to monitor and control the system via smart phone is a change, and was still an expensive complicated add-on just three years ago to HomeSeer, the most expensive and powerful system on the common market.

Just three years ago, this level of functionality would have run you over $500 from HomeSeer, as you’d need the base program, the PC or their box, multiple modules, the plug-ins (HomeSeer only gave you Z-Wave; you’d pay for Zigbee) and the update to the web building app; no phone app existed (and still doesn’t, I suspect.)

I’m not defending SmartThings here. The reliability has been disastrous for me, as has their odd developer support approach of simply deleting approval requests, but I’m betting many of us have speech control, in via Amazon Echo, and out via my own LANNouncer Speech Engine (website here) or other mechanisms, done in spare hobby time rather than requiring a huge time investment (well, except for me writing LANNouncer, of course.)

Microsoft brought a “Smart Home” demo to CES in 1999. The big guys have been hopping on the bandwagon for a long time.But I’m not seeing that the HA market has stalled or that Google / Apple owning it. Most of us probably have our Echo (Alexa) integrated into our systems, and yet none of us would say Amazon is part of our home automation. Many of us have the SmartThings app running on our Android or iPad/iPhone, and yet again we don’t think of Google or Apple as being involved in that.

The change starts with us, the early adopters and enthusiasts.


Great points all around… But I will say Alexa is in my HA, and actually, my HA is based around the voice control.


We had that in the 70s too… "Kid, switch to channel 4! :sunglasses:


Excellent post. :sunglasses:

I do agree with @bamarayne as well – – I definitely consider the echo as a home automation device at our house. The only reason we got additional Dots (we’re up to three now) was for home automation purposes. So Home automation isn’t really an add on to those for us the way it is to the smart phones. I’m sure it will be for some people, but many people who are already interested in home automation add a google home or Amazon echo in order to get voice control.

Adoption Rates are Higher than we think

Also, at this point most US homes do have a two or $300 piece of home automation equipment which is used solely for convenience: the automated garage door. If you were considering buying a house and the garage door opener was broken or it is never had one, you would probably expect it to be fixed before you moved in. :wink:

Adoption Challenges

For me the most interesting one from a market standpoint is motion sensor lighting. Very popular outdoors for driveways and pathways. I’ll kinds of price points and complexity. But the adoption rate drops off dramatically just before the front porch. So the question is why?

I personally think it’s because of the complexity of setting up motion sensing that works when there are multiple means of control, including a manual switch, and that works when there are people sitting still in the room. This is just a much more complex problem then the driveway light that comes on as you’re walking past. It’s also a use case where different people may want different results.


I’m fascinated by Amazon reviews that will give a home automation device three stars because it doesn’t have features that that particular reviewer wanted to have – – even when those are features that I myself wouldn’t want. There’s one reviewer who takes a star off for every contact sensor that doesn’t have a built in siren, even though there are quite a few people, like me, or use a contact sensor for purposes where a siren would be inappropriate. And you don’t want to pay extra for a feature we would never use. The whole “you should be able to… It would be easy…” argument.

The Impulse Buy

I’m also intrigued by people who think $800 is a whole lot more than $200 to pay for a home automation controller. Because my initial research was looking at environmental control systems for people in wheelchairs, I tend to divide systems into the “under $1500,” “under $5000,” “Under $15,000,” and “$15,000-$75,000” categories. So for me, homeseer and smartthings and HomeKit and Insteon are all in the same price tier. But I recognize that there are a lot of people in these forums who draw a sharp line between controllers under $200 and controllers over $200. I’m not sure how much impact that has on the market, but I bet it has some. I guess maybe under $200 becomes an impulse buy at Best Buy?


Anyway, I just find it all interesting. I’m not sure Home automation for complex use cases can really expand until we can solve the “what is a room” problem. With the exception of IR controls, pretty much everything being used for home automation goes through walls. Which is good in terms of total costs, but significantly complicates many use cases because people think in terms of rooms. We can do micro location at the room level now, but it requires at least three devices in a room to triangulate position, and that significantly adds cost and complexity.

I do think voice controlled lighting and voice controlled Home theater set ups will have a much wider adoption within two years. People like them, they are practical, and the use cases can be kept pretty simple. And generally the prices can be kept in that impulse buy tier.

I’m just wondering if the much more complex stuff, like many of the members of this forum are already doing, have to wait until we get less expensive microlocation technology to allow for room by room rules. We’ll see. :sunglasses:


Ooh! I forgot about the garage door! Good one! (Although dishwashers and laundry machines fit vaguely into that category too.)

I agree about the price buckets. Home Automation for most people seems to fall into the impulse rather than the infrastructure price range, and $199 seems to be the upper limit of that initial outlay. Which, for a home entertainment system, isn’t that big a problem; you can upgrade core pieces easily over time. Need better sound from the TV? Add a sound bar. Then switch to a receiver and some speakers. Then buy a better receiver. Then upgrade the TV. All pretty easy to do. We can do that by adding sensors and modules, but upgrading the HA hub is a serious effort.

For what it’s worth, with SmartThings, microlocation isn’t my problem… even macro-location doesn’t work. I gave up on SHM because the presence sensor portion of the app was too unreliable.

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There are some other forms of HA that aren’t full-blown connected HA that a lot of people have, too, in the same line as the garage door opener.

Crock-pots that switch to Warm automatically. This feature is automated so that the food doesn’t overcook.The older versions with dials didn’t do this, but newer digital ones tend to have this convenience feature.

Robotic vacuum cleaners. Roomba is by far the biggest name, but there are plenty of others, most of which aren’t connected, but can still be scheduled onboard.

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Please don’t read what I am going to post as “I am better at HA than you.”…

1 - I like ST
2 - I think they could do way better
3 - I have 7 echo devices (1 echo, 6 dots) and they play a small role in my HA. I prefer to have the house respond to me and my wife and son. We rarely touch switches or ask Alexa to do anything.

3 is likely easier for me with a small family. Almost 200 devices with plenty to spare when I want to automate something.

Wow, Eric, 200 devices! Seven Echos? Is there a story behind this? Envious minds want to know!

I usually just buy them when they are on sale. For example gettin 20+ lowes iris smart plugs for $7.50 each.

My wife is really into it so I get no complaints from her when I buy more.


Logged in just so I could “heart” this.

Not taken that way at all!!! I love hearing others use cases… because every single person and system is unique… and the way we interact with them.

I have 3 echos and 6 dots… one in almost every room. I have connected speakers and my family of 9 send messages, reminders, alerts, and all kinds of stuff all over the house. They are in use constantly. Plus there is a ton of automation… at about 180 devices now and growing.

I love my HA… my family is indifferent but they put up with it… They act that way, but they love it too.

HA has a long way to go, but with the price point it is at now and the advancements in technology, eventually it will be what we dream of.


Oh so true! :smiley:

I won’t read it that way, because clearly I am better at HA than you!!!

The reality is that it becomes about preference at that point. You like automations that respond to your presence, while we like voice control because it’s more flexible in any moment.

Yes ALL the automations could be waaay better. That’s a function of time at this point.