F5 Networks was added today to the S&P 500 Index, joining an exclusive club of Washington companies already listed including Amazon, Costco, Expedia, Expeditors International, Microsoft, Nordstrom, PACCAR. Starbucks, Nordstrom, Plum Creek Timber and Weyerhaeuser. F5's shareprice has been on a tear boosted by the growing popularity of cloud computing. The company's shareprice soared by another 3 percent Friday, ending the day valued at a whopping $11.6 billion. Who might be next? Maybe Dendreon. The company, whose treatment for prostate cancer treatment recently received FDA approval, has seen its public valuation soar to nearly $6 billion, up more than 500 percent from just a couple of years ago.
Most of Digital Home Northwest’s work is retrofitting existing buildings. The consensus among builders has been that they don’t want to spend the money wiring houses for smart devices without knowing if the buyer will want them. But Thoren is trying to push builders to add wires that will later make it easier to install smart home systems.
“If you’re going to build something for a client in a high-tech city, you should be thinking about pre-wiring,” he says. “Adding a couple thousand dollars of wiring and just leaving it in the walls so it can be used really makes sense.”
While Wi-Fi capability has become standard in the home, video cameras and motion detectors for security can easily eat up the bandwidth available.
“It’s a bucket,” Thoren says of the basic wireless router, “and the more devices that drink out of the bucket, the less water you have.”
Craig Abplanalp, president of Definitive Audio in Bellevue, says he sees increasing demand for smart home technologies. His company has broadened its expertise from audio and video to include systems for controlling operations such as lighting, motorized window coverings, air conditioning and heating. Abplanalp says the company’s work is split between new construction and retrofits.
“Right now, there is a lot of new construction,” he observes, “but Seattle is somewhat landlocked [in terms of available land for new construction], so there is also a lot of retrofitting. A lot of the residential work is in a home that in many cases is being torn down to the studs. It’s really a rebuild.”
Abplanalp senses a big shift from the early days of the movement toward smart homes.
“All of the pioneers in new technology use their early adopters as beta testers,” he says. “A lot of the products were really not ready for mass consumption.”
He says that dynamic is changing. Where Definitive Audio’s specialists used to have to do a lot of custom programming to get systems to play nicely together, there are now free vendor apps that handle the tasks. “What the average person will pay for programming is an ever-declining amount,” Abplanalp asserts.
Digital Home Northwest's system for a connected home incorporates smartphone linkage (1) to a door station keypad (2), a 10-inch touch screen (3) controlling audio, video, climate and security camera (4). The screen also monitors musical entertainment (5).
Industry insiders say that two emerging trends — standardization and modular design — are going to push smart home technologies to adoption by broader markets.
Deako, for example, designed its lighting system to work on standard house wiring, with communications between switches and the user control — a smartphone — taking place via Bluetooth. “Our technology can work in any home as long as it has modern wiring,” says Richardson.
What’s more, the Deako switches are modular, with all the “smartness” contained in the switch. A builder can install either dumb switches or smart switches in the Deako receptacle. This allows the builder, with minimal investment, to give the homebuyer the choice of upgrading to smart lighting.
Just as important, says Patel, is the move toward standardization, which makes it easier for consumers to get devices to work with each other. “There are so many systems out there now and it’s hard to know which one to start with, and they don’t all interoperate,” says Patel. “Consumers are overwhelmed.”
Patel expects “a lot more cooperation among companies in the industry to make their stuff more compatible.” He points to a recent collaboration between Amazon and Sonos, a maker of high-end wireless speakers, as an example.
Patel says that one more thing is needed: “a killer user experience.” He says devices that let parents know when their kids get home or that remotely lock and unlock doors are the kinds of emerging technologies that will open broader consumer markets.
“You have to get people hooked and get them thinking about what the real convenience factor is,” Patel asserts. “I think we’re just getting to that point.”
Heather and Jeff Thoren own Digital Home Northwest in Federal Way.
Crandall believes one killer application may already have been created. It’s just that consumers aren’t quite ready for it. Internet-connected smart home sensors and smartphone apps are ideal, he says, for monitoring the health of elderly people and helping them stay in their homes longer, rather than having to move into assisted living or nursing facilities.
“But those people who are 70-plus right now own almost no smartphones,” Crandall says, adding that they also often don’t have internet connections in their homes.
The demographics, however, are changing. “The largest age group in the United States by about 2030 will be 65-plus,” Crandall says. “We do not have the nurses and physicians to do classic senior care, so we need tools to keep people in their homes longer.”
Since the next generation of seniors is more familiar with smartphones, Crandall expects smart home technology, especially as applied to elder care, to finally come into its own.