Smartphones loom large in Lowes’ plans.
Lowes is rebooting its Iris home automation platform. There are two big differences: the new system is mobile-centric and it was developed in-house with support for Qualcomm’s open source AllJoyn protocols, according to a company spokesman at CES Unveiled this evening.
The platform, which currently supports about 70 products ranging from light switches to thermostats to hot water heaters, is now controlled primarily via an app that’s available for both the iOS and Android operating systems. The first generation system was accessed via a web portal.
Lowes is still cagey about technical details, but it appears that the heavy lifting is being done on its servers. Low power devices – which comprise most of the product line – talk to the hub via Z-wave, Zigbee or Bluetooth protocols (WiFi is also supported), the hub shoots the data to Lowes’ servers via the Internet, and then the servers talk to the mobile app. Bigger, less power consumption-sensitive products skip the hub completely and talk directly to the servers via WiFi (and a home router, of course).
In other words, home automation smarts are moving inexorably to the cloud. Rather than building smart hubs – that need to be configured and operated by sometimes not so smart consumers – the industry is combining hardware with an ongoing service, and only using hubs as communications relays for low power radios. Lowes offers the basic Iris service for free, but charges $10 a month for premium support. The company won’t release any subscriber figures, but if the rollout is any indication, consumer enthusiasm is less than awesome. The spokesman said that it’s available in about 1,500 Lowes stores in the U.S., which is around 80% of the total. That’s despite a pledge at last year’s CES to get it into all of their stores in 2015.