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Published on 11th September 2017

The connected home: Transforming the way we live

Smartphones, tablets, wearable tech… Smart devices are all around us today, shaping our lives. When it comes to where we live, are we any closer to the science-fiction image of a seamlessly connected home?

Over 65 years ago, ‘The Happylife Home’ was already in the head of author, Ray Bradbury. His 1950 short story ‘The World the Children Made’ (republished a year later as ‘The Veldt’) was filled with machines that carried out every domestic task. Today, as we ask ‘Siri’ and instruct ‘Alexa’, voice-controlled devices provide a glimpse of tomorrow’s home. What is the future here? Gateway takes a look at what some leading experts think.

What is the connected home?

In a connected (or smart) home, occupants control gadgets, devices and appliances remotely, often using a smartphone or tablet. Right now, early adopters are able to adjust their home’s thermostat or lighting, open and close blinds and unlock doors this way, and even receive text alerts, such as when the children arrive back from school. From heating to security systems and home entertainment, many aspects of our home can be controlled through the touch of a button or a voice command. It’s possible to create schedules to automate domestic tasks, with some devices even learning how occupiers live, adjusting the set-up accordingly. A connected home also enables certain devices to ‘talk’ to each other to share files, such as digital media. One example of this would be viewing photographs on a SmartTV that are stored on a laptop in another room.

How does it work?

The connected home operates over the internet, using a smartphone, tablet, laptop or other networked device and a series of apps. Connecting these smart devices is referred to as the Internet of Things (IoT) technology and it’s a relatively recent concept. Electronic sensors can be integrated with connected devices for further convenience, such as turning off the lights automatically when someone leaves the room. Wireless sensors inside a fridge can alert the owner to the quantity and quality of produce inside, rather than waiting to get home to discover there’s no milk.

Why live in a connected home?

Having time and money are the main reasons. In its ‘Connected home’ report, PwC categorises the benefits of a connected home into four areas: improved comfort, greater well-being, enhanced lifestyle and financial savings, especially when it comes to energy management. 30% of respondents to a PwC external consumer survey said that reduced energy bills would be the main motivator for purchasing smart home technologies or adding to their existing ones. Home entertainment is another growing area. Entertainment companies have been some of the earliest adopters of connected technologies, as audiences move away from watching schedule programmes to personalised preferences. Advances are also being made in the areas of security systems and lighting. By 2020, PwC predicts that the connected home market could be worth some US$150 billion globally.

What next?

“The market has some way to go before it reaches its full potential,” reports McKinsey & Company, who surveyed 3,000 households for their views on the connected home in 2015–16 (see There’s No Place Like [A Connected] Home’). The management consultant highlights that the connected device proposition remains unclear and adopters face some common challenges. In a fragmented marketplace, solutions are being offered by many different providers to solve ad hoc problems. This means different smart devices don’t really talk to each other yet or it’s difficult to achieve integration. Currently, the market lacks a comprehensive solution or platform, perhaps because this need doesn’t yet resonate with mainstream consumers? Mckinsey concludes that, for the next leap, a range of organisations will need to come together to lead, rather than react, to demand. This will include hardware and consumer electronics manufacturers, telecom and cable providers, retail outlets, software and platform developers and service providers, including utility and home security companies.

Along with seamless integration between devices and apps, other issues to consider include security, privacy and data ownership. Development in superfast broadband and wi-fi will also be fundamental. The coming of 5G by 2020 – predicted to be 100 times or so better than 4G – will make the truly connected home more possible.

The potential, however, is clearly there and the growth in connected homes continues, says Mckinsey, from 17 million in 2015 to 29 million today in the US (one of the most advanced markets in this new area).

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