Why hasn’t smart home technology taken off?
It’s a science fiction film cliché, the responsive house that all but turns down your bed and butters your toast. For the past decade, sensor-based technologies have been marketed, in aggregate, as “the smart home,” with big companies and technology giants queueing up to integrate the possibilities of cloud-based processing and ever more refined sensors.
But the headline isn’t that any of these name brands are blowing the doors off. To the contrary — the smart home market is kind of a replay of the early days of the videocassette: no industry standard, lots of innovation off the beaten track…and siloed technologies blocking real progress.
Silos are definitely not what the house doctor ordered; the vision is all the other way—appliances, control systems/devices and home entertainment platforms all interoperably linked and smoothly interfaced.
It’s more like a hobbyist’s approach: one widget at a time. (One suspects people are still sufficiently peeved at their remote to have much faith in a house full of remotes.) That’s on the consumer side; on the company side, insurance companies and grocery super brands are already experimenting with individual technologies as outreach programs to build engagement with customers in a whole new way. So the game looks far more like a slow aggregation and integration of niche markets (wins with integrated safety, thermostats and security systems (“background apps”) migrating customers to softer, more personalized interactivities around entertainment, cooking, health management and monitoring special needs family members (“foreground apps”).
And what about fun? These devices can’t be simply widgets: the winners, like the now-legendary HitchBot—a “social robot” which traversed Canada, parts of Germany and several US cities before being destroyed in Philadelphia in July 2015, winning some 500,000 Facebook followers—will become part of our complex, all too human lives.
At home, we are most ourselves. Technology has a long way to go to reflect that fact, inhibited as progress is by high product prices, limited consumer interest and overlong device replacement cycles—but the highest barrier is interoperability: too many networks, too many platforms, far too many niggling problems (“I have to program this remote? What?!” Remember that one?). What’s wanted is an innovator to crash the barriers and build an ecosystem that actually works as if people mattered.