A new product is making waves in the industry and directly challenging voice-controlled platforms, such as Amazon’s Alexa, with its unique approaches to draw in consumers.
However, it could also deter builders and integrators, depending on their preferences.
ZOE, from Protonet, has experienced rapid growth in popularity, recently, due to an immensely successful crowdfunding campaign on Indiegogo.
With more than one thousand backers, a month to go in its campaign and over 300 percent reached of its $100,000 goal, ZOE is marketing itself as a smart home hub with a strong focus on privacy and an avid anti-Cloud agenda.
A Focus on Privacy
“Whatever happens in your home, stays in your home,” boasts ZOE on its Indiegogo page, while also calling out major smart home hubs and companies that utilize Cloud-based microphones and cams.
Integrator Henry Clifford, founder and president of Livewire, notes that Protonet certainly has a strong background in the private cloud spectrum, yet finds its promise of privacy a tad misleading.
“If you’re using ZOE to trigger events and interact with Internet content, there’s some interaction with the cloud that’s taking place,” says Clifford. “I feel it’s potentially trafficking on the ignorance of its audience, right now, but at the same time I feel the proof is going to be in the pudding.”
Pros: Voice Control and Analytics
Aside from qualms regarding privacy promises, Clifford does find a fair amount to admire in what ZOE is setting out to do in this industry. For starters, he believes voice control is an extremely hot category for the TecHome and one that will only continue to grow through the remainder of 2016.
“It’s coming at us really, really fast,” says Clifford. “And obviously it’s getting to be sort of a cliché to talk about what Alexa and Echo have done just in the past year.”
Clifford says ZOE is challenging these clichés by finding strength in a multi-room approach with its unique “voice drops” that are placed in various rooms throughout the house, which he thinks is spot on.
However, he does find the way ZOE markets these voice drops to be disingenuous. Considering these are extensions of the main ZOE hub, Clifford ponders whether it is actually possible to get decent battery life out of the voice drops if they are always listening.
“There will be an AC power cord associated, so most folks’ installations will look different than they are actually showing it. But nobody’s going to show a marketing video with a cord hanging out of the product,” says Clifford.
Additionally, Clifford believes ZOE places itself above the rest by creating a voice control product that is adaptive, always learning and automatically adjusts itself to a client’s behavior. He feels this adds ease to the user experience and companies pursuing this concept will ultimately become stronger players.
Cons: Décor and Discretion
On the other side of things, Clifford does see voice control evolving more as a cylinder connected in the room, such as the Amazon Echo. He does not see the benefit of ZOE being installed on the wall and believes there isn’t much pre-wire potential there for builders and integrators.
Clifford, who has an Amazon Echo installed in his own home, loves the flexibility of being able to place the device anywhere in the room. “We, as an industry, are big fans of hiding technology,” says Clifford.
“The company seems to be marketing ZOE as this oracle-type, HAL 9000 kind-of deal. If I’m just out of school or in a dorm room or an apartment, maybe, but I don’t see our clients going for a glowing, hexagonal object on the wall. From a décor perspective, I’m just not seeing it.”
Trends to Watch
Regardless of where you fall on these pros and cons, one thing is for sure—ZOE has proven immensely popular in its crowdfunding campaign and is certainly something to watch. Builders and integrators should keep their eyes on this product, not for the product itself, but for the industry trends that ZOE promotes.
“2016 is going to be all about voice control solutions,” says Clifford. “That’s going to take us through the remainder of the year, and also how analytics are going to be making these products more interactive and smarter.”
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