Quirky, the so-called invention platform that takes anyone’s ideas and turns them into real products, is getting into the connected home business. The New York Times today reports that the startup plans to launch a spin-off company, Wink, to connect the connectors with a central hardware hub and software platform that will support almost 60 products when it launches.
Other companies are also trying to bring these products together. SmartThings allows anyone to create small programs that control a variety of devices through its platform. Zonoff hopes to connect smart products made by established companies instead of unproven startups. Apple is also trying to bridge the gaps between these products with “new” tools for software developers. Quirky is entering a marketplace saturated with all-too-similar products with identical goals.
But the company is perhaps better positioned than others to offer Internet of Things products and connect them to a central platform simply by virtue of its existing business. Others don’t want to be in the hardware business — Zonoff, for example, doesn’t make its own hardware, SmartThings is going to focus on its software tools, and Apple is just adding new features to existing products. Quirky is the only company that delights in making hardware reliant on the Internet of Things.
The New York Times says in its report that one-quarter of the products submitted to Quirky’s platform are “home products that can communicate with a smartphone or a household Wi-Fi network.” Perhaps the most interesting product to emerge from the platform in recent months is a smart air conditioner built with General Electric. It makes other products, but smart tools are starting to look less like an afterthought and more like a core aspect of Quirky’s business.
Companies are starting to focus on making either the hardware or the software that will allow everything from washing machines and dishwashers to locks and thermostats to connect to the Internet. That’s probably a smart decision, given the difficulties associated with trying to own the entire experience, as Pando’s James Robinson explained in a blog post late last month:
Apple and SmartThings make a powerful business case. There are so many connected devices already, the Internet of Things-deal is exploding so quickly, that creating a means for all of these remote powers to be bought together seamlessly, a universal remote, has the potential to get real market traction.
The open platform allows consumers to utilize the smorgasbord of connected tools that exists currently. If the idea takes off, it is bad news for the Nest’s and August’s of this world. Trends don’t wait. By trying to set the parameters of what consumers might need, and slowly too, they might find themselves going from trying to reinvent the home, to being a single plaything in another company’s domain.
Quirky might just be the exception that proves the rule. Unlike companies like Nest, it doesn’t take forever to release new products — it hopes to release between 70 and 80 products a year. It’s also focusing on an open platform with Wink, products that connect to other platforms with things like Aros, and subsidizing everything with all the other products it’s releasing every year. It may sound strange, but Quirky might be able to prove that a company really can do it all.
[illustration by Brad Jonas]