I’ve been thinking for the last few months that we’ve misled people about the promise of the smart home, and perhaps as an industry, we need to focus on the basics before promising these intuitive homes of the future.
I recently built a presentation to this effect (which also digs into the reasons voice won’t save us) and was excited to see others discussing this topic as well. Scott Jenson, a designer who works at Google, and Kai Kreuzer who works on the OpenHab smart home platform, both did a great job digging into the current state of the industry to explain why it’s not awesome.
Jenson’s point is that we’ve screwed up by not building the internet of things on the same principals of the open web. Instead, companies force consumers into their own apps and refuse to share data. The result of this is that nothing works together and the onboarding experience is terrible for most consumer devices.
He argues that we are missing essential underpinning technology to get the level of distributed intelligence the smart home needs. So not only do things need to be open, but we also need to think about how to make trusted, distributed systems.
Jenson’s not wrong. Not only does data (see chart above) bear this out, but I had a conversation this week with Alex Hawkinson, the CEO of SmartThings, and one of his big areas of focus was on device onboarding and how to make that seamless while still being as open as possible.
Apple has done the best job with onboarding devices, but it has done so in a closed system. This is unduly limiting for the internet of things (or for anyone who has an Android device). This is why I am eager to see what SmartThings comes up with.
While SmartThings and Jenson try to solve the problem of an open, data sharing model to bring devices together in the smart home, Kreuzer, of OpenHab, is asking if the smart home really should belong to the homeowner.
His pitch is that some of the issues Jensen brings up might be solved if instead of thinking of devices as personal and purchased by a user, we think of them as something that comes with the house. In this worldview, a device should work even if it isn’t cloud-connected and even if a user doesn’t register it.
His final suggestion is that the house’s smart device provide a local API interaction with other devices. This means that your AC might “speak” to your utility and maybe your light switches do too. It also means that inside the home, the HVAC system might speak to your window shades or Custom Blinds that are motorized, and light switches to figure out the best lighting situation for that time of day, also taking into the weather and temperature inside as well as out.
I’ve chatted with both Kreuzer and Jenson about their visions, and I don’t believe they are that far off. In fact, Jenson introduced me to the idea that my home might have to have an email address so the smart devices inside weren’t dependent on a single user. Kreuzer is taking that concept to its logical conclusion without obviating the need for the device-data sharing and openness that Jenson craves.
Of course, should this ideal come to pass, we’ll have new issues such as how to charge for new services and how to handle people who don’t want to have a utility or connected device ruling over their home.