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Ecobee’s Switch+: a Sign of Things to come in the Smart Home

by Jack Narcotta | Jul 18, 2018

The next stage in the evolution of the smart home, it would appear, won’t be about placing more Echo Dots (or Google Home Minis, for that matter) around a home. It will be about fully integrating voice assistants into the electronics, appliances, and other devices used every day by consumers: light switches, ovens, thermostats, cameras, televisions, and more.

No longer confined just to Echo smart speakers, Echo Spot, or Echo Show, Amazon is working with a select group of partners to integrate full Alexa hardware and software into Ecobee’s Switch+ smart light switch or its ecobee4 smart thermostat, LG’s InstaView refrigerator, Kohler’s Verdera smart mirror, and Sonos’ One smart speaker.

What’s Different about Ecobee’s Approach?

The Switch+ isn’t a just light switch that works with Alexa; there are already dozens, if not hundreds of those. This is a light switch with a complete Alexa hub built into it; take apart an Amazon Echo smart speaker, put those internal components – microphone, speaker, and all – next to a slew of Ecobee components and house it all in a UL-listed single-pole light switch, and you get the idea.

Amazon is the platform of choice for the Switch+, but like other Ecobee devices, the Switch+ also works with Google Assistant and Apple’s HomeKit. Additionally, the Switch+ can be connected to Samsung’s SmartThings platform and the device can be automated via the IFTTT (IF This Then That) online platform.

Why Does the Switch+ Matter?

It’s no longer enough to think about making devices and homes “smarter” by connecting them to Wi-Fi and enabling them to participate in a digital assistant ecosystem. It’s now about making a seemingly innocuous device such as a light switch an intelligent endpoint capable of understanding and issuing a wide range of smart home-related commands and tasks.

The potential for greater control and intelligence to understand more commands will open up new use cases for power users. It also showcases the potential of more advanced smart home technology for the mass market.

Increased computing capabilities and capacity in devices other than hubs provide opportunities for consumers to create scenes customized to their preferences. Device manufacturers can strengthen the value proposition of their devices by empowering the devices to automatically create scenarios based on consumers’ preferences.

What’s getting in the Way of Mass Market Adoption?

Strategy Analytics believes there are three factors that are among the largest obstacles getting in the way of more widespread proliferation of smart home devices such as the Switch+:

  • Price:
    • The $100 Switch+ is more than twice the price of comparable smart light switches from Lutron (Caseta) and Belkin (WeMo).
    • Many other smart light switches from a wide range of manufacturers compatible with Amazon Alexa and Google Assistant fall below $50, some into the range of $20 to $30.
  • Functionality and practicality:
    • Curiously, the Switch+ cannot dim conventional bulbs, unlike nearly every other smart light switch available on the market; the less expensive switches from Lutron and Belkin mentioned above can dim conventional bulbs. The Switch+ can dim Philips Hue smart bulbs via an Alexa command, but Hue bulbs come at a steep premium to conventional bulbs, further inflating the cost of a smart home lighting solution.
    • The Switch+ requires a neutral wire and works only with single-pole lights, so if a consumers’ home lacks neutral wiring, or is equipped with three- or four-way lighting where more than one switch controls a single light, the consumer is out of luck for the foreseeable future.
  • Timing:
    • The majority of the consumer market has yet to fully realize the capabilities of the smart speakers already in their homes as smart home control points, preferring the speakers to play music, answer question, and schedule tasks.

While the Switch+ is quite far out in front of consumer demand midway through 2018, it does show that devices with embedded sensors and intelligence such as the Switch+ are coming. However, until the obstacles noted above are addressed, the smarter smart home’s debut will need to wait a little longer.

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