In the 20 years I've been covering digital home technologies, I've only seen a few houses with any kind of Internet-connected essential systems, like energy monitoring or security. Considering the number of homes that have broadband, I find this a conceptual disconnect. But outside of the few super-geeky or rich, people just don't seem to be into the idea.
Unlike the dynamic and shifting market for gadgets, fed by consumers' lust for technology and the requirement for marketers to keep innovating to fuel that need, connected home innovation comes to the homebuilding and renovation industries slowly. Maybe this is because consumers just aren't excited about setting their thermostats from their iPhones, or that they don't really want to spend money on a security system that's of value only in an emergency, not day to day.
But the video-monitoring company Avaak is still trying to break this market open. Avaak's Dan Gilbert tells me that at CES next month the company will announce an update to its Vue camera system that has a necessary feature that was missing from its initial product that launched in March 2009. Finally, the system is getting motion-sensitive cameras. Previously, you could tap into a Vue camera in your home from anywhere on the Web, making them usable only for checking in on your house, kids, or pets, but not for getting any kind of alerts. The new product should ship in January.
The Vue system is hardly the only Internet camera system designed for home monitoring out there, but other systems are more involved or complex. (Personally, I have two Panasonic BL-C131a cameras at my house, and they are both expensive and complex.) Logitech's Alert system is perhaps the closest competitor. It's more capable as a security solution, but a one-camera Alert starter system is nearly $300 and the annual fee for full access from the Web or a mobile device is $80; a two-camera Vue setup will list at $319 and carries only a $20 annual fee (which I'm told may eventually be reduced or eliminated). Additionally, the Vue cameras are battery-powered and wireless, making physical setup (and later reconfiguration) very simple. Like all modern Web security cameras, the Avaak Vue system connects to the Web directly through a home's broadband; it does use a connection to a local PC.
You can of course get a professionally installed monitoring system from your alarm company; ADT is now selling the Pulse service, for example. But prices for that are likely higher and will require a non-trivial monthly monitoring fee as well. You can also buy monitoring cameras that are Internet-accessible (see Panasonic and Linksys for example), but setup is a bit more involved.
The Vue is far from the most capable home video-monitoring product out there (did I mention that the cameras don't capture audio?), but it is fairly priced and its tiny, battery-powered, magnetically mounted cameras make it the easiest to set up. If the Internet service providers and telecommunications companies get onboard in the home-monitoring space, their presence could be a boost to companies like Avaak. As Gilbert says, companies in this market are "still trying to crack the retail code."