Nuts & Bolts

Connected Homes vs. Smart Homes

As the technology to connect all of our devices continues to rapidly improve and the cost of deploying billions of sensors and capturing petabytes of data drops I believe we’re approaching an inflection point much like we saw with the commercialization of the internet.

Today early adopters have nominally connected homes primarily dependent on a hub (router) and control panels (proprietary GUI’s). That’s helpful for managing many tasks at once or when doing the task remotely is more convenient. This is especially useful in large industrial and agricultural facilities but as those systems are scaled down of consumer uses the value proposition also diminishes. I can spend time and money to upgrade my home and be able to turn off all my lights or control my stereo from my phone but all the intelligence of the system is still provided by the person who is spending more money to perform the same task.

The real change isn’t coming from the connections -although it is a critical link- it will come from what they enable us to do. Today that is primarily extending a person’s reach. I can now turn on a light from a location outside of my home for instance. This offers great value when dealing with large or dangerous territories, but the systems intelligence is still the person. Even when my thermostat adjusts the temperature it is primarily following instructions I input to the device.

In the average consumer’s life these are novelties or incremental improvements at best. My smart light bulb offers very little advantage over a twenty year old motion detector. IoT is delivering connected devices NOT Smart Homes. That requires the devices to be connected to some form of intelligence. Very few manufactures have the capability to deliver that type of innovation. What would it cost to buy a speaker that recognized you as an individual and could automatically play the type of music you preferred, accounting for the time of day and who else was in the room?

This is what a “Smart” appliance should behave like. Connecting dumb devices is merely the initial step. Connecting them to intelligent, autonomous applications that replace the need for people to trigger basic commands (turn lights on, off) and are smart enough to define new behaviors will make homes smart. A router that can identify the users of bandwidth and prioritize access based on behaviors not hard coded rules. My mac address is using office 360 and moving files to my work could drive so my traffic is prioritized over the ipad watching Netflix. Sorry girls Curious George is going to have to buffer while Daddy is paying your room and board. I’m alerted that my alarm has been deactivated but none of the family members phones are within 100 yards. My car recognizes that the route I’m traveling is towards home and since I’ve been there it has snowed and the temperature has been below freezing so it turns on the flood light/camera above the garage door and detects the driveway is not plowed and asks me if it should dial “contact: plow guy.”

That would require a massive investment in machine learning, sensors, software and connectivity almost impossible to amortize profitably over a handful of products. This is why smart homes will be delivered not by manufactures but by very large, aggressive cloud providers that have the cheap compute power and massive scale to profitably deliver cutting edge technology as a service.