If you asked me five years ago on a level of 1 to 10 how exciting the future of the smart home was, I would’ve given you at least an 8. But now, five years on, there seems to have been a stagnation of the smart home innovation.
On one hand, this is a good thing because it means that the smart home industry is starting to mature and we find ourselves in a space where the technologies are more certain and the brands that are leading in the space are also more certain.
Still too much confusion
That isn’t to say that there is not a lot of confusion around the smart home market.
There’s also confusion around how these devices interact and operate with each other. For example, it’s still possible to buy a smart light bulb but not have a hub to run it if the bulb isn’t a Wi-Fi bulb.
There’s three main areas that seem to stand out in terms of confusion around smart homes.
- The first is how all the devices talk to each other, and that is largely caused by number 2
- The second area of confusion which is the technologies. These include Zigbee, Z-Wave, Wi-Fi, custom radio frequencies, and, for some devices, even Bluetooth.
- The third area of confusion is how to connect, manage, and run them all in the most efficient way. For example, if I buy a Zigbee light bulb but have an Apple HomeKit set up on my Apple TV, can the two operate and work together? If I then throw into the mix an Alexa smart speaker and a front door smart lock, how do you get all of these things to operate in unison?
I believe all this confusion has caused the smart home market to safely start producing products that slot into common everyday situations with a very clear way of connecting them, and that is through the home smart speaker.
Most of the devices you’ll now see on the market include smart locks, smart switches, light bulbs, cameras, and sensors, like motion sensors and temperature humidity sensors. These seem to be the majority of all smart home devices that are being made, and it’s very easy to cover most of your life off with all of these devices.
Some devices that haven’t been adopted so quickly include smart home devices like connected washing machines, connected dryers, smart fridges, and similar. Also less adopted, just because of the installation requirements, are smart blinds and smart curtains.
So things have stabilized it seems. Everybody has some smart lights. Everybody has a smart speaker. Everybody has maybe some smart switches. Maybe they’ve got some sort of thermostat control, and this allows them to operate basic things in their house without too much investment, too much installation requirements, and too much of a steep learning curve.
But the latest statistics that I’ve seen seem to indicate that smart home adoption is slowing, and my thoughts around that are that the industry is not innovating, devices are not learning fast enough, and privacy is always an ongoing concern.
So, what’s next for the smart home?
For a start, voice control has to get smarter. It needs to understand multiple commands. It has to understand better in terms of context, and it literally needs to understand better in terms of hearing what you say, and that’s really a comment about the efficacy of hardware.
Google Duplex has hinted that in the future we will have a smart device, similar to the movie “Her,” that will be able to communicate with us in a much more conversational manner. It’s one thing to understand us in a conversational manner.
It’s another thing to understand our context and also predict where we might be going. About 10 years ago, Google said, “We’re trying to develop Gmail and the suite of tools that we have online to get to know you so well that we can start nudging and making suggestions to you.” An example being on a Tuesday when you get up, the Google smart environment might suggest to you that you normally have cornflakes, but you didn’t sleep well so perhaps you should add an egg to your breakfast. So, what I mean by all this suggests intuitive devices that know our routines and can predict our behaviors.
We also need smart devices that are aware, aware of what’s happening in a room, and that doesn’t need to happen through a camera. It can happen through audio cues. For example, if a child enters a room and there’s explicit music playing that the smart device will know that it should stop playing explicit music, or it understands morning, noon, and night more efficiently.
We should also get to a point where connected devices, technology, and hardware are not the responsibility of the consumer but are the responsibility of the manufacturers and technology providers.
Amazon, Google, and Apple all agreed last year that they would set a tendency to prefer Zigbee as the protocol by which smart devices would operate.
If you remember in the old days, we had DVDs, and DVDs had regions, still have regions. And if you didn’t have an unlocked DVD player you could only play DVDs from your region.
The last thing we want is to have a smart home global environment where you can only purchase devices that work in certain countries.
Unfortunately for Z-Wave, they do have a radio frequency variation across the world where devices bought say in North America won’t operate in Australasia. I believe the reason that Amazon, Google, and Apple have chosen Zigbee as their protocol of choice is that Zigbee is much more international.
If you’re not sure what Zigbee is, Zigbee is a mesh protocol, a local mesh network protocol, that can be operated in a closed environment in your home which would allow, for example, a light’s smart switch to communicate with a smart bulb without having to reach out to the internet. It can just operate locally.
So, if all of these manufacturers can solve the connectivity issues then where you buy your hardware, from what brand, and with what purpose should matter less and less. This has to happen for mass adoption, because there’s still, as I say, too much confusion around Zigbee, Z-Wave, Wi-Fi, and what devices work with what, what connectivity is needed, whether you need a hub or not, etc.
Smart Home privacy
We also need much more clarity into privacy when using these devices. There should be very, very clear and plain notifications in settings made available.
Generally, I would suggest a smartphone is used via apps to allow consumers to understand how their data is being used.
There should also be an easier set-up across these devices, making it smarter as soon as you turn it on. And in the long term, there should be less need for programming routine schedules and, as I’ve mentioned, more intuitive knowing.
I understand that for smart devices to become more intuitive, we have to become more comfortable with them having access to certain parts of our data.
The privacy control set manufacturers need to put in place need to be ones that allow us to share our personal data without devices… without it being farmed to third parties or farmed out for manufacturers to access.
Smart Home Medical Devices
Eventually, our home will extend to supporting medical devices, integrated in to our daily lives.
Apple has made great stride with the Apple Watch and EKG/ECG features but there are hundreds of connected medical devices coming on the market every year that could be integrated in such a way as to make peoples lives easier to lead.
If you have health monitoring in your home and devices like glucose level checks integrated to your connected smart home, you could possibly worry less about the where, when and how of testing and monitoring your health and allow your home to do it for you.
Imagine having integrated devices (air/breath sensors, body temperature sensors) in your home that could easily, or even passively, monitor heart rates, glucose levels for Diabetes, oxygen levels, fatigue, colds & flu, COVID-19 and over all wellness. I expect it’s coming in one shape or another.
Smart Home Sound
And finally, but for me most importantly, the smart home has to start sounding better.
Considering that smart speakers are now the hub of choice for smart devices and smart device control, with Amazon and Google doing such a great job on their applications and the interoperability between devices, it’s likely that they will continue to lead the market in terms of smart home management.
But for this to be really successful, we need smart home speakers that sound better. Amazon has done their best with the Echo Studio. Apple has had some success, but their device design probably needs a bit of work, and Apple have already said that they will be discontinuing the HomePod even though it’s a pretty good-sounding unit.
We need smaller, better-sounding devices in our homes, which will also in turn mean many people will replace any other speaker systems they have with interconnected music devices.
So that for me is the future of where we need to look for the smart home to continue to be something that makes our lives easier, something that helps us manage our schedules, heat our homes, entertain our kids, make us healthier, keep us smart and gives us the privacy we need.
Any questions, comments or feedback – add them in the comments below.