Ex-Amazon Alexa exec lays out Control4’s vision of an operating system for smart homes

(Control4 Photo)

Smart home devices are everywhere, but getting them to work together smoothly remains a headache to even the most tech-savvy of homeowners. That’s a problem that Salt Lake City-based Control4, maker of smart home equipment and software that features the founder of Amazon’s Alexa Smart Home division within its leadership ranks, is trying to solve with what it calls its biggest product launch to date.

Today Control4 unveiled its Smart Home OS 3, a platform to connect the thousands of smart home devices and services out there today in a way that just about anyone can operate. Charlie Kindel, the Amazon Alexa Smart Home founder who joined the company last year as a senior vice president, compared Smart Home OS to computer operating systems that bring all the various programs together without the user having to do much work.

Charlie Kindel (Control4 Photo)

Control4’s Smart Home OS is not actually new; this version, available this week, is its third iteration. But it is a huge update, with close to 1,000 new capabilities, with an emphasis on personalization.

Kindel, despite his cache in the smart home world, is like so many others who have been personally frustrated by the complexity of smart homes. Over the years, he cobbled together a system in his house using hundreds of devices, but it didn’t meet the expectations of someone on the cutting edge of smart home tech for decades. He realized that if his system wasn’t up to snuff, others had to be struggling too.

“I’ve lived the potential of the fully integrated, sophisticated smart home, and in order for that to happen I basically had a second full time job as the IT administrator for my home. And that’s never going to scale,” Kindel said in an interview with GeekWire.

Smart Home OS 3 lets users build a favorites list of most-used devices and services, browse smart home devices room by room and set up specific smart home scenarios throughout the house. Control4 says its system provides “infrastructure” that works with more than 13,500 different devices and services, from Amazon’s series of Echo speakers to streaming services like Spotify and Netflix.

(Control4 Photo)

Control4 is a publicly traded company makes everything from connected lighting, to audio and video systems and pulls it all together with its software offerings. Control4 customers work with the company’s network of dealers to build their smart home systems, and the company doesn’t charge anything extra for the software.

Kindel says today’s smart home hubs put too much of the burden on the homeowner to make everything work. Control4 relies on its network of local professionals and built its smart home offerings to take on the complexity of getting various devices and services to work together and relieve the pressure on homeowners.

Control4 cited an estimate of 13 billion connected smart home devices in use by 2020. But, Kindel argues, for the industry to continue to grow and appeal to the mass market, it will need a drastic change to become more approachable. He compared it to past eras of computing, likening today’s smart home systems to DOS and Control4’s Smart Home OS to Microsoft Windows.

“That is where we are with a lot of smart home accessories today, they’re not infrastructure, they are accessories, and what is required is an actual set of infrastructure,” Kindel said.

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