Overcome Shiny Object Syndrome with Universal Devices

While reading through forums on other sites I see that shiny object syndrome is alive and well in home automation.

The home automation market is all over the board. Looking back at my life as a retailer in the industry, I realized our biggest problem is the “shiny object syndrome”. It is kind of like a goofed up FOMO that infects automation and audio/video nerds like me. Audio/Video (A/V) is included because A/V and automation markets really are one market trying to figure out what it will do when it grows up. Think of your Universal Devices controller (ISY or Polisy) as a giant remote for your home. My media room remote does interface with my lights so when I press play after selecting a movie, the lights dim. We are one.

Decluttering Shiny Object Syndrome

In 2005 I was starting to write for industry magazines. There were several at the time. My core expertise was electronic communications aka networks, so I wrote about that a lot. As I completed THX, Crestron, Lutron and other certifications for my business, I decided to start writing the CoolToys blog for my own business. In some ways I felt I needed to justify my choices to the world and the blog was a great platform.

In 2007 I started the blog that is now CoolToys® TV. The focus was on THX surround sound, the upcoming Dolby Vision standards and home automation. CES and CEDIA shows were so big back then it caused a lot of confusion among consumers. There were so many shiny objects that no one knew where to start, so they gave up, and went back to the big screen tv with built in 15w speakers. I know because we sold a lot of those TV’s. The original goal was to try and cut through the fog of the bulls and declutter the mass of information in the industry.

Investors Throw In The Money

In the late 1990’s and early 2000’s, the home theater and automation markets were like the mythical land of Oz. Everything in there was magic, every trade show better than the one before it. Each show held the promise of greater riches for anyone who joined in. Investors would throw money in and start companies almost weekly. Every installer quit his job to try and start his own company. Many of these new companies would be at a trade show, take orders from the new owners and vanish before the next show.

One thing about home owners that hasn’t changed in 200 years is the demand for reliability, and expected outcomes. With the early X-10 switches from the Heath/Zenith kit world, the reliability was about 85%. When your partner walks in the door with an arm full of groceries, a light that comes on 85% of the time doesn’t cut it. I had someone once say that 99.5% wasn’t enough and went with a big commercial lighting system for that reason alone.

Zigbee Logo

The bulls convinced investors that everyone would buy this stuff if it was 100% reliable and they had the solution. In a very short period we had commercial lighting systems like Lutron making some very cool home lighting controls. Lutron is still among my favorites for aesthetics and operational reliability. Shortly behind them was the Wal-Mart mentality of “Getting more for less is better”. X-10 was given a badly needed makeover, and then Insteon, Z-Wave and Zigbee appeared along with a dozen or so proprietary systems. Suddenly the Oz of home automation was filled with lots of new shiny objects. As a dealer and the “CoolToys Guy”, people started expecting me to filter the information and pick the right stuff. Of those new brands only a handful still exist and they are single digit versions of what the bulls said they would become.

Quietly in the corner was Universal Devices learning to manage all of it.

Divide and Conquer

At the same time the mortgage meltdown was happening. Across the country, retailers like mine were struggling. Since we were based in Houston and oil had shot up from $35 a barrel, to nearly $100 a barrel, we hardly noticed. What did catch my attention was that many vendors suddenly had “bulk deals” or no inventory. Acquisitions started lining up and brands were changing labels like most of us change underwear. Our mid line brands all vanished or got acquired, and orders for the higher end started to taper off.

This brings us to 2008. My perspective had shifted, and it was clear that something needed to change in the industry. Thankfully it had. Until then HAI was by far my favorite brand, but like everyone in the industry they wanted to “control the customer”. When HAI tried to launch their own line of switches, outlets and other electric controls it was clearly the beginning of the end of our relationship. I couldn’t let my business be dependent on any one brand. The dealers that were tied to the wrong brands were gone quickly. Eventually HAI sold out to Leviton and we couldn’t get inventory. I needed to move on.

My Current ISY 994i Pro

This is where I learned about the ISY 99. From the start Universal Devices appeared to want to work with and control any brand they could. It was a brilliant solution for the shiny object syndrome that was plaguing the industry. UDI wasn’t trying to sell me their own light switch, they were selling me a solution. The quiet puppet master of the sea of shiny objects.

Solving Shiny Object Syndrome with Reliability

Given the price of the first ISY I purchased at Smart Home, I considered it a test piece only. Like most things I buy, it sat in the box for months. After all my HAI Alarm/Controller and X-10 pro lighting was working just fine. When I finally opened the box and got on the forum it hit me. I could buy and test just about anything in the industry if I had an ISY. Better yet there was If:Then logic that could easily be programmed. As I have learned the iSY doesn’t integrate with everything out there, but it gave me enough choices to test and make good decisions for my customers.

The very first thing about the iSY that I noticed was the reliability. Since 2008 when I first set one up, I have reached out to Universal Devices a total of four times. I knew the HAI reps all by name. That alone says a lot. With system updates on the ISY I didn’t need to learn anything new. Extra care was given to make each new feature an add on, not a new operating system. When the “Else” logic was added I was giddy. I could clean up half of my programming with that one feature alone.

One dealer told me that he wouldn’t carry UDI because customers could program it themselves. My answer is that they can do laundry themselves but they still pay $4 to clean their shirts.

The Super Shiny Object?

A couple of months ago when I thought I had an issue with my ISY and reached out for support, I learned about the polyglot website. The potential there is amazing. My favorite part is every time I find a new shiny poly to play with, my ISY becomes a new shiny object without throwing away all the time and effort I already put into it. And the problem I had was that my credit card expired and my service quit. My bad.

My dream poly would be one that could somehow throw breakers so my solar could keep powering my home without a battery and the big items like A/C, oven, stove and car charger just disconnected until the grid came back. Home batteries are still stupid expensive for the 15 minutes every three months my power goes out. What is your dream poly?