Part of the attraction of a Z-Wave smart home setup is the great range of hardware modules on offer. There are currently 375 different manufacturers producing over 1,500 unique Z-Wave modules. Impressive.
But even though Z-Wave is a ‘standard’ there’s a growing issue that needs to be addressed. Every time a new device is launched you have to ask yourself – is this supported in my Z-Wave setup?
In fact it’s much more likely that, at best, you’ll have to wait some time for an update to add support for that module. At worst it may never be supported at all.
Some multi-sensor devices may inhabit a middle ground on your controller, with only some of their features supported – perhaps movement will be available but not temperature for example.
That’s because each manufacture has to program support for each new device into their controller and that’s becoming a big ask. Even mega-corporations like Samsung are taking time to add all this new stuff, so it’s easy to see how it’s becoming a huge issue for some of the more niche players. We asked Mac home automation specialists Indigo Domotics what exactly is involved and they told us…
The real problem is that, although the Z-Wave protocol provides command classes that define basic functionality (dimming, relay on/off, sensors, etc.), we then have to figure out how to best translate that into Indigo’s higher level devices and determine which UI, actions, and triggers should be shown and how they map to those command classes and endpoints. While sometimes problems arise with vendors not documenting well what command classes are used, the laborious part on our end is just figuring out how everything should be mapped to the higher level objects and UI. Another issue is that there are no clear (or at least consistently followed) Z-Wave standards for some of the higher level modules, like multi-button keypads. Modules also sometimes have firmware bugs that we have to work around, and we also have to determine what configuration parameters we want to show in the UI. Add all of this together and it and it can take a non-trivial amount of effort to implement these device definitions, especially for more complex modules.
Easy to see then how an accelerating number of new hardware releases becomes difficult to manage and how companies have to prioritise their resources, adding some devices whilst leaving others behind.
So is there a better way or is this something we just have to put up with if we want smart home systems with such a diverse range of hardware to chose from? We asked the Z-Wave Alliance for their thoughts on the situation and they told us..
The Z-Wave Alliance is committed to making sure that all devices in its ecosystem are interoperable to create a wide range of choices for consumers. To that end, the introduction of the Z-Wave Plus certification program was designed to create a rigorous set of standards by which to certify products and ensure they must work together. With Z-Wave Plus, we have created categories known as “device types” which focus specifically on device functionality from the user point of view, allowing devices to be better recognized by Z-Wave controllers. As more products go through Z-Wave Plus certification, it will be even easier for gateways, controllers and hubs to recognize and build compatibility into their user interfaces.
Without knowing exactly what the certification requirements are for the different device types, it’s hard to know if this will solve the issue. But if the Z-Wave Plus certification is testing for more operational consistency at a higher level that certainly sounds like a step in the right direction.
Samsung have built a large community around their SmartThings hub and users are able to develop their own ‘drivers’ for the new hardware using their IDE (Integrated Development Environment). Github currently has 90 plus pages worth of search results for the term ‘SmartThings’.
Whilst it’s not perfect and things do break (especially when Samsung makes un-announced changes), could other manufacturers take more advantage of their communities talents in a similar way to help them too?
Sign of Success
Ultimately it’s a sign of Z-Wave’s success that they are faced with this problem. And of course compatibility confusion is not unique to them either, just look at the recent self-induced blunder (and subsequent U-turn) Philips made over 3rd party bulb support for their Hue system.
But the popularity of Z-Wave makes it the one many of us care about the most and despite these issues it’s still one of the very best smart home options for a lot of people – myself included. So please, don’t make me Z-Wave good bye to all these great new devices.