Are Google Wrong To Shut PowerMeter and Google Health? #Connhome

It’s not every day that I get to call Google out for making a mistake.

At the end of last week came two rather unexpected announcements. Google announced that they would be shutting down both their Google Health and PowerMeter services.

The primary reason in both cases seems to be the “inability to scale” as mentioned by Google.  This by itself is strange. Consider the Power Meter situation. There are now five million smart meters in the US.  Not even 5% of the number of homes in the US. In the UK, the smart meter rollout hasn’t commenced yet. Most countries in the Far East are focusing more on the smart grid than the smart meters. Deployment is yet to commence in any significant form. So there is no scale possible in the market yet.

It’s possible that even within the 5m smart meters in the US, Google has very low market share. But these are surely just opening moves in the market. The smart meter data management market is predicted to grow from around $ 50 million to $ 500 million over the next 7 years, so there’s still 90% of the market to play for. There isn’t much that Google could have done to accelerate the market given the challenge of bringing together policy, standards, manufacturers, utility companies and creating and executing a significant national roadmap, for each country.

Certainly the early commercial movers in this space in the UK, such as First Utility, have already been using the Google Power Meter. So it’s not as though Google have no traction in the market. First utility, like others, are building their own dashboard now.

A similar argument can be extended to the Healthcare market. Telehealth is nascent at best, wherever in the world you look. The idea that medical records should be held by patients is still a novel idea. The devices which will create a healthcare data stream are not really widespread either. So it’s too early to call really and scale is a long way away. The Google announcement points to the Direct Project initiative, but that is really a standard, and not a repository.

On the face of it, this seems like an opportunity lost, for Google. We believe that across a number of vertical industries including health and energy, there is an emerging and key role for data intermediaries. Increasingly this will become valuable both as a gateway for data use as well as mining for aggregation and insight, into consumer behaviour. Especially, as this space is set to get very exciting with the Internet of Things, M2M communication and a tidal explosion of data which Google are extremely well placed to exploit.

But surely, this is all too obvious for Google. Should we be reading in between the lines here? What kind of hypotheses can we draw about this move?

Well, first, Google might know something we don’t. They may have done enough homework to suggest that collectively this will never be a big enough market for them to go after and they simply have much bigger fish to fry. This is a plausible argument, but it smacks of determinism, and ignores the possibility of explosive growth in this segment.

Or it could be that Google foresee a lot of legislative implications in this space and being embroiled in a number of scuffles already, with respect to consumer data, privacy etc, want to steer clear of an area so fraught with legislative risk.

Or, very likely, that with Google’s recent change of guard, there is a directive to refocus on some key areas – including, as we know, the social networking and intelligent automobile parts of the business. PowerMeter and Google Health are just implementation and marketing challenges. There is no great engineering feat required in the health and energy markets, and may simply not appeal to Google’s founders, or to its ingrained engineering culture. This may just be an Eric Schmidt legacy which was doomed when he stepped aside.

Whatever it is, it’s likely that consumer behaviour will change over the next five to ten years and Google may have missed out on significant revenues and potentially a leading role as a gateway to the home. Microsoft, which owns Hohm and Healthvault, will certainly be pleased about this.

Of course, there remains the likelihood that creating this kind of business from inside Google is much harder given their size and cost base. And Google could simply buy its way back into the market if it gets interesting.

 Google’s track record in areas where skills beyond great engineering are required has of course been limited. Their record in social networking with Google Buzz, Google Wave and other initiatives is spotty at best.

In sum, I suspect that Larry Page looked at all the projects when he took over and decided that he didn’t like the Google Health and Power Meter projects, presumably for very valid reasons, including their current lack of scale and decided he wanted the resources focused elsewhere. I do expect though that there is every chance that Google will buy a company in this space in the next 5 years once the market grows and some new innovative service does reach the scale that Google seeks.




The Connected Home Starts to Snowball, and Why Content is NOT King.

The Connected Home concept is starting to snowball. Suddenly it’s all around us. Next week, the Informa Connected Home World Summit promises to be a sumptuous forum for exploring all kinds of directions and ideas. I’ve been asked to chair the day 2 of the conference and I can see I’ll have my hands full trying to discharge my duties whilst taking furious notes from the sessions. One session I’m really looking forward to is a one on one discussion with Sasha Kramar, Chairman of the Board and CEO of Iskon Internet, Croatia.

And if the 2 day bonanza of Connected Home discussions wasn’t enough, the CEDIA Home Technology Show is on as well and I’m delighted to be joining the panel discussion on the 30th with BSkyB, Wired and Design Logistics. 

There’s even the TEN Networks Digital Home event, on the 27t, but sadly, it’s one event too many for me.

Meanwhile, there have been a few interesting announcements in the past few days. Following on from Google’s launching of the Android @ Home platform, we had Motorola & Honeywell announcing their connected home security solution. Aimed at Telcos, this puts Honeywell home security hardware together with Motorola’s software, which has open APIs for billing/ CRM integration.

There was also an excellent story in the Economist – Saving Britain’s health service, which points to some of the institutional challenges involved in bringing in telehealth and other technological innovations into the NHS, even though they have been widely implemented across the world. Delivering care into the home, across age groups, will become a commonplace idea in a few years time, but some organisations will be carried into that world kicking and screaming, obviously. The problem is, each of these pieces either accelerates or holds back the connected home environment. Multi-room streaming music and television is all very fine, but there will be a significant jump in connected home environments once healthcare services come to the party.

And an interesting development in the US, where some 5 million smart meters have now been deployed. One home owner refused to allow the smart meter to be deployed in his home. This led to a stand off between PG&E and the home owner. But it begs the question – how will the rollout in the UK progress, if somebody here takes the same stance? Will they have to choose between no electricity and a smart meter? Does there need to be much better communication and education about the smart meter program?

Incidentally, the Smart Meter data management market is estimated to be $52 million currently and set to grow almost tenfold, to $ 490 million by 2018. You can well imagine how valuable the sum of connected home data management will be.

Small wonder then that the start up iControl has been funded to the tune of $50m, bringing total investment in the company to $ 100m. IControls platform “OpenHome” allows consumers to connect and control their home devices over a mobile or web connection.

And yet, Telcos across the world are still rushing over the mirage that is content based strategy. Video is the most infrastructure intensive service, in a uber-competitive space, where Telcos are usually fighting well established incumbents. But IPTV is clearly about TV, and this is the problem. My co-conspirator Geof and I have written a 3 part article in response to this myth that “content is king”. The first of the 3 parts is here, on Videonet.


Understanding The Connected Home Consumer #Connhome

Yesterday we did our first Connected Home event with the University of Westminster, focusing on understanding the connected home consumer.

Georgina Voss presented on the HomeSense project, an effort aimed at putting technology into the hands of consumers without prescribing solutions or pre-supposing problems. The idea is to let homes work with experts to identify specific problems they would like to solve, given the technology. Each home was given some basic and relatively easy to use technology – including sensors and open source hardware. The project was sponsored by EDF and some of the work will be displayed at the MOMA, New York.

The need to rethink technology from the perspective of social context has been argued before. This book edited by Richard Harper has a number of excellent essays. But the HomeSense project brings it all to life. The way a home with a family including children will use technology will differ fundamentally than that which is shared by flatmates. Their work styles, problem solving and issues will vary. And so will their technology and solutions. Of course culture, local issues and the physical infrastructure play a part as well. You can’t make holes in the walls of rented homes. People in Switzerland are more concerned about their noise levels disturbing the neighbours. People in London want to know whether there are cycles available in the nearby Borris-bike stands.

Of course, one of the biggest stumbling blocks is the ability of the people and their level of expertise. This was not a constraint for Bryan Sharp. Bryan was building a new home and decided he wanted to make it a smart and connected one. The key was, he had the ability and knowledge to put it together. In Bryan’s home, there are 3 key layers. There is infrastructure – with Cat6 cabling around the house and termination points in each room, with a communications cabinet where the servers can be found. There are all the gadgets and connected devices, which do the clever things. But there is also a level of programmability – where Bryan has been able to make things do what he wants them to do.

As a result, in Bryan’s home, the music can be controlled by zones, but guests can be listening to their music from their own iPod piped into the guest room. All lights can be controlled from the iPad by the side of the bed. Lights go on at a dimmed level after midnight. While watching TV, if Bryan receives a call and has to step into the kitchen, the TV in the kitchen will start to play the show, but on low volume. Bryan can even use his iPad to start running a bath, 2 floors up, and decide what temperature he wants the bath at. And no, Bryan is not a science fiction invention or a billionaire. He has done all of this at a relatively manageable budget.

Critically, Bryan is aware that the technology needs to work as reliably as the traditional light switches. This has been factored into the design and choices of technology. And also, that at the end of the day, the technology should increase and not lower the house price.

Rufus Greenway does this for others, for a living. His company, Sound Environment limited, is a specialist custom installation company for home technology (Audio-visual distribution/cinema’s/ Door entry/ CCTV/ Data distribution /IT support/ Lighting and HVAC control, and all sub systems  installed in connected homes). Among other things Rufus was keen to point out that the energy management issue is a ticking time bomb. As energy prices have consistently risen faster than inflation and continue to do so, the energy cost will become a major consideration for people.

This was a point our panellists agreed on – people need to see real cost savings. Not too many consumers are all that concerned about saving the planet, when it comes to actually buying something. It was also a common refrain, that as consumers we like to play with any technology we are given and the chances are, of course, that we will break it. So the connected home technologies need to be more tamper proof and better supported than they probably are, at this point.

My personal bugbears remain in this area – why aren’t simple things like extension boxes and cords better designed for the living room? Must we rip up the floors and walls if we don’t want the proverbial snake-pit in our living rooms? And why are all the TV connections still behind the TV if they’re supposed to be wall mounted devices?

And who is going to make it all work together, if we have neither the ability of Bryan nor the resources to use Rufus’s company?

Meanwhile more and more services will be delivered straight into the home – 47 million smart meters will be rolled out (2 per home) across the UK, over the next 5-7 years. And the overwhelming case for telehealth or connected healthcare is becoming obvious to everybody. A large percentage of TVs sold today are “connectable” i.e. to the internet, directly, and companies like Samsung have even set up their own content portals. Whether we think of it as a connected home or not, we will definitely be consuming a whole lot more connected services soon. As consumers, can we get smarter about it? Or do we risk  being left behind by our devices and our homes?

Bryan Sharp, Connected Home Owner & Builder Joins The Panel

Bryan Sharp

Bryan Sharp works with BT and is a technology enthusiast, with both professional and personal interest in networking technology. Bryan was building a new 287sqm 5 bedroom home and decided to put in home technology to enable improved lifestyle, energy usage and more manageability of his home. There was a desire to create something that would “simply work”.

Bryan also remembers his father scolding him as a child for leaving lights on. His father would say – “I’ll come to your house and leave your lights on”. But of course at the time, there was no way to actually measure and show a child how much energy was being used. And anyway, Bryan has found a way past the problem. Now, the lights go off on their own.

The Connected Home That Bryan Built:


The lights are controlled centrally as well as well as motion sensing. Media and music are centrally stored and controlled. They can be played by zones (rooms) or all over the house. Different zones can have different media at the same time. When guests visit, they can play their own music – i.e. off their own devices such as iPods.

The underfloor heating has thermostats in every room, with control managed centrally on  the touchscreen or online.

The kitchen is home to a wall mounted touch screen which enables control of house media, lights, security and gate video intercom. In addition the touch panel serves as a TV in the kitchen and internet access.

There are motion sensing infra-red CC TV cameras around the house, which can be accessed remotely when the Sharps are away from home. Not all of the garden is covered by CCTV however provision has been made, extending cables to each corner eave of the house for an easy later install.

Holistic ergonomics are key to the project, providing lifestyle intelligence. Examples include; When Bryan returns home at night electronically opening the gates, the drive way and hall way lights turn on;   After midnight, one tap of any house light switch brings the light on a dim setting for 10 minutes, two taps brings the light on persistently and brighter. When going to bed, from  a bed side switch in the master bedroom, all lights of unoccupied rooms can be turned off in one press. 

Bryan can monitor his energy consumption by device category and by zone (room) of the house. The energy usage spikes are providing a number of clues on how to control usage. In future, when Bryan tries to tell his children to turn the lights off, he can also set them targets for the energy consumption in their room.

Panel Discussion

Bryan will be on the panel tomorrow for the “Understanding The Connected Home Consumer” event on Thursday the 16th of June at the Univ of Westminster. The event is free to attend. Join us there.