You’ve probably never heard of Hive or its British parent, the multinational utility Centrica plc. You might be familiar with Hive’s Texas-based sister company Direct Energy, which provides residential gas and electricity services in 13 states as well as several Canadian provinces. I mention these connections because when you’re considering signing a two-year contract for smart home services from a brand-new company, you’ll want assurances that the company knows what it’s doing. You’ll also want to know that it has the financial backing to make a go of it.

On the first point, Hive’s smart home lineage can be traced back to the British manufacturer AlertMe, which was acquired by British Gas (another Centrica plc company) in February 2015. AlertMe provided the basic technology for the first-generation Iris by Lowe’s DIY smart home service, so the expertise is in place. On the second point, Centrica plc has invested nearly $650 million to launch Hive in North America (it’s been operating in the U.K. since July 2015). Centrica generated revenue of nearly $35 billion in 2016, so the backing should be there, too.

Hive is already operating in the U.K., where the company says it has amassed more than 500 thousand users. That establishes that Hive is no babe in the woods, but we won’t know how strongly—if at all—we can recommend Hive to readers until we’ve had an opportunity to bang on it. In the meantime, here’s what we know about the company’s U.S. offering so far.

Hive

The Hive app is available for Android, iOS, and Amazon hardware.

What is Hive?

In broad strokes, Hive is purely a smart-home service. It consists of sensors, smart light bulbs and smart plugs, a thermostat, and a smartphone app that works with a central hub to control everything. You can program the system using classic if/then rules, so that lights turn on and off at given times of the day or when doors open and close. There’s support for geofencing, so that your thermostat will save you money by keeping your home at comfortable temperatures only when you’re there to benefit from it.

More advanced users, meanwhile, will be able to use the third-party IFTTT service to control devices outside the Hive universe. And if you own an Amazon Echo, you’ll be able to turn lights and small appliances on and off with voice commands. You’ll also be able to set up notifications, so you know what’s going on at home while you’re away.

No real consideration is given to home security, so there’s a raft of product categories that the company doesn’t offer or support via third-party hardware—at least not at launch: There are no remote key fobs, no water leak detectors, and no video doorbells. There are no smoke or carbon-monoxide alarms, smart entry locks, intrusion sirens, or even home security cameras. And there’s no professional monitoring option, such as what is newly available for the Iris by Lowe’s system.

hive hubHive

As with most smart-home system, the Hive Hub is the brain of the Hive Hub connects to your router and serves as the local brains of the system.

How much does it cost?

The first-party hardware Hive does support is included in the subscription fee, so the up-front cost to the consumer is quite low. On the other hand, Hive expects consumers to sign a two-year contract—with an early-termination fee amounting to 75 percent of the remaining value of the contract—in exchange for that discounted hardware. While the customer retains ownership of the smart home equipment, it would likely devolve into dumb home equipment without the cloud-based service to go with it.

hive active plugHive

The Hive Active Plug can turn a plugged-in lamp or appliance on and off remotely based on rules, according to a schedule, or in response to sensor activity.

The first product is a subscription smart home service plan called Hive Welcome Home. “It’s a mix of devices, service, and software,” said Centrica Connected Home’s global managing director Nina Bhatia. “It’s an easy to use, affordable solution for making home just how you like it. Whether that means leaving the house hassle-free in the morning or coming back to the perfect environment; whether that’s temperature, lighting, or appliance control. The key three benefits are a low monthly subscription rate, so the customer doesn’t have to pay a high up-front bill; easy self-install products, which are very intuitive to set up and use; and third, features such as the app, scheduled notifications, on-demand services, and ongoing warranties.”



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