Samsung recently acquired a new set of keys to the connected home when it bought SmartThings, a smart house startup. The deal, reportedly valued at $200 million, will allow Samsung to keep SmartThings as is while making the company a part of Samsung’s Open Innovation Center (OIC).
The move looks smart especially as competitors like Apple are ramping up their connected home efforts and Google is putting up $3.2 billion for connected home companies like Nest Labs. But what exactly did Samsung get when it bought SmartThings and how will it factor into the Korean giant’s foray into the smart house?
SmartThings began as a Kickstarter campaign with a goal of raising $250,000. It raked in more than $1 million.
The actual SmartThings product consists of the Hub, a control center for the connected home, and a series of Things like a multi-sensor, motion sensor and a presence sensor. The main conceit is an open platform for all connected devices to be controlled and automated with a mobile application. SmartThings supports many of the standards battling it out in the connected home, like Wi-Fi, ZigBee, Z-Wave and Bluetooth.
Putting all those different standards, devices and ideas together is a developer community that builds applications for SmartThings which end up inside a storefront within the application.
SmartThings CEO Alex Hawkinson said that opening up his solution to so many device makers and developers could make home automation adoption look complicated to the average consumer. But he didn’t want to sacrifice innovation for ease of use.
“[Openness] is a big gap to straddle. You see a lot of companies doing closed efforts and I think in some cases that’s an attempt to make it narrow and easy,” Hawkinson told Wireless Week in a previous interview. “To us that loses the upside to all this incredible stuff we see happening with these thousands of developers and device makers creating new things.”
Now SmartThings has a powerful ally in Samsung in its open-platform mission to infiltrate the smart home. But it’s unclear exactly how SmartThings will work into Samsung’s business plan. All Samsung revealed is that SmartThings will stay independent and move into the OIC.
The OIC works to provide Samsung Electronics with software and services. The Center operates on four principles: participation in global consortiums, cooperation between industry and academia, operation of overseas research centers, and synergy with materials and equipment vendors.
Samsung recently displayed its commitment to consortiums when it announced it had joined the Thread Group along with Google’s recently acquired Nest Labs. The Thread Group is pushing an IoT standard the Thread Protocol, a standard built on 802.15.4, IPv6 and 6LoWPAN. The Group is promising Thread can run on existing 802.15.4 wireless devices with minor software updates and can connected more than 250 devices into one wireless mesh network. Considering the scope and openness of SmartThings, it should be a welcome addition to the Thread Group.
Away from the research and standards works, SmartThings will obviously benefit from Samsung’s massive scale. As Hawkinson pointed out in his announcement of the deal, the acquisition will help SmartThings gain “support all of the leading smartphone vendors, devices, and applications” as well as a larger developer and, most importantly, user base.
Commenters on Hawkinson’s post were skeptical about what Samsung ownership might mean for iOS support within SmartThings. But Hawkinson assured there would be no disruption for iOS support and seemed excited about integrating iOS 8’s HomeKit.
So for now it looks as though it will be business as usual for SmartThings—albeit with a lot more resources at its disposal. And for Samsung, a behemoth feeling the sting of a plateauing smartphone market, the deal could be a clearer path into new, growing markets.