Imagine a house with a nervous system, wrote Bill Wasik in his article for Wired’s July 2013 issue. Kickstarting the article by describing Alex Hawkinson’s smart home, Wasik then covers what he calls the “programmable world.” To him, this term is a better way to think about what every one calls these days as the Internet of Things, or simply IoT.
IoT describes the emerging phenomenon in which the “intelligence once locked in our devices now flows into the universe of physical objects”, as Wasik puts it. In more concrete terms, it’s one smart device talking to another smart device through simple wireless protocols. A prime example of this is your smartphone automating the lock access to your car or apartment.
Indeed, nowhere is the IoT more fully demonstrated than in the booming technology that is home automation, which seeks to create a smart home. Considered as a subset of IoT, the smart home beats out other emerging consumer technologies in terms of the interest and investment that giant tech companies have put into it.
The race for the smart home market lead
Early this year, Google sunk $3.2 billion into acquiring Nest Labs, a maker of smart thermostat and smoke alarms, which then acquired Dropcam, a home monitoring system. Microsoft significantly invested in no less than 10 smart home startups. Rumored to launch next year is Apple’s HomeKit, its iOS-based protocol that hooks up connected devices in the smart home. Not to be left behind, Samsung acquired SmartThings, Alex Hawkinson’s DC-based home automation startup.
The bid among the tech giants for the smart home market lead is not surprising as business intelligence projects the market’s explosive growth within 5 years. Juniper Research predicts smart home revenues to reach $71 billion by 2018, while ABI research estimates it at a more conservative $14.1 billion in worldwide revenues.
Undoubtedly, the smart home is a very promising market for the big tech players, predominantly in the United States. What’s in it for the coming next generation? What are the current downsides and challenges?
2014 State of the smart home
The 2014 State of the Smart Home study by iControl, a cloud-based automation software vendor, sheds light on why some people are likely to buy a smart home while others are not. The study is based on a Google consumer research survey of 932 respondents who are 25 years of age and older, of which 73% are homeowners and 27% are renters.
The findings show that it was not the age, gender, or income level but rather the respondent’s enthusiasm for the technology that predicts his or her preferences. Hobbyists, tinkerers, and early adopters are those most likely to buy smart homes.
While convenience is a strong draw, 90% agree that personal and family security is one of the most important reasons for owning a smart home, with features such as fire detection, smoke and gas leak alarm, and valve shutoff considered critical to have.
Property loss protection and energy management are respectively ranked by 86% and 78% of the respondents as two of the next most important reasons for using a smart home system.
Respondents also think that next-gen smart home features include voice-controlled lighting, automated appliances, and sensors that track food inventory and order groceries accordingly.
Downsides and challenges
Sam Frizell in his TIME article, which can also be for the local market for smart homes,
For all its hype, the full service smart home is still very niche; less than 1% of U.S. households own that kind of system.
There are local companies like Koxneal Technologies who do offer home automation services. Although it is notable that there are a handful of home owners as clients on their project list, the company’s service seems to be more geared towards commercial establishments.
Moreover, a survey of tech experts by DC-based think tank Pew Research Center show that a minority are less than optimistic about the Internet of Things. There are serious downsides to a nascent technology like smart homes, not least of which are security vulnerabilities and privacy concerns.
There is also the view that IoT can lead to a larger digital divide as there’s the possibility that those who choose not to use it can be shut out of the system. It also has to be acknowledged that developing nations such as our country, the ones who can benefit much from smart home features such as energy efficiency, are the least able to afford them at the moment.
Home with a nervous system
For someone who grew up watching The Jetsons and their push-button world, reading about the smart home is something of a déjà vu. One can be enamoured with just the concept of being able to automate, control, and manage every piece of electronics in one’s home. In the not-so-far future, homes are to be powered and controlled by an iPad or a smartphone.
Yet they already exists. Microsoft’s 2011 Productivity Future Vision is fast becoming a reality. The smart home infographic from SmartThings is a realization of Wasik’s vision: the home as “a vast ensemble that can be choreographed, a body that can dance.” While this may take years to be adopted in our developing nation, it’s only a matter of time before it comes true.
Is living in a smart home something that would appeal to you? Find out the benefits of living in a smart home.