Technology and the Smart Home

A better home? Living in technology. . .

Innovative technology has developed to enhance human lives whether that be for better security, organisation, energy usage, entertainment or education, the list goes on. . . One place where all of these prospective improvements come together is in your home. Through the Internet of Things (IoT), developers have sought to make our home lives seamlessly compatible with the technology we use, from coffee machines to highly advanced house-bots. Recently, companies like Google, Apple and Amazon have jostled to become the leader in Smart Home devices, offering Artificially Intelligent, IoT connected products like Echo, Nest and Google Home. According to a survey by Accenture, 69% of homes will be installed with a connected device of some kind by 2019. But why would you want a connected home, and what products are already out there?

Smart homes are marketed to the public using a plethora of different improvements, including better security, organisation, energy conservation and the overall achievement of an easier life. It’s not difficult to see how a Smart Home might be particularly attractive for a busy family, or a solitary OAP with complicated medical needs. Products that are available right now include domestic social robots like Pepper, which act as friendly helpers in the home – perfect for a single pensioner who doesn’t necessarily have the physical ability to be fully self-sufficient.

Most Smart Home technology relies on sensors, data storage and commands. The Nest Learning Thermostat logs user preferences to automatically control heating levels throughout the day. For improved security, numerous companies have created surveillance cameras to keep a constant eye on the home. The Icontrol Networks Piper, for example, is a smart camera that can also automate lighting and water. It isn’t just about producing stand-alone devices, either. Apple’s HomeKit system is compatible with hundreds of devices including Amazon’s AI platform Alexa and Google’s Nest. The HomeKit uses a central app to control all devices within the house. A typical day in a Smart Home might begin by waking up to an automated alarm, stepping into a self-starting shower and heading downstairs to a fresh Americano whilst the morning’s news updates play on the TV. There’s a lot of merit in Smart Homes and the products available are already pretty cool. Unfortunately, there’s a darker side to IoT connectivity. Big Data and IoT are two sides of the same vulnerable coin. There’s only so much data you can put online before it starts to present a cybersecurity risk, which is ironic considering the watchdog functions that are championed by Smart Home enthusiasts.

How disruptive are Smart Homes?
The Smart Home has created a new market, characterised by fierce competition between tech giants. Competitors will only increase as the market grows, as will the implications for various industries. For example, construction firms and manufacturing companies should work to ensure compatibility with smart devices and systems like Apple’s HomeKit. There will also be social consequences. Connected homes will alter the family dynamic as less time will be spent on menial household chores. It will become less and less the case that one parent will be associated with housekeeping and the other with bread-winning. Parents will be able to spend equal amounts of time with their children. The population (those who can afford to kit out their Smart Homes, anyway) will become far more accustomed to technology. Even so, there are clear barriers to mass adoption. The first is conservatism – people might not want their homes to be infiltrated by even more gadgets. In addition, Smart Homes rely on structure. If you don’t have structure, it may be just as much hassle to keep reprogramming your settings as doing everything yourself. There’s also the ever-growing cybersecurity concerns associated with mass connectivity.

Opportunities for business. . .
Smart Homes present huge opportunities for businesses across the board, creating a new market with no real obvious forerunner. That’s why Apple, Amazon and Google are throwing themselves into smart domestic appliances, and they’re not the only ones. Both established firms and startups are sure to follow, looking to capitalise on the increasing demand for new products for the postmodern home. Construction teams, manufacturers and designers will all have to consider IoT compatibility in their business models. Smart Homes are also going to affect companies that have made a name for themselves in domestic appliances. . . IKEA is about to get a whole lot more interesting.

There’s still a long way to go before members of the public come round to the idea of living in connected houses. Sure, closing your garage door using your TV is a cool trick, but at the same time it’s completely unnecessary. Necessity is perhaps not the point of connected devices, but home owners are likely to question if there’s any real need for a house full of sensors. It’s up to marketing teams to convince them that there is.

There’s no doubt about it – Smart Homes are cool. They’re generating a lot of interest from big companies and startups alike, and the number of connected domestic devices is quickly growing. This has been helped along by society’s willingness to exist alongside innovative technology. However, as fast-moving as new tech is, it’s easy to be sceptical of the prediction that 69% of homes will host a connected device within the next three years, even if this includes automated vehicles. People have only recently accepted AI-powered technology in the work place, and there are so many security concerns associated with domestic data. Who knows what a cybercriminal (or a corporation) could do with sensitive information taken from household settings. In short, home owners might be happy to let some advanced technology over the threshold, but it doesn’t look like they’re ready to get into bed with it just yet.

Will most homes have a connected device of some kind by the end of the decade? Who will win the race to become the name of Smart Homes? Will your business be affected by the growth of Smart Home products? Share your thoughts and experiences below.