Does the smart-home world really need another incubator to spur startups toward building the connected household of the future? Apparently Icontrol Networks thinks so and has just announced plans for its OpenHome Labs program to do just that. In a new twist, however, the company has also forged a partnership with crowdfunding website Indiegogo to back Icontrol-compatible devices as part of the deal.
The driving force behind this arrangement says Icontrol is to foster innovation within the "connected-home ecosystem," though it's pretty clear that the company's designs aren't completely altruistic. Startups hand-picked by both Icontrol and Indiegogo to join the OpenHome Labs program will no doubt enjoy a bit of a leg up in terms of discounts and free marketing. That said, in order for program participants to qualify, they must agree to receive guidance as to how to bring their products to market and tactics for scaling up production.
What's unclear, though, is exactly how much control (pun intended) Icontrol will exert over its planned flock of fledgling device designers. In the case of Playtabase, creators of the Reemo, it would seem not an undue amount. In addition to jumping on the Icontrol OpenHome Labs bandwagon, Playtabase is also currently a member of Microsoft's Accelerator Seattle program (which ends in December 2014) and is working closely with the Microsoft Home OS research project. Furthermore, Playtabase founders stressed they consider Reemo to be a completely platform-agnostic product that's not tied to one smart-home protocol.
To be fair, this lines up with how Icontrol envisions the OpenHome Labs project to function. Icontol Vice President of Marketing Greg Roberts explained to me that the primary goal of OpenHome is to tap into the uniquely inventive startup space. He said, "There's a whole lot of new thinking and new innovation coming out of the startup world, and we want to really leverage that."
As to whether Icontrol would push program members toward its own ends, limit features, or micromanage product design in any way, Roberts roundly dismissed the notion. "We are merely consultants. If companies come to us with an idea, we'll offer the basics such as technical advice, retail distribution, everything they need to take the path they want to take," he said.
Even so, the main benefit for startups that might be considering sidling up to Icontrol is to get a bargain on crowdsourced funding via Indiegogo. What Icontrol potentially gets out of this arrangement is evident, too: more smart home devices on the road toward OpenHome certification. Hopefully that's a good thing for consumers in the long run as well.