In this month's HPP Blog, Mark Smith asks 'Has Smart Home Technology really taken off yet?'
The phrase 'Smart Home Technology' is an expression we have become more and more familiar with in recent years. But what does it actually mean, and where is it taking us?
There's pretty much an 'app' these days for everything but does this mean we're more attached to our mobile technology than ever before, instead of actively removing a repetitive task or making it considerably easier?
In theory, smart home technology is great. Smart homes are efficient, convenient and have increased comfort and security. You can control when appliances turn on and off, along with how much energy is being used; integrated sensors mean you can monitor your home no matter where you are; lighting can be adjusted according to the time of day, climate or mood; complex tasks can be made much simpler.
So, if this is the case, as promised by hi-tech companies and gadget start-ups, why isn't every home a 'smart home'?
The answer is simple: nobody really knows what smart home technology is offering right now.
According to industry analysts IHS Markit, 80 million smart home devices were delivered in 2016. Though most of these were home assistants, like the Amazon Echo, there is no doubt that smart home technology is simultaneously on the rise and at a crossroads. It has the power and potential to make 2017 the year of the smart home, providing it markets itself in the right way.
There is a danger of continuing down the route of being more of a 'fad' than a practical feature of the home. Recent smart home technology adverts show us more about how the technology helps us be lazy, rather than how it helps us day-to-day. Your smart home technology can turn on your light for you but is that really easier than just switching the light on yourself?
What we have already discovered with smart home technology is that it is primarily software. And as proved by the two main players of smart home technology, Nest (www.nytimes.com/2016/01/14/fashion/nest-thermostat-glitch-battery-dies-software-freeze) and Amazon Web Services (www.theguardian.com/technology/2017/mar/01/amazon-web-services-outage-smart-homes), software is susceptible to severe malfunctions (even from scheduled updates), which in these two cases, literally left users in complete cold and darkness.
The biggest problem with smart home technology seems to be that in order to take full advantage, you have to integrate systems into your home in a way that is going to be costly - or already have the technology integrated during construction. For the average household to get on board with such technology, it would require being able to get multiple devices to work together at an inexpensive rate.
So there again we have a problem with understanding what a 'Smart Home' actually is. Is it a fully integrated, all-singing, all-dancing technological system that runs throughout your home? Or could it just be multiple, cross-platform devices that work together to make your home more efficient?
It seems that for 2017 to really be the year of smart home technology, companies need to be smarter in educating their customers as to what they're really offering, as well as providing robust systems that don't leaver users in the dark when a software update fails or when there's no Wi-Fi signal. Promoting a technology that makes their lives easier, than just one more gadget to add to the 'Internet of Things' will be key: how to make smart technology in the home affordable, easily integrated and future-proof, whilst selling it to consumers as a commodity that brings value to peoples' lifestyles.