The State of DIY Home Security


Welcome to the Augment Intelligence newsletter, a weekly analysis of Internet products. Each week I’ll be exploring a different market segment. If you’ve been forwarded this email or are reading it on the Web, you can sign up here to receive Augment Intelligence by email.

For the first edition of this newsletter, I’m looking at DIY home security. By this I mean an Internet product – or, as we shall see, a suite of products – that monitors your home. I chose home security for this, my debut newsletter, because it is an existing market that is being disrupted by consumer Internet technology. My next two newsletters will explore entirely new markets (virtual reality content outside of gaming, and wearable tech in clothing). But home security is already a large market – and Internet companies are breaking in!

Pros & Cons

The main difference between existing home security systems and DIY Internet products, is that you don’t need to pay a monthly monitoring fee for the latter. You simply pay for the product and then self-monitor, typically using your smartphone. Some DIY products charge a monthly fee for cloud storage of security camera footage, but that’s optional and low-cost.

So price and the ability to self-monitor are the main benefits of DIY home security. However, there is a tradeoff. DIY products generally won’t offer the level of security you’ll find in a monitored security system. Some new solutions, such as LG Smart Security, blend Internet tools with monitoring. But the cost rises accordingly. So you’ll need to consider where on the self-monitoring / low cost -> monitored / high cost spectrum you’re comfortable being.

With that in mind, what do you look for in a home security system? In a Network World article last May, three tenets of home security were listed. They were surveillance, sensors and locks. You want to be able to see what’s going on in your home (surveillance), know if something unusual is happening (sensors), and be certain your home is secure (locks). I’d like to add a fourth tenet: sirens; to trigger an alarm if something is compromised.

In my research into the DIY home security market, I discovered that there are two main approaches in 2016. The simple approach is to purchase an Internet-connected camera, such as Google’s Nest Cam. The advanced approach is to purchase a package of products, from the likes of iSmartAlarm. These packages typically include sensors, video cameras, sirens, and more.

Just The Camera, Please

Let’s look at the simple approach first. There are a number of Internet-connected cameras on the market now, but the leader is undoubtedly the Nest Cam.

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Nest Cam evolved from Dropcam, a startup that was acquired by Nest in June 2014 (which was itself acquired by Google in January 2014). Nest Cam is easy to set up and enables you to monitor activity in your home. Features include “24/7 live streaming, advanced Night Vision, activity alerts” and a smartphone app to control it all. It streams in 1080p HD and you can remotely control the camera with zooming. It’s gotten great reviews so far, with Tom’s Guide rating it 9/10 and concluding “for painless operation, solid security footage and the ability to interact with (and through) the camera, the Nest Cam is a great choice.”

As hinted at above, you will need to pay for cloud storage though – if you require that. Starting at $10 per month, you can sign up to Nest Aware and store at least 30 days of video footage to the cloud. That’s similar to a startup I reviewed in March 2012, Sensr.net. Both Nest Cam and Sensr.net (which is still running, but unlike Nest it doesn’t offer the hardware) also try to entice users to share cutesy kid or pet footage online. But I’d advise to stick to your knitting and simply use these products as a low-cost security system. The world does not need more cutesy home videos, although Peach users might disagree.

The Packaged Solution

For a more comprehensive DIY home security setup, iSmartAlarm is a promising young company I discovered while researching this newsletter. It offers a variety of home security products, including video camera, sensors, sirens, and remote tags. It only charges for the products. Indeed, unlike Nest, it doesn’t even plan to charge for cloud storage. iSmartAlarm’s founder, Raymond Meng, told Forbes he wants to “put the customer in charge of his or her own monitoring and have all the data gathering and communications done via a free cloud service.”

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iSmartAlarm has been using crowdfunding platforms Kickstarter and Indiegogo to promote and sell its products. Its newest product is Spot, a home security camera that will compete directly with Nest Cam. iSmartAlarm claims that Spot is “the only home camera that understands smoke alarms & can recap a day in seconds with Time Lapse.”

As well as selling individual products, iSmartAlarm offers a series of product packages. They range in price from $200 to $500. The $200 package includes a CubeOne (“the brain of the system”), two Contact Sensors, one Motion Sensor, one Remote Tag, and iSmartAlarm window stickers. It doesn’t include a video camera, but you can add the Spot for $100 later this year (or you can pay $50 now on Kickstarter or Indiegogo, if there are any left at that price by the time I publish).

iSmartAlarm has so far gone under the radar of tech blogs (no review in either Techcrunch or Mashable), although CNET has rated it 8.2/10. CNET noted its reliability and ease of use, concluding that “iSmartAlarm is an intriguing, legitimate alternative in home security, especially for small-home owners and budget-minded consumers.”

Conclusion

In conclusion, DIY home security clearly has a lot of promise. On price alone, DIY Internet products are very attractive compared to what you’ll pay over a year with a monitored home security system. Plus, as both Nest and iSmartAlarm show, the best DIY products are easy to use and offer self-monitoring via a smartphone app. The big tradeoff, as mentioned, is that monitored products offer a higher level of security. The question is: are you willing to pay the much higher cost?

DIY home security will also have to overcome the ‘creepiness’ factor. Somewhat alarmingly, the Forbes reviewer said about iSmartAlarm, “everyone in my family agrees that it’s invasive and potentially creepy.” There is also the danger of hackers, as an alarmist HP report noted (ok I’m done with the alarm puns!). But these aren’t new concerns – after all, Facebook can be creepy and hackable too. It’s something we have to contend with in nearly all Internet products nowadays. Although granted, with a home security system you need to be doubly sure that it’s secure. For more on that, check out SecurityGem’s tips to prevent hacking.

Although I’ve focused on two companies in this newsletter – Nest and iSmartAlarm – there are plenty of other DIY contenders coming onto the market. At this month’s CES, a number of DIY home security solutions were showcased. A few that caught my eye were Ring’s talking Stick-up Cam (which promises to yell at burglars!), Vivint’s voice-controlled system and a futuristic product called EyeLock (a Minority Report-like eye scanner). 2016 will be a busy year for DIY home security, so I’ll be keeping an eye on how it develops.

I hope you enjoyed the first Augment Intelligence newsletter. If you did, please share it on social media and subscribe if you haven’t already.


4 responses to “The State of DIY Home Security”

  1. HI Richard,

    I think an important component on this is whether you want security inside (ie cameras and systems that run to track what goes on inside your house) verses outside. We installed Swann’s system with 8 cameras in a perimeter.. and aren’t interested in tracking people inside — nor are we interested in sharing the data unless it’s for a very particular thing — so no streaming to the cloud. Yesterday a local police detective came by to get front yard footage to try to track a bank robber.. and since the footage is so clear you can read license plates, we have it. But we only keep it for two weeks.. and don’t want to track anyone unless something happens. I think these kinds of systems can really be abused, and now instead of institutions and companies having to think through these issues, we have to individually. Using NEST likely means google is tracking you in your home, and recording at least some of what they track. Given that google tracks us on 97% of the top 1000 sites, it’s further intrusion when people may not want that.[1]

    I know you mention the creepiness factor but there are different ways this can go and it would be good to lay out those issues.

    I also mentioned costs and the fact that the hardware is fantastic and the software sux yesterday on your FB post.[2] Suggest you take up these issues if possible as they may prompt the manufacturers to get some property usability and engineering for their products.. which doesn’t currently work well. And your review might change things for the better.

    [1] https://www.ftc.gov/system/files/documents/public_comments/2015/10/00064-98109.pdf
    [2] My FB comment: “On the topic of DIY home security.. SWANN 8 video cam system: sux on the software side. Hard to get video off it, hard to use and see it, and hard to review footage. To web admin, no mac support, really bad. Motion detection is on a hair trigger even on lowest setting, which means you get 30 pics a day in email with a leaf blowing across the way. You can block out trees that move, etc, but it’s really poorly done. I don’t think they got real engineers to make their stuff. For $2000 not including installation, they have really shitty software. Hardware rocks and is fairly easy to install.”

    • Hi Mary,

      You make a great point re cameras inside vs outside. I must admit I was focusing on inside ones, since that is what I’m looking into for my own home. i.e. if someone actually breaks in, I want to see. Although I’d look to have one or two set up outside too (one to monitor our dog!). I think the Google potentially tracking is a part of the privacy consideration, although it would take a whole other post to tackle that. Personally, I’m not as concerned about it as you are – but I agree it’s worth looking into more.

      Re the software issues you had with SWANN, I didn’t look at that company. I chose to focus on 2 products that have had great reviews (incl for software), Nest Cam and iSmartAlarm. But again, I appreciate the extra info and will file that away for a future newsletter.

      Thanks for the great comment!

  2. Hi Richard,
    Thank you for the wonderful article
    When looking for a security camera system, it’s easier if you begin with a listing of the best ones that provide you all of the specifics to help you make the best choice for your needs.