While smart home tech is supposed to automate, simplify, and make the functionality of your living space more efficient, integrating more than two or three products quickly becomes a complicated mess--demanding a bunch of smartphone apps and an IT integrator's troubleshooting skills to manage it all.
The big tech vendors want to solve the fragmentation by, of course, wedging you into their ecosystem.
- A 7-inch multitouch control console
- A hub with radios that can connect to Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, Zigbee, Z-Wave, infrared, and proprietary hardware
- Software integrations with most of the major smart home products
- A unified UI that controls all major functions--without loading mobile apps
- Voice control that senses location inside the home and adapts automatically
- Built-in camera, microphone, and speakers
- A stylish aluminum chassis
Essentially, the addition of a unified touch interface that can talk to lots of different gear is what Atmos is counting on to make a difference.
"We all thought getting an Amazon Echo was going to solve all of our [smart home] problems, but so many people have reached out and said, 'Yeah, we'd really like to have something we could touch, because voice works well for a few things but it's not a complete solution," said Atmos CEO and co-founder Mark Lyle, in an interview with ZDNet.
The Atmos Smart Home Control System will cost $249 and Lyle told ZDNet that it's going to open for pre-orders at the end of February and will launch in the summer of 2018. On the Atmos site users can sign up to be notified when pre-orders go live.
What Atmos integrates with
Some of the smart home products and platforms that Atmos works with include:
- Philips Hue
- Lightwave RF
- Belkin Wemo
- Chamberlain MyQ
In most cases, the Atmos team has integrated these platforms using public APIs and developer kits. But in a few cases, they've had to work with some of the vendors more closely.
"Frankly, it's surprising to me that nobody's tried to solve it on the level that we have by now, because the tools are already there," said Lyle.
"We just feel like the right solution isn't a phone with a whole bunch of apps--or even a phone with a single app then having to add another piece of hardware in the form of a hub to your home," he said. "We felt like a single device should be able to make everything work together."
While providing a touch-based home console where anyone can control the functions of smart home devices without having to fish out their phone was important, the Atmos team acknowledged that voice is also making things easier in plenty of scenarios. So they looked for ways they could add value to what was already being offered by Alexa, Google Assistant, and Siri.
"We take it a step further," said Lyle. "Using some voice location technology that we've developed, we sense what room you're in and turn on the appropriate lights with the simple voice command, 'Okay Atmos, lights on,' and it will just turn on the appropriate room lights based on where you are."
To get the right lights to turn on with the Amazon, Google, and Apple solutions, you typically have to name your rooms and use keywords with your voice prompts.
SEE: Hiring kit: IoT developer (Tech Pro Research)
At CES 2018, Samsung announced that it was consolidating all of its Internet of Things devices onto the SmartThings platform, as TechRepublic reported in an interview with SmartThings CEO Alex Hawkinson.
Samsung's move could be seen as competitive to what Atmos is trying to accomplish--since SmartThings is an open platform that connects to many of the same products--or it could be seen as a wave that Atmos might be able to ride.
"SmartThings was really the first to recognize this [fragmentation] issue....While SmartThings does integrate a lot of your devices potentially, there isn't really an integrated user interface," said Lyle. "I see us being the interface that SmartThings never became."
For Atmos, video is also an important part of the equation.
"Whether it be a Ring smart doorbell, or a smart baby monitor, or security cameras, so many of our smart devices incorporate video now. So, it made sense to have a screen to be able to access those devices," said Lyle.
The Atmos touchscreen will have the capability of automatically popping up a video feed when triggered by someone at the door or movement from an indoor or outdoor IoT camera.
SEE: Samsung SmartThings CEO: Why our IoT platform is tops in security (TechRepublic)
What Atmos does best
While Atmos is going to be able to connect to a lot of different stuff right out of box, there are two things that it's likely to excel at:
It's easy for smart home customers to end up with a combination of different lighting solutions--from smart light bulbs to smart light switches to smart plugs for traditional lamps. Atmos integrates all of them into a single interface that it's designed to simplify setup and daily use. As mentioned earlier, it's also attempting to simplify voice control of lighting by layering in location sensing, so that you can tell it to turn on lights and it does it in the room you're in.
The Atmos focus on lighting can also be seen in the fact that it's releasing its own smart switch (right) that features a touch panel about the size of smartphone screen.
"We integrate with all of the major smart home lighting brands, but we want to be as intuitive as possible," said Lyle. "So, we not only have our Smart Home Control Panel, but also have our Smart Light Switch product that we are debuting at the same time."
The product's official name is the Atmos Expand Smart Light Switch and Lyle told ZDNet that it will cost $129 and will be available only as a single-gang switch at launch, but they are working on two- and three-gang switch versions as well. In addition to the touch-based lighting controls, the smart switch will also let users control other smart home functions like playing and pausing music or turning down the thermostat, directly from the light switch.
"We're trying to give you access to your most frequently used controls in any room in the house," said Lyle.
Similarly, the company is also releasing the Atmos Surround Smart Speaker, which will cost $179.
"We wanted to develop a higher end speaker that was still intelligent, because Echos are famous for being pretty bad speakers," Lyle said. "We have a small touch screen on top of the smart speaker that gives you access to some of the core smart home functions... So you don't have to add a smart switch to every room. You could add a smart speaker to a couple of rooms."
For sound, Atmos will do some integrations with Spotify, Sonos, Apple TV, Amazon FireTV, and a few others. But since some of users' music is going to have to come out of closed ecosystems that don't have APIs, users will likely have to connect to mobile devices via Bluetooth to stream from services like Apple Music, Google Play Music, and Amazon Music.
What Atmos is missing
The biggest thing that Atmos won't have in the 1.0 release is integration with security systems. That's a big deal since security is always at the top of the list of the reasons people invest in smart home technology. Still, the smart home customers that Atmos is most likely to appeal to at first is early-adopter DIY enthusiasts who already have a lot of smart home gear and want a better interface. And since it will connect with security cameras and display them on-screen, it does have a few security capabilities.
Nevertheless, Lyle admitted that deeper security system integration will have to come later on the roadmap.
"We don't necessarily want to market ourselves as a complete security solution right out of the box," he said. "We'll go through those integrations with Simplisafe, Alarm.com, Ring and so forth. Those are very much on our radar... but we don't want to add a huge amount of complexity to our first release."
The road ahead
Lyle has a background in hardware, software, and automation engineering. He's built satellite guidance systems for NASA, cellular infrastructure equipment, factory automation robots, and tablet and smartphone apps. He previously co-founded a radio frequency communications startup that was acquired by a public company in 2008.
In early 2016, Lyle started working on Atmos with co-founder Chris Ladwig, an award-winning art designer and product design specialist. Ladwig has spent a lot of his time working in creative agencies and digital marketing, specializing in branding and packaging. Lyle credits Ladwig for the UI design that Atmos is counting on to streamline the smart home experience.
Lyle said he plans to grow the team to five over the next month as they gear up for manufacturing.
One of the ways that the company is seeding interest in Atmos ahead of the opening for pre-orders and the official product launch mid-year is with an international equity crowdfunding campaign on StartEngine. Unlike Kickstarter or Indiegogo, people who subscribe to a campaign on StartEngine become legal investors in the company. The StartEngine investors from level three upwards will also get an early look at a pre-release beta version of the Atmos console. The campaign has quietly raised over $75,000 (from a goal of $10,000-$107,000) and will remain open through March 19.
With IoT devices on track to reach $25 billion in sales by 2020 (and $13B of that going to home devices), there's room in the market for Atmos to establish itself as the connective tissue between a lot of these solutions. Still, going up against the brand power and market awareness of Apple, Amazon, Google, and Samsung is an uphill task. The best hope for Atmos at the start is probably riding along with the open platform mojo that Samsung is fueling with SmartThings.
Lyle admitted, "It's pretty ambitious what we are trying to accomplish, but we feel like it really is the biggest problem in the space."
- Comcast: How AI, machine learning, DevOps, and a bit of hardware may make it a smart home platform (ZDNet)
- Comcast: Can it be the smart home platform? (ZDNet)
- CES 2018: Samsung is moving everything to SmartThings to create an open IoT juggernaut (TechRepublic)
- CES 2018: Qualcomm unveils smart home hub collaboration with Google (ZDNet)
- CEO explains how SmartThings IoT platform is moving from the home to the enterprise (TechRepublic)
- Apple HomePod finally coming to stores: Can it win the smart speaker privacy war? (TechRepublic)
- Google's Home Max smart speaker is now available for $399 (ZDNet)
- 94% of smart speakers used today are from Amazon or Google (TechRepublic)