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The Smart Home movement lights up

A Leviton smart-home pro has reasons to believe the future looks bright for the connected home.

BY Ken Clark

Greg Rhoades has been marketing smart homes to consumers for 14 years. And according to the director of marketing for Leviton Energy Management Controls and Automation – translation: “all things smart” — people are beginning to see the light in a way that bodes well for the connected-home movement.

There is historical precedent to be optimistic for the future of smart homes, he said.

Young home buyers, Rhoades said, “are beginning to demand technology just as the homebuyers in the post-war 50s began expecting residential air conditioning and their predecessors expected knob and tube wiring for the new light bulb. We’ve finally hit that point of critical mass where people innately understand the benefits that a product can bring to their lifestyle.”

The Leviton DW15S smart switch.

The change can be seen on actual blueprints, where builders have dubbed WiFi as the “fourth utility,” and identifying the location of wireless access points in the plans

The proliferation of WiFi is powering the movement, along with improved simplicity and some powerful market leaders. The disparate systems – call it the “hub” or the “gateway” or the “bridge” — that used to serve as the brain of the smart home are no longer necessary. In its place comes an era of plug-and-play simplicity.

“We’re considering the ‘hub’ as a piece of legacy equipment,” he said. “What really happened is WiFi has exploded as a real home automation standard. We don’t need that box, because we can do all the heavy lifting in the cloud.“

Lowe’s decision to abandon its Iris smart home system can be viewed as one result of this trend. Similiarly, Stringify recently announced its plans to close down operations of its iPhone app built to control and connect multiple smart home devices.

WiFi’s power has also led to the  emergence of the smart home front runners Amazon and Google and their voice activated speakers to play a central role in the WiFi enabled smart home. (“Amazon is the leader, and Google is doing an amazing job trying to leap frog Amazon,” Rhoades said.) And in this environment manufacturers have the new ability to focus on their specific products, as opposed to a whole-house system.

“Now, I can worry about making the best light switch, as opposed to all that other stuff,” he said.

In Leviton’s case, a recent focus is on a smart switch used to control outside lights, fans, pumps, and –the most common application, he said – the front porch light. The Leviton DW15S-1BZ Decora Smart Wi-Fi 15A Universal LED/Incandescent Switch is compatible with Amazon Alexa and Google Assistant. Note this key phrase in its marketing material: “No hub required.”

Leviton intends to push product to a higher degree of “smart” by building Alexa into the light switch itself, thus eliminating the need for even a speaker tower on the counter. “You’ll just speak directly to the dimmer,” he said. The all-in cost of this more sophisticated product will be about the same as the current model (plus the cost of an Amazon Echo Dot.)

In the words of Leviton, the smart home movement’s new simplicity can be described this way: “If you have WiFi and a smartphone, you can now have a smart home.”

Many of the products and applications pushing the smart-home movement forward are in the lighting category. And there’s a reason for that, said Rhoades.

“Lighting is immediate and it’s experiential, it’s sudden,” he said. “And it’s pervasive throughout the house. That’s one reason so many people gravitate to smart lighting.”

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