Samsung gets Serious about Home Automation with SmartThings Purchase

SmartThings announced on Thursday that it has been purchased by electronics maker Samsung. The acquisition means Samsung is serious about wanting to own the smart home market and give Apple's HomeKit in iOS 8 a serious run for its money.

Samsung snaps up home automation company SmartThingsSamsung snaps up home automation company SmartThings

SmartThings is known for in part for its own home automation products, but more so for its open philosophy towards other devices. Along with its own gear, SmartThings supports products such as Philips' Hue LED lightbulbs, several networked thermostats, and remote control lock systems companies such as Schlage and Kwickset.

Instead of rolling SmartThings into its existing product lines, Samsung plans to let the company continue operating independently. For end users, that's good news because SmartThings should still be able to react quickly to customer requests and improve its offerings outside of Samsung's massive corporate structure.

For SmartThings, the deal means more financial backing and potentially new sales channels, too. SmartThings founder and CEO, Alex Hawkinson, said,

We believe that there is an enormous opportunity to leverage Samsung’s global scale to help us realize our long-term vision. While we will remain operationally independent, joining forces with Samsung will enable us to support all of the leading smartphone vendors, devices, and applications; expand our base of developers and enhance the tools and programs that they rely on; and help many more people around the world easily control and monitor their homes using SmartThings.

The deal gives Samsung a head start over Apple in the smart home game because SmartThings is already selling its own home automation hub, motion and multi-sensors, and compatible locks, switches, outlets, and more from third party companies. The company also offers iPhone and Android apps for single point control over everything in your smart home.

In contrast, Apple doesn't have a cohesive home automation platform in the public's hands yet. That's coming with the launch of iOS 8 in the coming weeks, but instead of including its own device product line, Apple is offering a common platform for controlling the smart home devices you already own -- assuming the makers designed them to be HomeKit-compatible.

Apple also doesn't have an automation hub device like SmartThings -- at least not yet. That device could be in our homes already in the form of the Apple TV, and through a software or hardware update, those smart home management features could be unlocked for us.

Samsung already has that through SmartThings because many companies have already rolled support into their products, and you can buy them right now. For Apple, developers need to update their products to offer HomeKit support. There will be some HomeKit-compatible devices on the market when iOS 8 ships, but SmartThings has the leg up because consumers are already using its setup in their homes.

Despite Samsung's head start, Apple still has an opportunity to catch up. Apple routinely enters markets later than its competitors and then overtakes them, just as it did with the iPod, iPhone and iPad, and it's possible that could happen again in the home automation market.

Buying SmartThings shows Samsung is serious about being a real player in the smart home market, but it also validates Apple's decision to get into the space, too. If Samsung didn't see home automation as a potentially huge market, and if it didn't see Apple as a serious threat in that space, SmartThings would still be its own company without the backing of one of the world's largest electronics makers.