How big a bet is Comcast placing on smart-home gadgets and monitoring services, on the whole Internet of Things/connected-home revolution?
Enough so that Comcast's Xfinity Home division is introducing its own line of smart-home products.
And the company recently agreed to purchase the iControl Converge software platform and engineering talent pool. iControl powers the home-security and automation platform for Xfinity Home, as well as IoT services for other cable companies (Cox, Rogers, Time Warner, and Bright House), which Comcast is quietly managing, too.
For those taken with "Open Sesame"-style voice control of things, Xfinity Home is going there, as well. It's adding voice activation of home gear through the X1 cable-TV platform and X1 remote control. So without leaving the comfort of your seat and big-screen TV, you'll be able to ask, then see, whether the kids are doing their homework or you forgot to close the garage door.
Introduced Wednesday at a product test house in Fairmount by Daniel Herscovici, senior vice president and general manager of Xfinity Home, the company's new house-branded line of gear is launching most prominently with a stylish and smartly engineered security camera. Cameras are "the top-selling" product in connected-home land, and this one is competitively priced at $199 - or $99 if you opt for extra, $10-a-month video-recording features.
"Forty to fifty percent of our Xfinity Home subscribers want to place security cameras outside the house, so we've designed ours from scratch to be weatherproof, fully featured and especially reliable, with the WiFi transmitter built into the power plug that gets connected inside the house," said Herscovici.
Also making a debut - at Xfinity's stores and online site and at Amazon.com, too - are design-matched Xfinity-branded window sensors, an arming keypad, motion sensors, and a surprisingly small router. All are essential to Xfinity home-security monitoring, available since 2014 and the "first step" for most consumers into the wonderful world of house automation.
Though ADT remains the big bubba of security monitoring, taking "a 20 to 25 percent market share," Xfinity Home is now "the fastest-growing company in the field," Herscovici said, "and 70 percent of our customers are home-security first-timers." Then, once converted, many want more.
"Put in a lifestyle-transforming security camera to remotely keep an eye on grandmom" (through a smartphone, tablet, or computer), "and the customer asks, 'Wow, now what else can this system do?' "
A style-matched cable-TV receiver small enough to tuck behind a wall-mounted TV is also part of the new Xfinity Home product line. More things - like a combination smart doorbell/camera - are in the "development phrase," Herscovici said, along with expansion of the "Works with Xfinity Home" program that tests and supports third-party gear like Zen and Nest thermostats, August smart locks, Chamberlain garage openers, and Lutron Caseta wireless light controllers.
"When you sign up for Xfinity Home security and control services" - $30 a month the first year, then $40 a month - "we don't just give you a startup kit with our own color touch-screen controller and some sensors," explained the Xfinity executive. "We also agree to support all the approved devices on our 'Good Housekeeping-equivalent' list at no extra cost, whether you buy the pieces from us or elsewhere. So it's an end-to-end solution that includes curated devices, certified services, professional installation, and one throat to choke, one phone number to call for help."
Herscovici grins as he throws out that shock line, "but we certainly understand the frustration people feel when other product-support operators pass the buck, claim, 'It's not our problem.' The buck stops here."
Educating and supporting the consumer are clearly key to growing the connected-home market.
Even among U.S. households with broadband service, newly released market research from Parks Associates found that less than 30 percent of respondents were familiar with where to buy smart-home products or services.