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2016 – the year of IoT!

30th December 2016

We’re swiftly approaching the end of 2016, so I wanted to look back and reflect on what’s happened in the past 12 months, and boy has it been an interesting and very busy year for us here at Hive!

Earlier in the year we moved beyond just heating and introduced a range of new products to the Hive ecosystem. We added smart plugs, motion sensors, contact sensors and light bulbs to our range.

As well as our new products, we also totally redesigned our iOS and Android apps. This was a real design challenge for us. We wanted customers to be able to add multiple products and devices to their home without the app losing its simplicity. The challenge we set ourselves was providing an app experience that our own parents could easily use, and we feel we’ve achieved that – our new app provides a single view where customers can see the status of their home and control their Hive devices with a tap or two!

Newly designed products!

Another challenge we faced this year was ensuring that our new products were as beautifully designed as our thermostat (which was designed by Yves Béhar from fuseproject). We therefore decided to redesign our Motion Sensor, Window or Doors Sensor, and Hive Active Plug to ensure they looked as good as our thermostat. This redesign required more than simply improving the aesthetic; we optimised them for better radio performance and physical footprint to make them the very best they could be.

 

IoT and 2016

2016 was also a very interesting year for the broader internet-of-things sector. We saw some interesting developments not least in the renewed interest in voice controls and the advancements in natural language processing engines combined with machine learning capabilities. Voice recognition systems have been around for a while and are not new, but what changed in 2016 was that voice controls got a lot better and were provided with dedicated hardware to interact with them. I remember when I was a kid (back in the days of the ZX81, Vic20, Commodore 64 – ahh, those were the days *sigh*), voice controls were the stuff of the future. What really brought home to me how things have evolved was watching my 12 year old boy turning his lights on and off using the Amazon Echo device and then it hit me; the future really is here!

At Hive we believe that voice controls are an important component of the home automation experience – we however don’t subscribe to the view that voice controls will negate all other forms of controls via apps. There are some truly resonant voice control use cases. For example, if you’re sitting at home and want to turn the lights on, it’s easier to do this via a voice command (e.g “Alexa, tell Hive to turn the living room lights on”) as opposed to finding your phone, entering your pin, opening the app and turning the light on.

In our view, the most exciting and interesting voice system in this category was the Amazon Alexa natural language processing engine coupled with the three hardware devices that Amazon introduced.

When we first tried Amazon Echo and Amazon Alexa we were so impressed that we had to ensure Hive worked with it and in September we announced our integration with Amazon Alexa.

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But Amazon was not alone in their mission to offer voice controls and so as to not be outdone Google announced Google Home. It hasn’t yet arrived in the UK but we’ve been testing it since its launch in the US and we’re impressed with what we’ve seen.

In August we also announced our integration with if-this-then-that (IFTTT). We think IFTTT is a super cool piece of tech that enables you to create a chain of conditional statements based on triggers, so for example you can say ‘send me an email if the Hive Motion Sensor detects motion at home’. So far our customers have set up hundreds of ‘applets’ or ‘recipes’ using IFTTT and we’re delighted that you’re enjoying it.

More than meets the eye

It’s not common knowledge outside of Centrica, but the Hive team are responsible for more than just the Hive products you see. The team developed something called Boiler IQ for British Gas which was a world first in creating a monitoring and diagnostics system for Worcester Bosch boilers. This partnership with Worcester Bosch enables British Gas to monitor customers boilers and if they break down, we proactively contact customers and can arrange a visit with the right parts ensuring a much higher level of first time resolution of the fault. This means customers spend less time without heating or hot water. Boiler IQ reuses the same infrastructure as the Hive products and you’ll start to see offers in 2017 where Boiler IQ customers can add more hive products to their home.

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The other non-Hive branded product the hive team develops is the MyEnergy report for British Gas Energy customers. This is an energy consumption report provided to smart and non-smart meter customers. Expressing energy in kWH is a confusing concept for many customers and one of the key benefits of the MyEnergy report is that is provides usage in pounds and pence for customers. More than this, the MyEnergy report also estimates how much customers are using on various appliances at home. Over 3 million customers have access to this energy report and we can see the levels of net promoter scores of customers who use this report compared to customers who don’t access it.

Our products are only as good as the underlying platform that powers them. Our Honeycomb platform is constantly evolving to meet the growth challenges via a highly distributed and scalable architecture, which will soon stretch across many many homes. It’s easy to create a platform to control one light bulb, but it’s a different order of magnitude to reliably switch millions of devices 24/7 for our customers. We’ve made significant architectural improvements in 2016 to the honeycomb platform and hubs in customers homes, but it’s a constantly evolving challenge as we grow. We are moving more and more to microservices in the platform to enable more efficient scalability and greater reliability and have decided that MQTT is the messaging layer we’re going to adopt in the future, moving away from AMQP. A bit like painting the Severn Bridge, this is a never ending job.

Our big ambitions for 2017

In 2017 we expect to see greater adoption of connected home products across the world. IoT products and services have improved considerably this year and consumers are becoming more familiar and comfortable with this technology. The connected home is no longer the preserve of techies like me and is ready for the big time!

We’re truly excited for what 2017 holds for Hive and can’t wait for you all to see what we’ve been working on in the background. We can’t give too much away but expect more partnerships and products to be landing over the next 12 months. We’ll share more on this via our social channels and MyHive emails throughout the year.

Helping our customers make the most of their homes with clever technology drives us and is what we get out of bed for each morning, so thank you to each of you for your support, here’s to a brilliant New Year and beyond.

Kass

Kassir Hussain

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