Easy Button meets home automation with Staples Connect

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Staples isn’t just for printer paper and toner anymore: The big box retailer is making a major play for the smart home and office with Staples Connect. Coming in November, the new platform aims to let you easily control connected home equipment such as lights, heating, and blinds with a single mobile app.

When it rolls out, Connect will offer compatible devices from numerous major brands including Honeywell, GE, Lutron, Philips, and FirstAlert.

Staples Connect starts with the Universal Hub, a $99 Linksys box that sits in your home and connects to all the smart devices in your house through a home network either via Ethernet or Wi-Fi. Your home devices are then controlled via the Hub, which you communicate with remotely via the Staples Connect mobile app for Android and iOS.

Staples will offer installation service for Connect via its EasyTech services.

Starting up the home at Staples

The software platform powering Staples Connect is the work of home automation start-up Zonoff. Founded in 2011, Zonoff provides "white label" connected home software for retailers and connected device makers. In addition to Staples, Zonoff also powers products by Somfy, a company that makes motorized window blinds and shades.

The Staples Connect app. (Click to enlarge.)

But Staples appears to be Zonoff’s first major client for its vision of bringing together multiple third-party smart devices and controlling them through a single app. If Staples is successful, other retailers with a bigger hand in home appliances such as Best Buy, Home Depot, or Sears could follow suit with competing platforms.

That’s a big “if,”however, as technology and home appliance companies have spent years touting the wonders of home automation to no avail. Despite the attraction of Nest thermostats and blinds that can slide open when you’re 10 miles from home, consumers have generally stuck with traditional home devices and appliances, excluding the odd programmable coffee maker or air conditioner timer.

That reluctance to wire up the home could finally change in the coming years as connected home equipment becomes more commonplace and solutions such as Staples Connect become more prevalent. At the Consumer Electronics Show in January, smart home appliances were all the rage and CES 2014 may offer more of the same—Zonoff plans to show off its connected home vision during the show.

Who knows? If a home automation craze actually takes off, Google may even dust off its old Android@Home program and turn it into an actual product.

Staples Connect is the second major home automation push from a major U.S. retailer in the past year, following the rollout of a simplified home monitoring service from Lowe’s called Iris in July 2012. ISPs such as Verizon and Comcast also offer home automation products.

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