Smart Home Technology: Improving Trust and Accessibility for Better Quality of Life
As the market for Smart Home solutions continues to grow, there still exist some barriers preventing the latent potential of the tech from being fully realized. Luckily, big players are amassing to break down the barriers for adoption among older consumers.
The Art of Living
To live our best lives, we don’t necessarily expect to experience extraordinary states of functioning. We all have a hierarchy of basic needs, laddering from the physical exigencies such as nourishment, warmth, and good health, all the way up via emotional security, stability, and dignity to the ultimate yearning for self-actualization. Smart Home technology is increasingly reshaping the art of living by meeting our fundamental needs for us, so that we can indeed focus on higher pursuits.
Intelligent thermostats, smart light switches, automated energy management systems - these types of Smart Home technologies are directly addressing the growing need for low cost, low carbon emission-oriented solutions to reduce environmental damage. Remote home monitoring systems and access control kits foster security and stability as we seek to protect our biggest assets, and the loved ones housed within them. And smart white goods, voice control systems, discrete cameras and sensors can empower people with disabilities to live independently with more confidence.
As the market for Smart Home solutions continues to grow (In fact, it’s estimated that the global market size will grow from USD 78.3 billion in 2020 to USD 135.3 billion by 2025), there are some barriers preventing the latent potential of the tech from being fully realized. Namely, high price point, the complexity of installation and use, unreliability, fear of obsolescence, vendor lock-in and cyber threat. Unless you’re a highly trained IT/OT specialist, you’ll likely need to take a leap of faith when kitting out your house. But this is all changing.
Business is Booming
According to a 2021 study conducted by OpenDoor, only 2 percent of people between 56 and 74 said smart home features like speaker hubs, smart appliances, doorbells, and security cameras are important to them – yet according to the New York Times, it is this generation that has possessed the most real estate wealth (in the US) for two decades. According to AARP, this group generates more than 7.2 trillion US dollars annually through spending, and this number is only set to rise alongside the growing, aging population. That’s a lot of purchase power!
They may well have the cash to splash on smart tech, but just need some convincing of the virtues. In fact, 60 percent of those over 50 years old surveyed by the Consumer Technology Association back in 2019 said they would consider going digital if it helped them to independently age in place. As human beings, we naturally want to have a certain level of control and choice in our lives.
So, the benefits of remote access systems, smart alarms, mobility assistance and automated lighting, et al, are by no means lost on this financially savvy generation. To win the confidence of consumers, smart home IoT device makers must put user needs at the epicenter of product development: the right price, easy to use, and it better be secure. It also needs to actually improve quality of life and be easy to install.
The Developer’s Challenge
Device makers and developers want to create products that address these real-world problems in an easy and efficient manner. Our collective goal is to make connected devices as omnipresent to consumers, as is the smartphone in their pocket or the electricity in their homes. And we have to make them work seamlessly together in one broader ecosystem.
The challenge today is that the market is so young and far from converging onto a single path just yet. Which is exciting… but there are question marks over which network topology and protocol to run with. Will your product meet the discerning expectations of the end user, and will it be compatible with emerging next-gen gadgets?
"It’s really important to make sure that they [device makers and developers] understand that long life is critical for so many reasons. Keeping devices in people’s homes updated and useful. That’s the customers’ expectation. […] When you bring refrigerators and white goods into your home… Once installed they have very long lifecycles. The yearly upgrade cycle that people have become accustomed to with gadgets and phones, it’s just not sustainable for the planet. And ultimately it erodes trust with the customers if we’re pushing people to constantly upgrade. Longevity and great services are key to getting consumer buy-in." said Mike Harris, COO Ring/Blink (Amazon) at Silicon Labs’ Works With 2021 event.
As we witness the continued proliferation of life-easing IoT, calls for greater interoperability between the vast array of different devices are being addressed. For example, as a universally supported internet protocol built on open standards, Thread is hailed as a logical path forward and it’s supported by many big hitters in the field from Apple, Amazon to Google, Samsung, Schneider to Ikea.
Thread is a pillar of the upcoming Matter Standard, which is a global IoT connectivity standard that builds on top of existing connectivity protocols - namely Wi-Fi and Bluetooth – to enable cross-platform IoT communication. It’s open source, meaning no one entity owns it, so there are no licensing fees associated with using it either.
We’re seeing a shift from private, home-grown proprietary platforms (such as isolated, remote garage door openers) to set ups that are more highly connected, interoperable, and more open.
Along with the shift from proprietary platforms to more open, interoperable platforms, we’re seeing the integration of increased wireless connectivity (more radios, more protocols) into devices to support multiple standards. We’re designing ecosystems that enable the seamless movement of data to open source, in-the-cloud environments. Security is being baked in at chip level. And there have been exciting new applications of AI/ML at the edge.
IKEA’s Perspective on Everyday Life
While all this development magic goes on behind the scenes, one business known to the consumer that has truly redefined the art of living is IKEA. Frugal innovation and invention-through-necessity have become the hallmarks of the IKEA way. Loved the world over for providing living solutions for the many, not the few, it’s no surprise that this furniture dealership also wants to democratize the Smart Home experience.
"What we do with all our products, is that we start with our vision: To create a better everyday life for the many people. And we are looking at all aspects of the day – from the moment you wake up, kids go to school, you have dinner, you go to sleep – all these parts are what we consider in our product development. We want to cater to ‘the many people’ and this is very important to IKEA. These products are not developed only for the tech people but for all members of the family including guests. And this is centered around affordability. It needs to be [sic] so that everyone can be part of the products. So, we are all about creating life at home, making it more convenient and smoother, so that you can enjoy it!" said Ulf Axelsson, IoT Architect, IKEA HomeSmart , during Silicon Labs’ Works With 2021 event.
Ikea is famed for getting to the heart of the matter through extensive research. They seek to discover what might be restricting one’s ability to live well in the present moment: How do people really live in their homes? What are their daily routines? What’s going on and how do people’s lives change? But perhaps more importantly, how does digital information come into play with all this? It’s this pursuit of truth that directs their Smart Home strategy – or rather, their ‘Home Smart’ strategy as Ulf puts it, on account of the Home always coming first. Ulf Axelsson is IKEA’s IoT Architect, charged with establishing a strategy to take them beyond conventional home furnishing and into the smart realm.
Riding on IKEA’s legacy, Ulf explains that affordability, integration, and trust are the cornerstones of its Home Smart strategy too.
"We want to have a truly affordable offering […] It’s less about inventing gadgets but rather, leveraging existing home furnishing solutions and enhancing them with the tech. IKEA is a trusted brand with high security and privacy standards and that also comes from the safety of our standard products, which are not connected."
But when you take a look at IKEA’s Smart Home range, you’ll see that they are really focusing on physical controls and this, according to Ulf, is on account of the inclusiveness they confer. In alignment with IKEA’s vision, their smart products can be used by all: Kids, people who don’t want to install apps, for house guests even. Their desire is to eliminate the need for installation and instead offer pre-paired kits - meaning that you can go to the store, buy a few products, take them home, plug them in, and they just work.
We’ve assembled a selection of materials providing the full scope of smart home device benefits and instructional ideas on how to bring high-quality devices to market easily, quickly, and economically.
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