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The Home Depot is trying to make its own smart home ecosystem happen

The Home Depot is trying to make its own smart home ecosystem happen

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With the expansion of its Hubspace brand into a smart security system, smart freezer, smart bathroom fan, and a connected Husky hose, The Home Depot thinks ‘mass market America’ is finally ready for the smart home.

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The Home Depot’s Hubspace smart home platform is growing.
The Home Depot’s Hubspace smart home platform is growing.
Image: The Home Depot

An old-school hardware store has been quietly building out one of the most complete lines of smart home products on the market. At CES this week, it’s adding a smart thermostat, smart hose timer, smart bathroom fan, smart freezer, and smart security system to its more than 150 connected products. You probably know the brand (and maybe even shopped there before): The Home Depot.

In late 2021, the US retail giant launched the Hubspace app, designed to control smart devices from its store brands in one app and with compatibility across Amazon Alexa and Google Home. Learning from competitors’ missteps in the space (cough, Lowe’s, Staples), The Home Depot opted not to go the hub route nor focus on just one brand (a la Best Buy and its smart versions of the Insignia brand, RIP). Instead, it’s added smart versions to all of its in-house brands, including Hampton Bay, EcoSmart, Husky, Defiant, Home Decorator, and Commercial Electric. It’s also focused on the most available wireless protocol, one already in place in its customers’ homes: Wi-Fi.

“Our customers were asking us for smart home products,” Nick Millette, product development merchant for smart home / Hubspace, told The Verge in an interview. “But they were saying, ‘We want smart home products that aren’t a $50 lightbulb; we want smart home products that don’t mean we need a smart home folder with 19 different apps on our phone. We want smart home products that my wife can set up without having to bring in IT support. And we want to be able to control it from any platform.’”

The $70 smart light switch is getting old; it’s time we got a wider range of affordable smart home devices

All of this means Hubspace is designed to be simple, reliable, and work with familiar platforms like Google Home and Amazon Alexa. “That’s what our customers were asking for,” says Millette.

The simple part was more challenging — trying to make the smart home simple is the entire premise behind Matter (and that’s not going great). But with just Bluetooth and Wi-Fi to worry about, Hubspace’s world is a lot smaller.

The team worked with Afero to develop a QR code scan system for setup that lets the device connect directly to Wi-Fi rather than going through the Wi-Fi connection of the phone you’re setting it up with. This circumnavigates a major pain point of smart home setup: your phone is connected to 5GHz Wi-Fi, but the device can only connect to 2.4GHz, so the device says it can’t connect. For its Bluetooth-only products like door locks, a smart plug is included in every package, which acts as a Wi-Fi Bluetooth bridge for out-of-home control through the app. Simple but effective.

Today, Hubspace controls hundreds of products from 20 different Home Depot brands, including a huge range of smart lighting that crosses “every point of light inside and outside of your house,” says Millette. From bulbs of every shape to track and recessed lighting as well as smart shades, smart ceiling fans, and even connected Christmas trees, Hubspace easily has the largest ecosystem of smart devices available today. “We know what customers in the US want in their homes, and we layer this simple tech over it,” Millette explains of the company’s device strategy.

The other key selling point here is affordability. The Home Depot’s pricing undercuts splashier tech brand competitors by a good margin. Those too-pricey smart bulbs Milette said customers were complaining about? The Home Depot has them for under $10. There are also affordable smart shades, smart locks, and a smart dimmer switch for under $18. The $70 smart switch is getting old. It’s way past time we got a wider range of affordable smart home devices.

Millette admits Hubspace’s line isn’t really designed for the high-tech homeowner. “Our customer base is mass market America,” he says. It also doesn’t work with any platforms outside of Alexa and Google. There’s no Apple Home support or Matter support, and even the persistent Home Assistant community has only managed a very limited integration. As a cloud-based platform, it doesn't have any local control, meaning if The Home Depot abandoned Hubspace, your devices may lose their smarts.

However, it’s not really for the hardcore home tech geeks; it’s for everyone else. In the quest for simplicity, the app makes it really easy to do what 80 percent of people will want to do, says Millette: turn on and off a light; dim or brighten a light; set a schedule. There are different levels in there for the 20 percent who might want to change colors or access additional features, but the core basic functionality is front and center, along with support for Google and Alexa, which brings voice control.

At CES 2024 this week, Hubspace unveiled its latest additions to the ecosystem, which are taking it beyond the lighting / shading space and into some other popular categories: the smart garden, smart bathroom, and smart security.

Image: The Home Depot
  • The Hubspace Smart Home Security Kit is a DIY home monitoring kit with a keypad, contact and motion sensors, and a siren / hub. This has a built-in backup battery in case of a power outage, and the system sends alerts to the app for self-monitoring. The contact sensors also borrow one of the best features of the now-defunct Nest Secure system: you can press the sensor to temporarily bypass it for 60 seconds, so there is no need to disarm the entire alarm system at 3AM just to let the dog out to pee.
Image: The Home Depot
  • The Hubspace Smart Thermostat is a basic Wi-Fi / BLE-enabled device that requires a C-wire and allows for control through the app.
Image: The Home Depot
  • The Husky Smart Watering Timer is a Bluetooth watering timer with two independently controlled spigots that can operate on different schedules and be programmed to run from one minute up to six hours. A Rain Delay feature allows you to pause the schedule for a set period. It comes with an indoor smart plug that works with BLE / Wi-Fi.
Image: The Home Depot
  • The Commercial Electric Smart Exhaust Fan with Bluetooth Speaker is a smart bathroom fan with a built-in Bluetooth speaker and a motion and humidity sensor to turn the device on when it gets steamy. The LED lights are motion-controlled, full color, and tunable white, and the fan has varying speeds from 80 to 110 CFM.
  • The Vissanni 8.8 cubic foot Smart Chest Freezer can switch between fridge and freezer settings using the Hubspace app and will send a notification if the temperature is abnormal or the freezer goes offline for more than 30 minutes. It’s a simple concept that could save you a ton of money in rotten meat.

The Home Depot hasn’t announced pricing for any of the new products yet but says they will be in line with the affordable price points of its existing products and will launch later in 2024.

While the possibility remains that The Home Depot will one day retire its Hubspace brand in a similarly ignominious way as its competitors, the smart home of 2023 does feel like it’s in a better place than the smart home of the 2010s.

Personally, I think finally moving the smart home devices into the same aisles in The Home Depot’s physical stores as its non-smart counterparts will make the biggest difference. That way, customers can more easily compare the benefits of connected devices. Millette tells me the company is adding prominent orange Hubspace branding to the packaging to highlight these products. With the price premium for smart features finally falling, it’s entirely possible The Home Depot will pull this off.