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Microsoft Jumps into Home Automation with Insteon for Windows 8

Insteon kits will be available at Microsoft's U.S. stores and online. By Julie Jacobson

Microsoft has been quiet on the home automation front for about a decade, but the software giant is finally taking action with an unusual bedfellow: Insteon, the technology created by leading home technology distributor Smarthome.

Microsoft funded development of a Windows 8 app for Insteon and will sell Insteon devices online and in its 53 U.S. stores, “marking Microsoft’s retail entry into the connected home market,” according to a press release.

The union is unusual because Insteon rarely gets the buzz that Z-Wave and ZigBee get, even though the smart home technology has been around for 10 years. Also, Insteon products are pretty much available from one vendor only – Insteon itself, which makes everything from security sensors to smart LED bulbs (arguably the first in that category) to thermostats and home automation software.

And, the technology isn’t hip and trendy like all the crowd-funded start-ups.

Insteon does double-duty as both a wireless RF and powerline carrier (PLC) technology. Any Insteon product that plugs into an outlet employs both technologies, while (naturally) battery-powered devices offer RF only.

“They like that we offer soup to nuts,” says Insteon founder and CEO Joe Dada, who also is CEO of Smarthome.

During the Parks Associates Connections conference, Dada offered a first glimpse of the new Windows 8 app, featuring the tile interface that so many people love … or hate.

The tiles feature live status updates from various Insteon devices. Click on any tile to drill down for more information.

Insteon products are similar to DIY home automation systems, for example Lowe’s Iris, Staples Connect, Schlage Nexia, Vera (MiOS) and so many others. Users can create rules/scenes like “home” and “away,” view video cameras from afar and otherwise remotely monitor and control their homes.

Unlike many products on the market, the system features a built-in Web server, eliminating the need for cloud services and associated fees.

The downside to that scheme is that the system requires port forwarding for remote access, which is neither simple to configure nor particularly secure.

That will change, says Dada.

Insteon launched in 2004 with the hope of becoming the home automation standard. Several manufacturers employed the technology in the early days (First Alert smoke detectors, for example) but Insteon is pretty much the only implementer today.

Insteon app running on a Windows 8 tablet

Some home automation startups like Revolv support the technology.

Very few non-Insteon products integrate with the platform, although the company did announce (unsanctioned) support for Nest thermostats and Dada says to expect more partners soon.

Dada confesses that he had never used Windows 8 before, but picked up a phone when the Microsoft deal looked like a real possibility.

He was surprised how much he liked the tiling and says the interface is “very suited to us.”

Insteon devices and kits will debut June 1 at and by early July they will be available in most of Microsoft’s retail stores across the U.S.

The stores will offer a Starter Kit, Home Kit, and Business Kit, as well as five standalone devices, including the Insteon Leak Sensor, door/window sensor, LED bulb, plug-in module, and Wi-Fi camera. Prices will range from $29.99 to $79.99, with kits starting at $199. 

This article was originally published by our content partner Electronic House.

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