Amazon’s former Alexa smart home boss, Charlie Kindel, is joining home automation specialists Control4. Kindel spent five years at Amazon and was instrumental in creating the Alexa and Echo Smart Home features along with the “Works with Alexa” program. At Control4, Kindel will lead the company’s overall products and services, which span across software and hardware to power home automation.
Control4 is one of the most popular home automation systems, and the company professionally installs more than 12,000 third-party products into homes alongside its own remotes, controllers, Android-based touchscreens, and keypads. The company installs intelligent lighting, multi-room audio / video, access control features, and even heating and air conditioning to automate smart products with its own Control4 system.
“I didn’t leave Amazon to go to Control4,” explains Kindel in an interview with The Verge. “I was going to just take a break. I had five years of pouring my heart and soul into something and really enjoyed it, but it was time to do something different. I had left Amazon and then the conversations with Control4 heated up, and it just made great sense to do.”
Kindel has spent most of his career focused on smart products for consumers. He spent 21 years at Microsoft and created Windows Media Center and Windows Home Server. The Media Center project delivered a TV experience to Windows, and Windows Home Server was designed to connect multiple PCs to share files before the age of cloud computing. Both were loved by their fans, but ultimately the cloud and other tech advances replaced the need for them. Kindel also worked on the Windows Phone 7 platform, and we all know what happened to that.
“The work I did at Microsoft on Media Center or Windows Home Server, or even Windows Home Networking, was really focused on individuals configuring their own stuff and making things work,” explains Kindel. “That carried on with the work I did on Echo and Alexa, and now I get to focus on the other end of the spectrum where the whole home is enabled, and where the scenarios are highly defined.”
Control4 has 370,000 homes that it manages, and it has been in the home automation business for 13 years. While Alexa and Google Assistant have made smart home control more mainstream, it’s still not an easy process to install, automate, and ultimately control the thousands of smart home gadgets that are emerging. “This stuff is still way too hard to use, there’s too much complexity,” says Kindel. “Even when the products are an order of magnitude easier to set up than they are today… normal people are simply not going to program their homes.”
Control4 is betting on the race to become the platform that controls this smart home gear and professionally installs it in homes. Much like how plumbers, electricians, and other tradesmen install and service other equipment in a home. That doesn’t mean it’s going to create its own Alexa platform or build hardware that competes with Sonos, but it wants to ensure it can control it with its own systems. “We started partnering with Amazon very early; we helped their engineers develop parts of their APIs and interactions with their APIs as they developed them around the connected home,” explains Martin Plaehn, Control4 CEO, in an interview with The Verge. “If you can talk to it, it plugs into Control4.”
The platform to control the smart home is a war that’s being fought by multiple companies. Apple has its HomeKit platform that’s designed to make hardware work together well on the company’s various iOS and macOS products, and Samsung has its own SmartThings hub that centralizes control over smart home gadgets. Google acquired Nest and has launched a variety of Assistant-based products, and Amazon’s latest Echo Plus doubles as a smart home hub. All of these consumer-focused gadgets, and the associated tech battles between them, do open up an opportunity for home automation specialists to control them all through a simple-to-use hub and platform. Control4 also has strong competition from Crestron, Savant, and other home automation specialists, but it’s currently leading the way for regular consumers.
Kindel joins Control4 just as home automation and smart home devices are starting to appear in regular living rooms. He led much of that effort at Amazon, and he’s only a few days into his new role, so he’s not making big promises on what Control4 will achieve just yet. His focus is now on making it easier for the thousands of smart home products to work together. “I’ve been passionate and working professionally on home automation stuff since the late ‘90s, and the house I’m in right now is kind of the ultimate playground for smart home,” says Kindel. “It hasn’t taken off until now, and now it finally is.”