It’s the future of tech – a direction where heavyweights Google, Amazon and Microsoft are heading. Amazon has Echo, Google has Home and Nest and now Microsoft is reportedly rolling out Home Hub app for Windows PCs. The latest development reinforces the fact that the world’s legacy companies are putting all their might behind smart home technology. Or should we say home automation or even Smart Home as a Service (SHaaS)? Is the nomenclature interchangeable or are they two sides of the same coin?
Before we get the record straight here’s some lowdown on the smart home industry in India. Do a random Google search on smart homes in India and you will find a host of home automation start-ups such as Oakter, Inoho and Cubical Labs, anchored mostly out of Noida and Bangalore that offer start-up kits with simple components that enables users to control a bunch of devices all through a single app.
So the question, begging to be asked is what is a smart home exactly? Smart home is not about a bunch of disparate devices connected together but a home which is outfitted with wireless technology (for eg: ZigBee, the most popular wireless technology) that enable devices to communicate with each other and can be remotely controlled through a single app. Case in point, a smart home owner can access his security system, home theatre, control lighting or switch off the air conditioning through his phone, via a single app.
Now, the second most important factor that makes a smart home is: installation of smart devices that are compatible with that protocol. The homeowner can add more devices and hardware at his convenience and even make simple smart home upgrades. All of the above, when packaged together can be termed as SHaaS.
However, most home automation startups in India are offering product based solutions tailored to home security, home entertainment, lighting, door lock and even curtain control. For eg: Cubical Labs has Cubical Switch that sits behind the switchboard and allows you to control the appliances on that panel. Inoho has a home automation kit with three basic components such as home controlle, a switchboard module and an app that allows you to access devices from phone, laptop or tablet. The consumer can control only a number of devices.
So, where do SHaaS and Home Automation exactly differ? IoT India Mag spoke to two industry insiders – Ashish James, Customer Development Head from Oakter and Deepankar Garg, co-founder of Inoho Smart Home Solutions in a very insightful chat.
What is the difference between SHaaS and Home automation?
Oakter: SHaaS is a different business model from home automation. As the name suggests it is IoT-based home automation devices on a subscription basis instead of capital expenditure. This concept has gained popularity in recent times due to success of new home automation entrant in US called Vivint.
Inoho: SaaS and “software product buy” is the same technology but with two different pricing. In SaaS, the pricing is usually usage-based and the software is hosted on the cloud, whereas in a “product buy “, the software runs on a local server. Similarly, SHaaS and Home automation are two different ways of selling the same underlying product and service. The primary difference is in the business model and pricing. SHaas allows for variable pricing, and reduces the CAPEX.
Is SHaaS (a unified platform that consolidates all technology options including protocols, maintenance and upgrade) while Home Automation is product driven (Home Security, Appliances, Lighting)
Oakter: In SHaaS, you have to maintain the devices, the server and provide maintenance etc. Since hardware cost is going down it’s more about the services provided. From the customer perspective, it could be more useful since they don’t have to bear the high initial investment.
Inoho: Maintenance and upgrades are the key defining factor, but then again, SHaaS is the same concept as “home automation” and there are annual maintenance contracts.
How far-off are we in terms of technology to make SHaaS a reality in India?
Oakter: More than technology, the barrier is in making the products as per Indian conditions. Unfortunately, most of the products are imported from China and are designed as per Chinese or American lifestyle. According to our experience, the average Indian consumer is not convinced with the value of home automation. A new user might be ready to take a plunge to try it but they are not ready to have a monthly fee as of now. Products needs to be developed which have importance in life of Indian consumers.
What are the major roadblocks to both – ShaaS and Home automation?
Oakter: Like I said earlier, products needs to be designed for the Indian environment. Few startups are doing good work in that direction however most are importing products from China. Although importing hardware from China and developing software and firmware as per Indian conditions might work but not much work is happening in that direction.
Inoho: I believe steep cost of the product is a major roadblock at the moment.
Lot of talk about Home Automation having the potential to be the next technology revolution but it has little consumer awareness?
Oakter: There is a lot of talk especially in the US market. The recent acquisition of Nest and success of Amazon Echo has provided a big impetus. The change is happening, however I feel everyone is waiting for Google or Amazon or Apple to become a big success in US in this space and then expand to Indian market. However, people don’t realize that Indian lifestyle and Indian homes are substantially different from US homes. The problem needs to be solved ground up in India, it will take more time than people expect. However once it happens, our homes will change like offices changed after PC and software came.
Can we say that in India, Home Automation has the potential to grow into SHaaS?
Oakter: First, products have to evolve around the Indian ecosystem and then a suitable business model can come later.
Inoho: Yes, ShaaS is a win-win for all parties involved, home automation has the potential to grow into SHaaS.
What are the major components or must haves to implement SHaaS or home automation in your house? (is it electrical wiring, home gateway, sensors etc)
Inoho: Today, the hardware for a smart home needs to be bought by a person, it does not come as default in most cast. Therefore, it needs to be bought as “home automation”. For houses that are inbuilt with the hardware as market evolves, SHaaS will be the key going forward.
Who are the big players that are needed to make the concept of SHaaS reality?
Oakter: At the moment, all big companies are focused on US or Europe market. Indian startups are better placed to create this new market in India.
SHaaS and Home automation are definitely not similar. While the former is subscription based and comes with hardware, the latter is purely a smart home kit model, a DIY that has to be plugged in and allows you to control a certain number of devices via the app. For eg: Oakter has Smart-Plug and Smart Lock and Inoho has a Home Automation Starter Kit that is easy to install, comprises of a home controller and a switchboard module. If you are tech hobbyist and are keen to ramp up your home, you can definitely give any of these a try. As reiterated by industry insiders, for SHaaS to become a reality in India, thrust will have to be developing products bearing Indian lifestyle and the consumer in mind.
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Richa Bhatia is a seasoned journalist with six-years experience in reportage and news coverage and has had stints at Times of India and The Indian Express. She is an avid reader, mum to a feisty two-year-old and loves writing about the next-gen technology that is shaping our world.