Commentary / Opinion

Connected homes: are we there yet?

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Smart homes are the new black. Or so the home appliance market would have us believe. Smart fridges, smart security systems, smart TVs, smart thermostats – they’re all here to stay, and they’re breeding like rabbits. But does a hefty number of connected devices make for a truly connected home? What are the barriers to seamless integration between multiple devices, and what could a truly connected home look like in the future?

Why are smart devices in the home so popular?

According to IHS Technology, we can expect to see an acceleration from one million units (smart gadgets) in 2014, to over 470 million units in 2020. Before you scoff at such an absurd number (and I’d forgive you if you did) let’s take a look at what the situation is today:

  • 11 million smart large cooking appliances
  • 120 million smart refrigerators
  • 186 million smart air conditioners
  • 131 smart washing machines and smart dryers
  • 17 million smart dishwashers

So, why the stunning expansion in smart goods? It’s partly driven by advances in artificial intelligence and voice control, both of which make for a viable control center for a seamlessly connected home. Widespread familiarity with smartphones and other multi-functional devices is another factor – it means that this technology is no longer off-puttingly scary. Furthermore, there’s a real need for energy efficient appliances that can monitor and automate their own usage to save energy.

Many gadgets do not connected make

While the devices themselves are on the up-and-up, the proliferation of smart house-dwelling things still doesn’t make for a connected home. For a connected home to be connected, these devices need to be – well – connected. They need to talk to each other.

Generally, at the moment, most people are more likely to opt for a single device that solves a particular problem, than they are to commit to an entire ecosystem. You can see why: it’s an easier sell. Want your house to be warm as you get home from work without leaving the heating on all day? Buy a smart thermostat and control your heating remotely. Problem solved.

According to a very interesting report courtesy of McKinsey, your average girl or guy on the street just doesn’t care about the bits and bobs around their home connecting in one big shiny, smart, centrally managed platform. And that’s because the value isn’t clear. Yet.

The vision: your home as your PA

The beauty of a truly connected home, where smart devices are linked via a central platform, is that it can solve many problems. All at once. It’s a big problem solving machine. Imagine a central, voice-operated control system with artificial intelligence capabilities that helps with day-to-day annoyances, chores and just plain living, based on the data it picks up from your appliances. It can also manage your calendar, your bank balance, your insurance policy, your home utilities, entry systems and the devices in your home.

For example. If your home’s white goods (fridge, oven, washing machine and so forth) are IoT-enabled, they can tell your artificially intelligent control-center:

  • When they need maintenance (and why)
  • When their last service was
  • Where that leak is coming from

We could even go further. With the aid of this information, your AI control center buddy could:

  • Check your calendar and schedule an engineer’s visit
  • Check the item’s warranty to see if it’s still under guarantee
  • Check whether this sort of repair job is covered by your insurance
  • Review how often your other goods have needed repair
  • Work out whether there’s a correlation between heavy usage and ensuing faults

…all without you having to go to multiple devices / bits of paper to achieve all this.

The frustrations faced by many would-be paramours of the connected home stem from the fact that their smart devices aren’t yet centrally managed, and don’t talk to each other very well. It’s when you’re desperately trying to get music to stream from your phone through your ‘smart’ entertainment system (which won’t play it) that the potential value of a truly connected home becomes clear.

Achieving the seamlessly connected home will take a leap of faith, but it’s happening. So, no, we’re not there yet, but we will be.

Learn more

IBM is working with appliance manufacturers all over the world to accomplish a seamless end user experience.

To learn about the Watson IoT Platform and our work connecting things, systems and people, take a look at our website.

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