Scenarios about the Future of Smart Homes

2015 has just arrived and already three exciting months have passed in the Swisscom ICT flat share – we made our home smart with OpenHab, allowed our washing machine to send us a notification when the washing is done and we no longer have to think of turning off the light when leaving the apartment. Sounds extremely exciting and promising from a technological point of view – but let us take a step back and give everything a human perspective. With this blog entry I would like to share a personal view on this, based on my learning from past months and draw some scenarios on how people might experience smart homes in the future and how the whole market situation might develop.

Scenario 1: Smart Home hits the masses – a few big players dominate

We are in the year 2020 – while in 2015 the smart home market was still a battlefield of competing niche products and isolated protocols, in 2020 a few companies were able to position themselves at the top and thus enforce a common communication standard for smart home devices. Starting out with siloed smart home solutions (security, lifestyle, energy-efficiency), these startup companies experienced a tremendous growth and extended their product lines and designed a whole platform solution and a consistent user experience around their products. These companies were able to create truly smart products that function beyond strict and complicated rule sets, but now are able to learn with the user and assimilate with the users daily life’s. People have adopted those products naturally, since those products have integrated seamlessly into the existing homes, without the need of adding creepy and ugly sensors into every corner of the apartment. The Internet-of-Things has become a reality and most electronic devices, be it household, entertainment or health devices have smart capabilities and can easily be integrated into the overall ecosystem of your smart home.

Scenario 2: Apple, Google and Samsung enter our homes

In 2020 big names like Apple, Google and Samsung have established a strong position in the home automation market. Already in 2014 Apple cooked on their HomeKit and have not waited long until they launched a fully polished home automation system with a great range of manufacturers. The same is true for Google, who has partnered in 2014 with Samsung to create a communication protocol and in the recent years has also grown a large number of trusted network of manufacturers. Google and Samsung as well as Apple were able to leverage their existing assets of smartphone, tablet and smart watch users and turning them into brains for their homes. Hence, now users are able to manage their home devices with the phones, tablets and watches they were already using.

Scenario 3: People remain sceptical about too much technology at home

In 2020 people have become more sensible and cautious about topics like security and privacy and have become more reluctant to share any data. After a big hype around topics the Internet of Thing and Big Data, people have become concerned about more and more smart devices entering their homes, sending data into cloud services – unknown to what happens to their data. While in 2014 growth of the smart home market until 2018 was estimated to be remarkable, scandals like the NSA-Affair or North Korean Hacker Attacks have made people more reluctant to let smart devices and services into their homes. Hence, the smart home market has remained a niche market for high-end customers and geeks.

So what challenges lie ahead of us?

The future can never really be predicted, but drawing up some future scenarios is a nice way to paint a vision while also considering possible future challenges. Taken from the above described scenarios, I do see the following challenges in the future development of the smart home market:

  • Standardization – I see stormy waters for protocols and communication technologies ahead.
  • Privacy and security – entering people’s homes will require tact and sensitivity to not risk another scandal around users data. It’s all about gaining the user’s trust.
  • Becoming truly smart – products will have to go beyond simple rule sets and be able to learn with the user to really generate an added value for the masses.
  • Integration – smart home solutions will have to be integrated with existing devices. Having a separate controller for every new smart device simply cannot be a desirable solution.
  • Simplicity and unobtrusiveness – the installation and use of products has to be simple and unobtrusive. Hardly anyone wants to install extra sensors, actors and devices that talk to you unprompted – that is just creepy. Zero-Configuration and Zero-Interface should be the goal.
  • A coherent user experience across your smart home – to really hit it off with the masses, making the interaction with your home a coherent user experience is key.

I am sure the future around smart home technologies is going to be a very exciting one and also the year 2015 will reveal some surprises. What are your thoughts on this? Will the smart home be everyday reality by 2020? What do you think are the biggest challenges for smart homes in the future?