Bringing Smart Homes to the masses

REPLICATE Innovation
20 Feb, 18 by Matt Jones

Many households have already started to experience some of the benefits that ‘Smart Homes’ can offer. This might be through a voice activated device like an Amazon Echo where you can ask ‘Alexa’ just about anything or a smart washing machine that activates when you schedule it to.

There are many smart devices currently out there on the market but the challenge lies in how these things all work together for a seamless end user experience. Imagine if all your electric sockets in your home required a different plug adapter to work with the devices they were plugged in to. You would have to research what plug type was required then buy it, fit it, make sure the devices plugged in worked etc. Welcome to the world of Smart Homes in their current state! We have multiple brands and platforms all trying to gain market share by offering their ‘solutions’. But if you want to be able to control your different branded home devices including light switches, smart plugs and home appliances through one app, good luck!

Why is this the case?

Unfortunately it comes down to the business models of each manufacturer not allowing for integration of different branded goods. And to some extent it’s understandable that brand x wants to sell you their whole smart home package and tie you in to this rather than allowing third party devices to be added in. Not only this but if brand x doesn’t work with brand y device, where does responsibility lie to fix it? So it’s a risk for a company to offer integration with other devices as if something goes wrong, it’s unclear as to who fronts the cost of repair. For example if brand x releases a software update it may well render capability with brand y impossible or at the very least brand y then has customers complaining that their device no longer works so they have to invest in re-integrating.

User friendly future

Now, it’s not all doom and gloom in the Smart Home world. Currently it does not make financial sense for brands to offer open compatibility but there are starting to be examples of where companies are working together to offer a futureproof one app solution for households. ‘Smart Friends’ is one example where multiple brands have a signed contractual agreement in place that they will support compatibility between each other’s products.

Smart Home technology take up may well be limited by frustrated user experience, therefore I believe we will see a change in openness amongst brands. The driver will be sales dipping if they do not offer integration that others are able to. Openness is what consumers want. Looking around anyone’s home and you will see a huge range of currently none smart devices that eventually will be replaced with smart ones. Even if you are a stalwart Apple fan it’s likely that you will still have a variety of different brands in your house. Apple do not currently offer a washing machine for example so if they cannot provide integration with your Apple home hub then your user experience will be severely compromised. If you cannot schedule and automate these sorts of appliances to automatically time around when you are scheduled to arrive home (based on GPS in your phone) for example, then the real benefits of paying the extra to have smart devices will be lost.

One Smart Home supplier recently said that a vision where households can choose any branded smart home equipment and it all work together seamlessly was ‘Utopian’. If we are to see Smart Homes take off then manufacturers will need to change their business models so that households can be able to get a unified smart home equipment.

Bristol Smart Homes project

The Bristol Smart Homes project is seeking to overcome these challenges by working with manufacturers who offer open compatibility. We will be installing Smart Home equipment in 150 homes in East Bristol including Smart Appliances such as washing machines and also smart monitoring and control systems to provide our Smart City Platform information about energy use across the city. We are aiming to reduce household energy usage and trial shifting the time at which households use their appliances to place less strain on the local grid. Barriers may exist but these can be broken down. This will be our major challenge in delivering the benefits of Smart Homes to the citizens of Bristol.