Big box retailers make a big bet on the connected home at CES

The smart home isn’t mainstream yet, but two platforms sold by big box retailers have lined up some new features and gadgets that might drive more consumers to change their mind. At the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas, Lowe’s, which makes a connected home platform called Iris, and Staples, which makes a platform called Staples Connect, both announced some new devices and voice control. Plus, Home Depot is also getting into the home hub game with a partnership with Revolv, a Boulder-based hub maker.

Of the three platforms, Staples Connect is my favorite because it integrates with more external devices, costs less for the hub and doesn’t have a monthly service fee. Of all the platforms I reviewed a month ago it’s the one I’m likely to buy. I will give Lowe’s props for having a really serious backup program in case of power loss. That makes Lowe’s Iris a good choice for people who want to replace their security systems with a DIY system. Both have implemented voice control for the home using a product called Ivee, which is an alarm clock/speaker that recognizes a wide variety of spoken commands that can be used to control connected devices in the home.

Revolv is a fine hub, but at $299 is pretty expensive and has yet to prove that it’s integration with services like Sonos offer enough features to make it better than using the existing app. IT’s unclear exactly how the partnership with The Home Depot will play out, but the hub will be sold in select Home Depot stores starting the end of January. It may soon be sold online at the Home Depot site as well.

So many hubs.

So many hubs.

The additional of what are essentially voice macros to the Lowes’ and Staples’ systems is a pretty sweet thing for those who like the immediacy of turning on a lamp or turning on a pre-set “Scene” without pulling out their smartphone and opening an app. That in itself is kind of telling, given that a year ago everyone was frustrated that to do much in the connected home, they needed multiple apps.

Hubs like the Iris, SmartThings, Revolv and the Staples Connect systems have integrated a bunch of devices into one app, but when it comes to living in your home and managing settings most people want it to be a lot more hands off and automated. Voice control and pre-programmed settings get you there. However, we’re still a ways off before the smart home becomes truly smart — anticipating your needs — which is what I think most consumers are after.

But enough about the future; here are the latest updates. In addition to voice control, Lowe’s plans to add more energy conservation accessories such as an automated sprinkler valves and energy tracking tools. It also is adding a garage door opener accessory, although the brand wasn’t disclosed. It plans to release these in spring of this year.

The Staples Connect gear.

The Staples Connect gear.

Meanwhile, Staples has added support for a slew of new connected devices, plus it said it plans to support ZigBee, Bluetooth and Insteon based products. That’s a pretty big leap in connectivity options and brings the Staples hub in line with the Revolv hub when it comes to the number of radios supported. I tend to favor the Staples UI over Revolv’s and the Staples hub is $99 v. $299 for the Revolv unit, although adding more radios may raise that cost.

The Staples Connect platform will also formally support devices from Kwikset (locks), Netgear (cameras, routers), Radio Thermostat, Centralite (lighting controls), Withings (personal activity and health monitoring), Goji (locks), Koubachi(plant sensors), and Rachio (sprinklers). I’m waiting to see when support for individual devices will be added and to hear how Staples plans to add the additional radio support. My bet is on a dongle for existing hubs in the market and a new version of the hardware for everyone else.

And since CES isn’t over, I expect to hear more on the hub front before the show is done. Stay tuned.

Updated throughout at 12:50 to add mention of Revolv’s partnership with The Home Depot.