I spend all my time researching home automation and never doing anything because there seems to be a new technology around every corner. This week a friend starts frothing at the mouth over something called "Control 4" which can use either Wi-Fi or Cat 5. How do I decide when to stop looking and start buying without risking everything going obsolete in a year or two?
Technology will never stabilize to the point that obsolescence will not occur. Your decision is if the technology you can buy today fits your need, desires and budget.
A continuing revenue stream is very important to any business endeavor. The software business is even more dependent than most in this regard. Any serious "home control" system is at least a 50% software component that requires constant updating as new devices and technologies emerge. What Control4 is attempting to do is lower the up-front cost of a very powerful system that can be installed and maintained by a technically savvy person without "soldering iron" or "code warrior" type skills.
While I have not checked out the details of their particular subscription scheme I have no serious objections to the idea as long as my system continues to run even if I am not "paid up". If you want enhancements you should pay for them. After all it does neither the supplier or customer any good if the system becomes prematurely obsolete due to stagnation.
There are good choices out there already depending on you budget. Consider reviewing the software and human interfaces that you and other users will find acceptable. Then look for hardware that meets those requirements, your budget, and reliability requirements.
The control4 web site says this about availability of software/'serviceware' for their proprietary hardware:
"4Sight Services are currently available for Control4 dealer evaluation.
4Sight annual subscriptions will be available for consumer purchase in the
4th quarter of 2005."
"Annual subscriptions"? This would seem to be completely unacceptable for everyone except, perhaps, homebuilders and renters. So in my opinion, it matters not at all how good/interesting their hardware is or isn't.
If it were truly that simple, he wouldn't be angsting. His question is about the true cost of ownership. If he buys into Z-wave what happens if he gets half his house converted when, hypothetically, they go bankrupt? What will he do?
In order to evaluate a technology like HA, you really have to know a lot about the current environment, the protocols in use, the history of HA companies - loads of stuff you might not consider when buying a car, a riding mower or something similarly pricey.
I think he might be looking for some guidance on whether Insteon's dual protocol technology would be a safer investment than something that had a single proprietary protocol. He might be looking for advice on whether to jump on early, proprietary versions of Zigbee or decide to wait for it to hit the market big-time rather than investing early.
There are plenty of pathways available to the new HA buyers and some of them have very much higher risks than others based on a wide variety of factors. Some of them, like "will this company thrive?" are beyond the control of the buyer but others like "can I afford to buy enough spares to insure against bankruptcy of the vendor?" are pretty much user-determined.
Even those decisions are hard to make because they assume that whatever new design you are buying into isn't one that, for example, tends to get wiped out by a near-miss lightning strike. Having a set of spares might only protect you until the next strike. Worse, still, such poorly designed equipment will be likely to force a small company under anyway. So would a product recall, which could be initiated if these devices were in any way implicated in house fires.
And even if you factor all that in, you still aren't assured of reaching the right conclusion about which technology to buy if the environment changes. A malicious neighbor could create havoc with an RF-based X-10 system that would render it useless.
I'd be bewildered, too, if I had to make a decision on which protocol to adapt and which vendor to buy it from. The HA market seems to be in the highest state of flux it's been if for years. I don't think we've ever seen so many competing technologies offered all at once. In a way, I am glad that I've got almost all X-10 stuff. I can afford to wait and let the market "shake out" all the wanna-be's and the near misses.
There is a great need for a successful financial model for HA software. So it is fundamentally jist fine by me for purveyors to try out different approaches in the marketplace.
But in the case of the 4control 'model' (if we can use that term for a product about which we know little and is not yet shipping ;-) the hardware is *also* proprietary with no obvious second source.
This is not so much of a problem with respect to HomeToys including many audio visual capabilities. But it is absolutely a deal-breaker (for me) if it applies to necessary infrastructure such as lighting and security.
I would use a working definition of an "unacceptable subscription" a subscription that would be required for existing features to be maintained.
I would also be very wary of features that _require_ third parties such as dealer/installer support, or a particular broadband supplier. For starters, security issues would need to satisfactorily resolved including bonding.
We will learn more with time and perhaps the i4control 'model' will evolve (or already is ) something less onerous than it now appears (to me).