Although the global Smart Home market is projected to top $ 14 billion this year, most Home Automation products available on the market right now are basic IoT devices connected to a smartphone app. With all those DIY solutions, universal remotes and standalone gadgets like Nest thermostat, the Smart House technology has never been more confusing. What does the future of Home Automation look like – and what makes dumb houses truly smart?
Smart Home tech: where are we now?
- The number of US households with smart speakers has topped 15 million this year and will reach 58 million by 2021. In fact, voice control is easily the best thing about modern Home Automation systems;
- Alongside consumer reluctance to invest in complex Smart House solutions (which will probably get outdated in a couple of years), the lack of connectivity/interoperability standards remains the major obstacle to Smart Homes’ mass market adoption;
- The average cost of a Smart Home system ranges between $ 560 and $ 2.2 thousand (plus $ 85/hour if professional installation is required). The market is currently dominated by wireless Home Automation gadgets which do not need complex wiring and can be connected via dedicated middleware.
What we have is a largely fragmented environment where each brand, be it Apple or Amazon, wants to create a Smart Home market of their own. Although there are not so many IoT communication standards out there (Z-Wave, ZigBee, Weave, etc.), most Home Automation gadgets – even those made by the same vendor! – fail to work in sync and secure consumer data. Even Amazon (with over 15 million Echo speakers sold, the e-commerce tycoon is currently winning the Smart Home game) has somehow bid on the ZigBee protocol, thus limiting potential integration opportunities to just a few hundred devices, while Z-Wave is used by 90% of security and communication companies manufacturing Home Automation solutions.
Smart Home technology: meeting consumer expectations
What does the average US consumer expect from a Smart House system?
- Convenience. Once again, Home Automation cannot be achieved by swapping a remote control for a mobile app. What users actually want is to set up a Smart House system once and leave routine tasks like adjusting the temperature and dimming the lights to the virtual assistant;
- Flexibility. There are two types of Home Automation systems – that is, wireless (IoT devices are connected to the Internet and each other over a wireless network) and wired (each gadget is paired to a low-voltage/220w power line and has embedded software running on it). In terms of security and performance, wired solutions are surely superior to wireless systems. When a person buys a turnkey house, however, he does not expect to spend another $ 60 thousand on a wired Smart House system (yes, there’s a lot of planning and wiring to do!). Wireless gadgets, on the other hand, consume little power, can be attached to any surface and allow for greater flexibility;
- Reasonable cost. As I mentioned, the average price of a wireless Connected House solution ranges between $ 560 and $ 2.2 thousand, though custom high-end wired systems may cost up to $ 60 thousand;
- Security. When you pay $ 2 thousand for a Smart Home tech solution, you hardly expect it to expose your personal data to hackers. According to Business Insider, 40% of households that participated in Deloitte IoT survey expressed concerns over Smart Home security. Meanwhile, it is basically impossible to compromise a Z-Wave-enabled gadget, since the Z-Wave Alliance has come up with an NFC-like device pairing standard and overhauled their security policy, so the problem might be a little exaggerated.
The dumb nature of “Smart” Houses, however, remains a real problem that has yet to be solved.
According to Pavel Shylenok, CTO at R-Style Lab (which is a custom web, mobile and Internet of Things software development company), it is the capability to learn a house owner’s habits and automatically adjust settings that make Smart Home systems truly intelligent. As an example, he told me about a Smart Home demo his team had worked on. The system makes use of the facial recognition technology; by uploading selfies to the server, a home owner can train it to recognize him and his family members, learn their preferences and adjust temperature and lighting settings accordingly.
Wait, isn’t it something Nest has been doing since 2011?
Exactly! There are incredible standalone Home Automation gadgets like Nest thermostats, Belkin switch and Amazon Echo. Until they all work in sync, automatically update firmware and protect customer data, however, Smart Homes will remain a sci-fi concept, and not the reality we live in.