In Quirky’s latest move to wedge its way into the burgeoning smarthome market via Wink, its smarthome subsidiary launched in partnership with GE, the startup is releasing a touch-screen panel that will serve as a central command hub for Wi-Fi-connected devices coming from both its invention community and various partner companies.
The control pad, called Relay, costs $300 and resembles a giant smartphone, which can be installed directly in place of a wall light switch in homes. It’s essentially the Wink app it produced for smartphones, presented in a form factor that eliminates the standard box-like “hub” that is usually required to connect multiple smart devices to one another. It also includes proximity sensors, which light up the display when a user approaches it, a built-in mic and speaker system to leave voice messages for house mates, and two programmable buttons which can switch on lights or control specific devices with a single tap. Users won’t have to rummage for their phones to turn off their smart bulbs or secure their Wi-Fi-enabled door locks–all of their connected products appear on the 4.3-inch LCD screen’s dashboard. “It’s a natural extension,” says Brett Worthington, vice president of partnerships at Wink. “Putting [Relay] where a light switch goes makes complete sense, versus something clunky that goes on a table.”
Quirky is hoping that Relay’s accessibility and compatibility will aid the company in accelerating smarthome adoption among consumers, who might be hesitant to dip their toes in the still-nascent category. “We’ve worked for a very long time to put together this strategy, and try to grow the addressable market,” Quirky founder and CEO Ben Kaufman told Fast Company during a hands-on preview of Relay. But there’s a certain smarthome company that Google purchased earlier this year for $3.2 billion who’s trying to do the same thing. While we’ve yet to see the fruits of Nest’s $555 million acquisition of video-monitoring system Dropcam–or its “Works with Nest” program for third-party developers–the moves are sure to give Relay a run for its money.
Quirky is not without powerful partners, though. Wink already works with reputable brands like Philips and Honeywell (Kaufman says it will even be compatible with products from Nest Labs), and much of its recent success stems from a $30 million investment from General Electric last year, in which Quirky gained access to thousands of the corporation’s patents for inventors to build new products upon. However, as detailed in Fast Company’s recent feature about Aros, the hit smartphone-controlled A/C birthed from that partnership, Quirky’s community of inventors eventually became vocally perturbed with the company’s increasingly partner-dependent model, spurring broad changes for its idea-submission process. Almost immediately following that, GE sold its appliance division to Sweden-based manufacturing giant Electrolux, resulting in Quirky losing access to around 500 patents for its inventor community. It would seem that expanding the number of Relay-compatible products is now more important than ever to Kaufman’s strategy.
“It’s an important question, because we thought about it as we created Wink. Not all households have GE appliances,” says Worthington when asked how the Electrolux deal would affect Relay. “Think about everything Home Depot sells, and everything that sits on their floor. A consumer shops for great brands and great products, and if we can connect those, that’s a win-win for consumers and for Wink.”