Almost three years ago, Chad wrote a post about the beginnings of what he called the Iterative Smart Home. Smart home technology was just beginning to break out into the mainstream, and the need for a common, unifying system was coming to the forefront. Several players emerged (and I’ll cover their fates later in this post) with each vying to become the central hub of a smart home. Where is this technology now, what have we learned in the past three years, and what’s next for the iterative smart home?
The iterative smart home that Chad wrote about seems simple now, but was revolutionary even three years ago. You chose your own devices – which could span multiple product categories, brands, and even protocols – and put them together in a system that you, ultimately, would design yourself. Central to this concept was a smart hub that would talk to all these devices without you having to program anything on your own. There were four companies that Chad pointed out were creating hubs with this in mind: SmartThings, NinjaBlocks, Revolv, and Staples Connect. As of this post (December 2016), three of these four technologies no longer exist; only the SmartThings hub, which was bought by Samsung and is the cornerstone of their smart home product line, can be purchased today. And while covering the fleeting nature of some technology is a post all on its own, I have to acknowledge that in technology, especially in such a relatively new platform like smart home devices, companies will come and go quickly. This, of course, poses a problem when you tie it to devices that typically have long lifespans, like thermostats, refrigerators, and other home appliances; but it also highlights the need for a unifying and iterative smart home platform to emerge.
As I mentioned, SmartThings is one of the hubs that existed in 2016 and is still going strong, along with the Wink, which I covered in a previous look back at some of our old predictions. I personally have a SmartThings hub in my home, and it really brought me around to making that space “smarter.” I decided to use smart products to solve a problem that my apartment’s layout has – a lack of easy-to-access lighting. By replacing my regular CFL bulbs with Hue and GE Link bulbs, I can now control a variety of lights all from my phone; and to handle the bulbs that I couldn’t replace outright, I hooked up some WeMo Insight Switches. The Hue and GE Links can speak to each other with the bridge that Hue requires for use of its bulbs; but the bulbs had no way of speaking to the WeMo switches. On top of this, my new Google Home can only natively speak to the Hue bulbs – so asking Google to turn my lights on and off only worked with those bulbs, and again not the switches. I could create a series of programmed actions through a service like IFTTT; or I could have a hub do the legwork. I picked up SmartThings since it worked with the devices I had just installed as well as Google Home. It was easy to set up – I just plugged in the hub, ran the setup through an app on my iPhone, and within minutes the hub had discovered all my devices and I was up and running. Now, Google can turn on and off all my lights, not just the bulbs. Using SmartThings, I was also able to set up an automation – when my home network detects my phone is close to home, my hallway lights turn on, which is great since I have to fumble in the dark when I open my front door just to turn on my lights.
This iterative thought process is intuitive – I identified a problem, began breaking it down into small solutions, and by taking steps on my own, was able to completely change the way I interact with the lights in my home. Before coming to CRT Labs, I was a bit skeptical on the usefulness of this technology; but now I know I have the flexibility to create a home that works the way I want it to. This is possible because companies are working together to make their products work together, instead of closing off their ecosystems so that you have to buy in to one brand and stick with it.
I talked a bit last week about voice control and the future of IoT; I believe that an iterative smart home will be part of why voice control will become more popular. By allowing a homeowner to chose their products, including the voice controller that works best for them, the owner gains a level of control and familiarity with the system they are creating for themselves. And that DIY mentality is something that we noted in our Smart Home Survey as important to REALTOR® clients when talking about smart home technology. With voice control becoming more common, I think that device manufacturers will begin creating their products with voice control in mind; for example, I could have even more voice control of my lights than I currently do with my Google Home, being able to set lights to exact colors that I save as favorites. We’ll also be seeing a move to have more devices interact with each other out of the box – if your thermostat kicked on in one room, it could trigger a light in the room you’re in to let you know that you’ll be using HVAC at that time. This flexibility will allow us to begin seeing our homes as an entire ecosystem, not just a series of rooms.