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.
Scott Jenson says
Thanks for this Stacy. I followed up with Kai and we’re remarkably aligned in fact. His points push my data silo concerns in an interesting direction. My basic premise is that we’re building what is easy, not what is right. I don’t fault the manufacturers, they have to use the lego bricks they’re given. The first step is to discuss what is right and then push to start to make it happen.
I like the ‘infrastructure’ argument that Kai is pushing. There *are* parts of the house that should just work, without a registered owner or even internet but this of course begs the very question of what ‘works’ in this case as the very networking backbone for a house is always brought in by the new tenant. I love this question. I don’t have an answer but I damn well think we should be exploring how to make it happen in some form.
Nigel Walsh says
I was discussing the same this week. It’s a personal favourite of mine in that I get to buy toys and have fun for work at the same time. My argument here similar to Stacey’s is that it’s a battle for the hubs. At the moment I have Philips Hue, Samsung Smart Things, utility Smart meters, Apple TV, NEOS (insurance) p, Belkin plus more. Seriously if you saw the connected nature of things here plus the links to cloud (IFTT) etc its a) quite exciting b) be quite daunting c) a barrier to entry for all but the early adopters etc.
My first question is who is the rightful owner of this. Who is best placed to provide this? The water, gas, electricity provider? The entertainment provider or your insurance company. All have separate and valid reasons but none are joined up yet.
We are working on it. I could summarise by saying today we have a connected home. We are far from a smart home. But I firmly believe it’s the future. Focussing on the architecture is the wrong thing. Focussing on the benefits and value add services is key. Equally, no one provider has the answer. Orchestration of multiple services is critical.
Kiran Gopinath says
These are the million dollar questions that need to be answered if the usage of these smart devices has to move beyond just the early adopters. I agree with Jenson’s point that onboarding experiences are terrible- and not just that, the usability (or user interface?) of these apps is still very difficult. With each device having its own app, it is a nightmare for users to deal with different interfaces, and processes.
Intelligence, today, is built into devices and not distributed over the ecosystem both at home and outside home. While, Kai makes an important point about the HVAC talking to the lights and the window screens, it is only part of the context surrounding the user’s need to make intelligent use of these devices. It is important to bring together the devices at home and perhaps outside of home as well to make the intelligence more contextual whereby the user at the center of these decisions and not the device(s).
As to Kai’s point, about who owns the devices and who manages them, this can be solved through setting up user access controls on the cloud. However it is important that while the smart home belongs to the owner, the data must belong to the user for the related period of usage. When accessible locally, I agree with his point that devices must be accessible without having to register or go through the cloud.
I agree 100% with Nigel’s points above that there has to be a simpler way for people to connect *all* their devices and apps, which will then help in the orchestration of multiple services with the user’s context in mind.
These are some of the issues we debate as we build Truthing, a software only approach, while ensuring that the user is at the center of it all.