The Future Of Your Smart Home

07/09/2016 13:12

You can't hide from the Internet of Things [IoT] any more. IoT is mentioned in the press almost weekly now, if not daily. Even your grandmother is talking about IoT. Smart thermostats, devices that listen to and understand you, buttons you push to get products delivered, smart televisions, fridges, washing machines, vacuum cleaners, drones, robots and many more. The development of your smart home has begun.

Over the past decade we have seen how big names lost out because of disruptive technology changes and almost disappeared. Kodak suffered from digital photos. Nokia from smart phones. Blockbuster from video on demand. Microsoft Windows is now the number three operating system, where they used to dominate the PC market. IoT is another such technology disruption that will create winners and losers. Nobody wants to have a Kodak moment. Or go into the history books, a.k.a. Wikipedia, as the executive that said no to the smartphone, the Cloud, and other disruptive technologies. This means that IoT is attracting billions of dollars in investment.

There are some big issues though. The current IoT gadgets are often just that, nice gadgets that look great on your wall but don't really solve a big problem. Why spend hundreds of dollars on a smart version if the "dumb" version is good enough? Are we in the Internet of Useless Things era?

Even if you do find a really cool and useful smart device, it is probably speaking German whilst your other devices speak French. Your lesser smart devices, or even smart devices from other manufacturers, speak different languages. At most you have one mobile app that can talk to your smart device, but it can't talk to other apps making a truly connected home more difficult to imagine. Are we in the Internet of Isolated Things era?

We are also seeing more and more of those smart devices being hacked and data being breached. You probably heard about that baby monitor that was used by a hacker to speak inappropriately to a toddler. Or that car with the journalist in it, that hackers drove off the road without anyone being able to stop it. Are you ready for your toilet to share with the world that you have diarrhea? Are we in the Internet of Insecure Things era?

There is good news however. Mobile phone developments have made lots of electronic components cheap. An explosion of small supercomputers is happening, often smaller than a credit card and costing less than $10. Your average phone contains more than 10 sensors, many of which can now be cost-effectively added to home appliances, so future smart devices will potentially cost the same or even less than their current "dumb" counterparts. These sensors and mini-computers are capable of measuring anything around your house. Your smart home will soon generate more data than Google was handling ten years ago. So we are fast approaching the era of Internet of Smart Cheap Things!

How are IoT companies going to make money if a smart device costs just tens, not hundreds or thousands and profit margins are almost non-existent? Several companies are doing so by offering free hardware if you use their platform, give them your data or subscribe to a service. An alternative view is a future very much like mobile phones whereby you go to an app store and download apps for your fridge and vacuum cleaner. Are we going towards the Internet of App-Enabled Things era?

Let's zoom into this last point. What are the advantages of putting apps and an app store on any device? Just like a mobile phone, an app enables a specific action like renting a car or booking a hotel. In the case of IoT, apps can stream music, order more coffee, warn a repairperson the device is about to break or tell you a Pokemon is just around the corner, the list goes on. You can speak to your fridge and order more eggs or connect a barcode scanner and scan which milk you want. The app will then go online and find the cheapest and fastest way to replenish your stock. It can also monitor how well your fridge is working, detect if a component is about to break and request for your vendor to repair it before it breaks. In a world of app-enabled devices, manufacturers will make sure your device doesn't break easily as you pay for the service, not the device. This makes an Internet of Isolated Things much less of an issue, creating a form of 'independently connected' smart home.

App stores will allow developers to anticipate any potential problem and offer you a solution. Apps and sensors will make sure your home is safe and repairs are done before things break. Apps can make sure different devices from different manufacturers can easily talk to one another. Apps by default are constrained and only good apps will be able to control your house, whilst those that don't take your privacy seriously, will soon disappear from app stores. Your house will learn what you like and start personalising itself. If your house has access to the heart monitor in your smartwatch, it can find out which music relaxes you, what your ideal temperature is, switch off the television when you fall asleep and make your house smarter for you. That is an IoT battle worth fighting for: "How your home can please you best...".