The concept of a smart home is not a new one but over the last eighteen months what has been the preserve of the tech savvy has become a reality for the average home owner.
Products from two major UK energy suppliers have introduced the concept of smart homes to anyone with a Wi-Fi connection, tablet or smart phone. British Gas launched their Hive product in September 2013 and npower has teamed up with the Google owned Nest to offer the learning thermostat to their customers. These products exemplify a fundamental shift in approach to technology and how it can be integrated into all aspects of everyday life.
The same is happening in other sectors. Witness the changes in the car world. In 2015, for the first time ever, a new car was launched not at a car show but at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas. Graphic processing unit companies, known more for their gaming capabilities, have teamed up with car manufacturers to create in-car environments that use digital tools to improve the driving experience. Integrated connectivity is the aim and major car companies such as Audi, Volkswagen, Honda and Volvo are all working towards it. Indeed Adam Jonas, a motor industry analyst at Morgan Stanley, has predicted that the “added value of software in a car rises from 5% today to 60% over the next decade.”  Car manufacturers are looking to companies such as Apple or Google to find their software engineers whilst Apple are recruiting engineers from the car sector.
With the lifespan of a car considerably longer than any version of the technology that goes inside it the challenge is to find software that will adapt as new releases come onto the market. The same restrictions exist in the home as well. Given the average lifespan of a home compared to hardware, wiring in smart solutions may not be so smart at all. What differentiates a smart home from a tech-laden home is that a smart home can be run from anywhere in the world. You don’t need to be at home to turn on a light, adjust the temperature or see what your pets are up to. It can all done remotely via your smart phone or tablet.
The single most important element in the smart home is the Wi-Fi connection. This is the beating heart of the home and through it everything else is possible. The next significant piece is the smart phone. This has seen the fastest development, the greatest technological advances. In fact to call it a phone is a misnomer. It is becoming a home and lifestyle remote control. Whilst alternative methods of controlling hardware are being developed such as gesture and voice control, these only work when you are with the hardware you are controlling. The smart phone lets you control hardware from anywhere in the world.
As with the car, integrated technology has an increasingly important place in the smart home. “If This Then That Technology” (IFTTT) heralds a new cohesive approach to home and lifestyle management where IFTTT friendly smart devices work together. Users create recipes based on an action and a reaction. For example a motion sensor may detect a door has been opened which causes a video recorder to start filming. By integrating technology a user can create a bespoke lifestyle which can be implemented wherever they live in and which will adapt as their lifestyle changes. Mercedes Benz and Nest are an example of two companies working together so that your car can now tell your thermostat when you are on your way home allowing your house to be heated to the optimum temperature by the time you get there.
The difficulty for home builders is that the tech world is moving fast and to move with it they need look at new suppliers and partners. It may well be the small things that will have the greatest impact - such as smoke alarms, CCTV, light bulbs, locks, switches, motion detectors, cameras and thermostats. Products that provide a dialogue with the home owner and will tell them who is home, when and help them secure their properties, families and pets and save them money. Unlike updating a kitchen or bathroom these items will be easy and considerably cheaper to install, allowing an ever evolving home that truly reflects the individual that lives there.
Finding the products that add real long-term value to the home owners is crucial, for alongside every useful product is a gimmicky or unnecessary option. With so many products being released, functionality and benefits will need to be considered along with how well it integrates with other products on the market.
The home of the future talks. It talks to its owner and it talks to itself. Multiple devices are controlled by a single device – your home and lifestyle remote control. Home builders of the future will need to deal with clicks and mortar.