Founder Nathan Smith on What Comes Next for Wink, Smart Homes, & IoT

Xconomy New York — 

To say the least, the past year was “colorful” for Wink, the New York-based developer of a hub and app that control smart home devices.

Back in the fall, the company that Wink spun out from and shared a headquarters building with, Quirky, went bankrupt in spectacular fashion. However, in that time of seeming uncertainty, Flextronics International USA (Flex) rode in and acquired Wink.

The deal put Wink in the hands of a huge provider of electronics manufacturing services, though the company remains a separate entity. Wink’s CTO and founder Nathan Smith spoke with me recently about what his company is up to now—as the general public still tries to figure out what they really want to do with connected devices, smart homes, and the Internet of Things scene.

Wink is primarily known for its Wink Hub, which can control different devices, such as smart thermostats and Wi-Fi-enabled lights, regardless of who manufactured them.

Current parent company Flex has a comparable outlook to Wink when it comes to working with multiple, competing brands, Smtih says. “Flex makes wearables for lots of different companies,” he says. “We connect products from Nest, Honeywell, and Emerson. We try to be an agnostic player.”

Since the acquisition, Wink has made use of Flex’s scale and relationships to grow, Smith says. Flex, meanwhile, has connected through Wink with clientele it had not dealt with before. “They are starting to talk to a lot of people that we work with in the smart home industry,” he says, “especially some of the startups we are in close contact with.”

Next up for Wink will be to expand its team and move in April or May to new offices, Smith says. New hardware products are on the way later this year, he says, but it is too early to reveal details. Integration of its platform with more third-party devices is also in the works for Wink Hub. “Even during the rockiness of 2015, we added partners like Canary and Ring,” Smith says.

Incidentally, Canary, the maker of an app-controlled home monitoring device, last year moved into the same building as Wink, occupying Quirky’s former office space.

Though smart devices are gradually turning up in more homes—Wink Hub is used with some 1.2 million of these gadgets, Smith says—mainstream adoption remains elusive. For all the different strategies and ideas on the table, such as linking money to the Internet of Things or providing wireless broadband for smart homes, not a whole lot has changed yet.

Nathan Smith believes the Wink Hub can cut down the friction that has kept the masses from adopting connected devices in their homes. (photo by João-Pierre S. Ruth)

Nathan Smith believes the Wink Hub can cut down the friction that has kept the masses from adopting connected devices in their homes. (photo by João-Pierre S. Ruth)

So perhaps it is better to do more than one trick when it comes to IoT. Smith says Wink’s comparatively large footprint as a consumer-connected platform can be leveraged in other ways. “We think we’re going to expand that in 2016 by adding connections to third-party services that are outside the device realm,” he says.

Because of its links to various Internet of Things products, companies such as Ford and Amazon have turned to Wink, Smith says. For instance, Wink’s software has been integrated with the Ford SYNC Connect system, which lets drivers remotely control and program devices including garage doors and outside lights. When a driver approaches home, the system can prompt them about turning on their lights and setting the thermostat, he says.

Home security monitoring system ADT has integrated Wink’s software platform as well. Wink is also weighing the creation of its own premium, subscription service for users, Smith says.

One way to entice the general public to fully embrace connected homes could be to get them started with higher-profile products such as Nest thermostats and Philips Hue smart LED lighting. “Our average Nest user has 10 other devices connected to their account,” Smith says.

While the average person might not initially plan to fully convert their residence into a smart home, he says, they may add devices over time. “We think it’s a false notion that the regular consumer is not ready for this space,” Smith says. Eliminating the complex setup and configuration process for connected home devices might be the tipping point for mass appeal, he says.

Cutting out that friction may come down to people relying on Wink more—yet using the app less directly, Smith says. For example, if someone often turns on the same group of products together, Wink could suggest automating a schedule to activate them, such as adjusting the heat and lights whenever they are at home. “That experience is the promise of the smart home that no one’s really captured yet,” he says.