In lighting systems like Philips Hue, the light bulb itself is smart. These bulbs talk to each other via the short-range, low-powered communication standard called ZigBee, allowing wireless control of a lighting system as big or as small as you want — up to 50 lights on one network, in most cases. Photo courtesy Philips Hue

Year of the smart home

New programs could see homeowners coming out ahead

milesIf 2007 was the year of the smartphone, then 2017 might be the year of the smart home.

Before 2007, there were cellphones that connected to the Internet, sure. But that year, Apple CEO Steve Jobs unveiled the iPhone. It was the company’s biggest innovation since 1984’s launch of the original Macintosh, and its ripple effect on the entire technology sector continues.

Enthusiasts waited in line all night to get an iPhone and for a tremendous number of people, seeing one was wanting one (although the initial high price tag held a lot of us back until the next year).

So far, smart home tech is where mobile phones were pre-2007. There’s a lot of mixing and matching going on, and a lot of bending and stretching of the definition of “smart.” I mean, a thermostat you can program to turn the heat up and down at various times of day is not smart — it’s a fancy mechanical timer.

As global digital design and innovation agency Fjord puts it in its Trends 2017 report, the connected home is now a reality, but it still doesn’t feel all that smart.

Smart is your home technology knowing when you’re leaving work, how long it will take you to get home in current traffic and road conditions, checking the outside temperature, the hours of daylight and the dinner plan you programmed yesterday, last week or a month ago, and having your home ready for you when you arrive. The inside temperature is perfect, lights on as needed, oven preheated, and blinds closed if it’s dark outside.

Smart is making it easy to override or change any and all actions on the fly. Smart is hearing you say, “I’m going to the mall after work,” and adjusting accordingly.

Smart is designing experiences based on the way people live in real time, rather than designing devices then teaching people how to use them.

Up until now, that smartphone I mentioned earlier has been seen as the hub around which home connectivity revolves. In fact, it’s often just a really expensive remote control. Connected, but again not all that smart. Fjord expects the focus to shift away from the phone and onto, “how to optimize the home environment through the integration of multiple connected devices.”

“Tomorrow’s home will be a helpful home that works.”

What will that look like in 2017? More of us will move to integrating our connected home devices through Amazon Echo, Google Home, Apple HomeKit and the like. Seamless interfaces will allow a range of functions to be controlled organically — in a way that makes a home more livable, more efficient and less work, rather than piling on an increasing number of discrete functions.

Again, Fjord puts it best: “Tomorrow’s home will be a helpful home that works. And it will do this with services built around and for humans rather than technology and objects.”

On the home entertainment front, cable TV providers and networks will continue to feel the pinch as consumers get all the viewing they need via their Internet connections. Traditional television would benefit, at least in the short term, from knowing more about who was watching.

Similar to the targeted Internet advertising we’ve gotten used to, TV could use the ability to capture viewing information to offering highly customized ad packages at a wider range of prices than is possible now.

Look for more news and debate about, “is your TV watching you?” technology in 2017.

If the providers are able to profile viewers and market them to advertisers, it will be another step toward the merging of television and the Internet.

Finally, similar to smart home technology vendors, companies that provide entertainment and telecommunication will slowly start letting consumers take the lead in deciding how they want to use their services.

Fjord again: “Organizations will need to shift away from gimmickry toward real areas of value.”

Let’s check back in a year’s time and see how much, if anything, has really changed.

Miles Durrie’s Digital Downlow column appears exclusively in CREB®Now biweekly. Questions? Story suggestions? Email digitaldownlowcalgary@gmail.com.

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