Our Smart Future

When Apple announced the creation of its Home app at WWDC, it was making a bid to own the top platform in the burgeoning Smart Appliance market. Years ago, when the idea of smart homes first emerged, many imagined a Jetsons-like future, with an integrated home network. Indeed, one prominent vision of the iOT- the internet of things- was expressed by Tony Faddell, the former CEO of Nest. He imagined a conscious home that anticipates its user’s needs and fulfills them. That vision has taken a hit of late as the Smart home market has been plagued with problems.

Ordinary users have struggled with the complexity of the technology. Smart appliances often require elaborate set-up and have large out-of-box costs. Interconnectivity between devices may simplify user experience, but it’s an even more complicated and expensive process. This vision has also suffered because, as it turns out, most people don’t see the need for many of the Smart appliances being brought to market. The average smart home user owns just 3 smart appliances. Consumers also have security concerns about these sorts of interconnected networks.

None of this has stopped Smart appliance growth, but it has altered its trajectory. Devices like Amazon’s Echo offer consumers a way of entering the Smart home market without some of the exorbitant costs or complicated infrastructure. Another example is the SmartThings home monitoring platform, which offers an ecosystem of over 200 devices. The user of this system installs smart home sensors throughout their house. These sensors can provide detailed info about aspects of the home- whether a window’s open, the temperature outside, etc. You can also do things like turn on the lights or the coffeemaker and, with SmartThings open to developers, it’s likely that aspects of the original smart homes vision will be realized.

Still, in order for that to occur, major changes will have to occur. One avenue for this progress lies in the homes themselves. Major home-builders can lower the barriers to entry by integrating smart features into the very design of new homes. And, indeed, this is occuring. Brookfield Residential, Lennar and KB Home are all making homes that come pre-built with Apple’s Homekit. Many supported features will be installed from the get go, and the infrastructure will exist for further add-ons. Another possibility that might change the market for smart devices: the involvement of ISP’s. If many home-owners refrain from pulling the trigger on smart integration because of the expense and difficulty of set-up, ISP’s offer an obvious solution. They have experience in home installation and the monthly fee model is familiar and potentially integration more affordable for home owners.

At any rate, despite the complexity of the market, and all of its challenges, companies like Apple and Amazon are making a smart bet. Within 4 years, 46 million homes are projected to be smart(ish) in North America alone. We’re not yet the Jetsons, but with a little help from developers, and a little innovation, we may yet get there.