The smart home, among other things, is one of the many segments of the wireless industry I keep fairly close tabs on.
For years, I have been going to conferences, tradeshows and conventions that all have some sort of smart home presence. Yet as I look back, it seems that the smart home just has not moved nearly as fast as some other platforms, or as fast as I expected, quite frankly. So, I did a bit of due diligence to see what factors are at play here.
First of all, it is not the technology. Smart home technology is at the cutting edge just like many other platforms. Is it the cost? To some degree, yes. But it is not the primary factor. It was a lot more stifling when smart bulbs were $50+. Today, smart bulbs have dropped to around $15, which is still at the higher end of the scale. To really get it into the hands of the consumer, low-end devices (such as bulbs and wall sockets) need to be around half of the current price.
However, the main impediment to faster adoption is that the consumer sees the technology as too complex. Since the emergence of this market, the focus has been more on the technology than the consumer. While technology takes priority in other segments (phones, entertainment, computing devices), it doesn’t seem to be that important to the smart home consumer.
That makes sense to me. I am about as far out on the bleeding edge as possible. My home office has become nicknamed “command central” (two 8th generation core i7 desktops, five monitors, two laptops, one tablet and two phones – and we won’t even talk about my media setups). But I get the consumer’s perspective.
The one place where I do not want to manage technology is my home. I want my smart home to be straight-forward, simple to implement, modify and control. And that is not the case with the smart home, at present.
Scale that down to the average consumer who runs most of their life on a tablet or smartphone and generally leaves passwords at the factory setting. I do not mean to imply that they do not know, or cannot use these devices, especially gen-Y on, but they are not interested in how or why, just that it does what they want. If they purchase a smart thermostat, they just want to install it, and have it handshake with the smart home network and digital assistants (Alexa or Siri, or Google, or Cortana or BixBy), seamlessly.
As well, there are no real business models yet. Just rather basic systems available across all vendors. While the players all offer similar solutions, they are not interoperable. And they are really not smart, just connected. Smart devices need to offer more than just power and time or voice/input commands. For example, a coffee maker that, using facial recognition, can automatically make a beverage to the exact preference of whomever is using it at the time. The same with smart showers (know the desired temperature and pressure), security systems (automatic arm and disarm because they recognize the occupants), HVAC (adjust environmental conditions in a room per occupant’s desires and efficiently manage their comfort in real time), and other home systems.
There are also not a lot of value added services. That is where the money is. Once a smart home is all decked out in smart devices, the value proposition ends for the vendors unless they have ways to bring additional services.
All of this will take more than just digital assistants. While today’s digital assistants are a nice next-generation interface, they have a somewhat limited scope. Talking to a device to have it do things is just the next iteration of inputs. I do not consider that being smart, personally. Real intelligence comes when the devices know what to do without direct input and in real time.
This step will require artificial intelligence and machine learning (ML), which enables machine intelligence (MI). It is no different with smart homes as it is with smart cities – just a level of scale. In fact, a recent Gartner report predicts that 25 percent of households will use AI-powered digital assistants as the primary interface for connected home services by next year. It will be interesting to see if, or how AI changes the landscape.
So, going forward, the smart home industry needs to understand what the consumer wants – not just deploying technology because it exists. It must enable the consumer and they must be comfortable and have confidence in it so it, ultimately, enables convenience.
Plug and play is essential. So is interoperability. Once these, and other issues are resolved, then the industry can think about value propositions for add-on services and features that make a home smart, as well as adding convenience and value for the occupants.
Executive Editor/Applied Wireless Technology
His 20-plus years of editorial experience includes being the Editorial Director of Wireless Design and Development and Fiber Optic Technology, the Editor of RF Design, the Technical Editor of Communications Magazine, Cellular Business, Global Communications and a Contributing Technical Editor to Mobile Radio Technology, Satellite Communications, as well as computer-related periodicals such as Windows NT. His technical writing practice client list includes RF Industries, GLOBALFOUNDRIES, Agilent Technologies, Advanced Linear Devices, Ceitec, SA, and others. Before becoming exclusive to publishing, he was a computer consultant and regularly taught courses and seminars in applications software, hardware technology, operating systems, and electronics. Ernest’s client list has included Lucent Technologies, Jones Intercable, Qwest, City and County of Denver, TCI, Sandia National Labs, Goldman Sachs, and other businesses. His credentials include a BS, Electronic Engineering Technology; A.A.S, Electronic Digital Technology. He has held a Colorado Post-Secondary/Adult teaching credential, member of IBM’s Software Developers Assistance Program and Independent Vendor League, a Microsoft Solutions Provider Partner, and a life member of the IEEE. He has been certified as an IBM Certified OS2 consultant and trainer; WordPerfect Corporation Developer/Consultant and Lotus Development Corporation Developer/Consultant. He was also a first-class FCC technician in the early days of radio. Ernest Worthman may be contacted at: firstname.lastname@example.org.