As one decade ends and another begins, I realize that I’ve been following the smart home space for a full 10 years. And yet for most consumers, it may seem like 2019 was the year of the smart home. Because for many, it was probably the first time they added a smart light switch, connected doorbell, or some other IoT device to their home.
But it was back in 2010 that I started my smart home journey, installing a small device server to control Insteon-based gadgets. That was also the year I demonstrated this technology by remotely increasing the heat in my Pennsylvania home from London. The tech worked great, but of course no technology comes without potential human error. I inadvertently forgot to turn the thermostat down and got a middle-of-the-night call from my wife as the indoor temps of my house were nearing 80 degrees. Lesson learned!
So much has changed since then. Enough that I consider the last 10 years to be the decade of the smart home.
Indeed, it was the end of 2011 when Nest introduced its first learning thermostat, what would prove to be a catalyst for many other smart products to follow. Granted, I had to wait until 2014 for my Nest to work with the Insteon system I was still running then. That’s a long wait for device support, but again, the modern smart home movement was just getting started.
In 2014 came another integral aspect of today’s connected home. That’s the year Amazon’s Echo debuted, and with it, the Alexa digital assistant. At roughly the same time, Apple introduced HomeKit; Siri was already part of iOS for voice commands. But I’d posit that Alexa has made far more of an impact on the market than Siri or HomeKit has to date.
Of course, as a first-generation product, the Amazon Echo wasn’t quite equipped to handle smart home requests. Instead, Alexa was more of an assistant to get information from the web, or to play music. It wasn’t until Amazon opened up third-party integrations with the Echo in early 2015 that Alexa became a useful and key component of today’s smart home.
Google is the other big player here, but it didn’t get a foot in the door until after the Echo. In fact, in retrospect it’s hard to believe that the first Google Home smart speaker didn’t appear until November 2016. It feels like Google’s Assistant has been around for so much longer than that. In one sense, it has. Google Now arrived on Android smartphones in 2012 to provide contextual responses for voice queries. And that’s where Google Now stayed until 2016 when the service was renamed Google Assistant, gained contextual conversation skills, and landed on Google Home products.
Essentially, the decade of the smart home was separated into two distinct halves. The first half saw connectivity expanded to devices, and the second half saw the emergence of the invisible interface of voice commands and third-party services. It’s been a long 10 years, but this framing makes clear why the modern smart home is what it is today. It also demonstrates how the development of supporting technologies, services, and protocols is speeding up.
These days, we no longer have to wait three or four years for device integrations, for example. We also have access to small tracking devices that can use next-generation cellular networks designed specifically for the internet of things. And our digital assistants aren’t just getting smarter each year; they’re becoming more intelligent and personalized, and on a more frequent basis.
I can’t predict what the next decade of the smart home will bring or what it might look like. But I can say with near certainty that it will be much improved ten years from now, given the momentum of change and technology. And you can thank the last ten years for that.