This week, I had planned to write about smart apartments, but a two-day migraine is hindering my ability to see straight and string together coherent thoughts. So, I decided to do a more personal story about smart home tech and why I think Wyze may be the most important company in this space today.
As I said a few weeks back, after I moved to a new home, I was surprised that I wasn’t more eager to install my connected lights, locks, and other gear. After I had been living without them for a few weeks I realized that the value I got out of most of the gear wasn’t worth the time I spent updating and troubleshooting it when things didn’t work.
I’m not alone in my disenchantment. Kevin has also expressed his frustration with the smart home, as have many others in recent months. My family misses some of the functionality, but that’s partly because they never had to deal with setting it up and maintaining it. Also, they never really had to pay the cost of that gear because my company usually footed the bill. It’s hard to justify a couple of thousand dollars of device investments for a rental home, however.
But this week, I received my four-pack of light bulbs from Wyze. I tried the bulbs, which let me tune between warm, yellow light, and bright daylight; they also dim. They were not as bright as some of my other connected bulbs such as the LIFX bulbs, but they are inexpensive. After taxes and $7.99 for shipping, the Wyze bulbs also cost roughly $10 each.
Wyze also announced this week that it could recognize people directly on its $20 camera — without the cloud. So, when it comes to both technologies, I’m impressed. Yes, there are things that Wyze could do better (and likely will over time), such as more functional scheduling for the light bulbs to turn on or off. (Right now you can only schedule the bulbs to turn on or off X number of hours from now.)
But what Wyze gets right is making smart home tech cheap, secure, and functional. In doing so it’s making its products an easy gateway to a smarter home. Wyze’s first product, a basic security camera licensed from a Chinese hardware company, cost $19.99 (plus $7.99 shipping). At that price anyone interested in watching their front door, back patio, or even the pet they left home alone could justify the expense, especially since there are no subscription fees.
The company has also been responsive to customer concerns and questions relating to security and privacy. Not only can its security camera capture all data locally using an SD card (it does limit some of the functionality), but Wyze has been quick to address customer concerns about its data going to Chinese servers. (Wyze also allows for two-factor authentication on all its devices, making them more secure than many other smart home products.) Its software is also easy to use and isn’t crammed with extra features. And best of all, it works. Getting the Wyze Cam online requires you to plug it in and scan a QR code. I gave one to my neighbor, a yoga instructor, and she was able to install it and run it without ever asking me for help.
And earlier this year, Wyze added sensors to its list of products. For $19.99, people can buy a sensor pack that has two open/close sensors and one motion detection sensor. Here’s where Wyze innovated on price and design: These are some of the smallest sensors I’ve ever seen. They work with the security camera and let people create simple rules, such as when a door opens, take a camera recording.
With a sub-$50 investment suddenly people can play with the smart home and start doing things that others do only with expensive hubs and complex rules engines. Wyze has sold more than 1 million cameras since it launched its security camera in 2017, which is many, many more than other big-name smart home brands.
It has done so while remaining profitable on every device sold, and by adding new features on the regular. It chooses features based on community requests, and the implementation is easy for users to understand. For example, customers buying the light bulbs can easily set their lights to vacation mode by toggling a switch in the app.
Elena Fishman, one of the co-founders of Wyze, has told me that the goal is to build smart home products that are cheap and controlled via a single app. This is not a novel idea, but the approach is. By focusing on utility, low prices, and profitability on the hardware itself, Wyze has created a smart home brand that allows people to experiment while still being able to control their security and privacy.
I have dozens of devices that cost more than $200 in my home, or those that require hours of effort to get them working (and keep them working). Yet Wyze lets customers experiment with the smart home without making a huge investment in time or money. In other words, the company is letting people find use cases that matter to them, which will ultimately lead to greater smart home adoption.