The Launch Review: Cozify Smart Home

May 10, 2016


Wrapping Up

I am really enjoying the functionality of the Cozify hub. It’s a definite step in the right direction for me and if you’re looking to automate your home, I have no doubt that this is a great piece of kit with which to do it.

That much said though, I would be remiss if I didn’t make you aware of the whole picture. As things stand today, smart homes products are still something of a niche offering and I think there are several reasons for this:

  • There are multiple standards for smart connectivity.
  • Multiple manufacturers of smart goods, some of which integrate into the main smart hub app (Osram spotlights) while others need their manufacturer app (Sonos) to function.
  • The price of entry is still relatively high by most standards.

There is a lack of confidence from some that devices which have traditionally had long shelf lives are starting to go the way of the smartphone and require ever newer software, hardware, updates etc. People don’t want to have that kind of instability in the ecosystem which runs their homes, it makes them feel less cosy.

Way back at the start of this article, I described some of my early technology desires from convergence. Smartphones and tablets have now largely eliminated the problem statement there. But as many will know, where one bottleneck is removed, what it does is expose the next one which is further down the chain. Progress has been made, absolutely. We have single devices which handle calls and music and email and diaries and video and camera and camcorder and are always connected and allow us to have apps like Cozify’s on them. But they have now exposed the next level of convergence which is needed, namely app convergence, which is still lacking.

Cozify at home

If and when I decide to go the smart home route, I don’t want to have X different apps to manage it all. I want one.

And on top of that, I want it to be simple.

And I want it to be powerful.

Cozify have done a great job of integrating a huge amount of functionality into their app and keeping it simple. They’ve not managed to completely remove the dependency on external manufacturer provided apps which is not the end of the world but simply the next step in the converged technology I crave in this kind of situation.

Then we get to state management. My day job is in finance. I’ve spent much of my career designing and creating heavily automated algorithmic trading systems and strategies. Some people think this is fancy, complicated stuff, but in some ways, it’s actually pretty simple. It ultimately boils down to one of three end results.

Buy something.

Sell something.

Do nothing.

Now, if I showed you some of the algorithms which generate the decision point to do one of those three things, it’s absolutely complicated, even more than complicated, it’s complex (see my series of articles on software development where I talk about complexity).

Automation management (which of course is what smart homes are trying to do) is about taking a brain dump from you and putting it into a set of rules which a computer can manage. The trouble is, if the generation of a trading signal which has 3 end states is so complex, how complex do you think it will be to manage something like your home which has tens, hundreds, thousands or more possible end states?

In short, it’s very complex. And this is where what I’ve seen of home automation starts to unravel ever so slightly. Ever noticed how when everything is going fine, nobody says anything, but the second it goes wrong, they notice? This is kind of the home automation conundrum. Most of the time, it’ll do exactly what you want it to do. When it doesn’t, you’re going to notice. That’s not to say that you can’t manage that and setup new rules and scenes and timers and device states and exceptions etc, but programming is about managing complexity. Although you’re not writing C++ code here, make no mistake, you are programming. Cozify has done a brilliant job of hiding that fact and making it user friendly and easy to use, but it will still take time and effort to brain dump your mind into a ruleset which works for you.

Programming, believe it or not, you're doing it!

I’m sure most people don’t want to have a software development environment to setup in their home when their lights come on and off, but for some it could be useful. I’ve done enough algo writing in my time to know that I would love a stateful script engine which I could use to play with Cozify and setup my perfect smart home. I have no doubt it would take even more time and effort on my part and I’m also sure the majority of the market wouldn’t be into that. I’ve reached out to Cozify to find out what their plans are around the scripting engine Kimmo mentioned in the Q&A.

Rule scripting is a central part of the Cozify hub and it has been in development from day one. All the rules available in the hub are written with our scripting interface. There is a web user interface for writing and uploading scripts to the hub and we’re aiming to provide smooth integration with different development environments for rule development and debugging.

The script engine itself runs Python and we will release it to hobbyists and 3rd parties. We’ve already given some developers early access at hackathons to get feedback and there is a huge interest group waiting for us to release it but we still have work to do in terms of polishing the interface, documentation and security. Once it’s fully public, there is no turning back and we’ll need to be fully backwards compatible.

We will also offer REST/JSON based API’s to communicate with the hub so that 3rd parties can add their own devices and integrate with back end services.

That much said, practicalities often kick in. As much as I have the capability to do this kind of thing, can I really be bothered to program my house to that degree? Probably not. Would I want to go with one of the more complicated setups which need an engineer to come out and program everything for me? Absolutely not since I’m sure it’s fine initially, but what happens when you realise you forgot about scenario 372 and you need to pay a callout fee to get an engineer to come and reprogram your washing machine? No thanks.

So for me, the Cozify setup is a decent blend of simplicity in automation and reasonable edge case handling. Less technical people who lack the desire to create rulesets which cater for every single scenario they’re ever likely to come across are likely to be amazed at the capabilities of the system. If you still want to automate a lot of things and smarten up your home, don’t expect it to be a quick process. Sensor placement, rule setup, scene setup, exception handling etc will take time. But a lot less time than having to code it and a much easier debug if and when you get something wrong!

It’s definitely a brave new world. Cozify are at the vanguard of this movement and blazing the trail for the world. It’s not perfect, nothing really is, but they’re working hard on it and if you’re looking for a smart home automation system, even with its inherent expense and relative complexity, they’re a good setup to consider.

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