Technology: Who is Taking Control of the Home?

By Simon Buddle, SMC. It's fair to say that from time to time, products and systems that have been developed and installed in the residential custom install market have left the door wide open for the comment 'It's a little bit Heath Robinson.' One half expects a garage-haunting amateur engineer to come marching in, park their plump butt squarely on a chair in front of the fire and ask, 'What's for tea'? [caption id="attachment_4176" align="aligncenter" width="400"] Game automation - Heath Robinson-style.[/caption] Part of the fun of our world is stitching together products from different manufacturers to give the client a comprehensive control system that suits their day-to-day requirements. But herein lies the unresolved problem - none of these systems have been designed to work together. 'That is our job!' I hear you say. I hear you, honestly I do. The great variable in the sky shines down upon us all. Get a good systems designer and programmer, and your business is in the money. It is the skill of this somewhat unique individual that will define the quality of design, of code, of system, and ultimately the customer's satisfaction with your company. Technology marches on however, relentlessly creating new products and applications. Apple gave us music in our hand and then the ability to send it to a wireless device, easily. Indeed it has made it so easy, that one has to question the need for the traditional AV rack and audio/video matrix. Are your control systems that easy to use? The Smart Home - a New Corporate Battleground CES 2014 saw the birth of the curved TV screen and white goods that you can talk to, but it has also seen one manufacturer launch its own smart home ecosystem. Samsung Smart Home promises to connect all of your devices together on a single platform. Can one manufacturer provide a total solution? I remain to be convinced, but it sure does up the ante. [caption id="attachment_4175" align="aligncenter" width="600"] Samsung Smart Home services.[/caption] Quietly, in the background, Google has just purchased Nest, the company that brought the learning thermostat to the market. Why? The smart money is on data acquisition. Google wants to mine data on your energy usage in order to provide more accurate energy profiles to the suppliers and more. It also clearly demonstrates a desire to move into the home - into new markets other than the traditional Internet of things. The phrases 'The Connected Home', 'The Connected Car' and 'The Connected Body' are being bandied about as the new battleground for players such as Google, Apple, Amazon, and Microsoft. They are all either in the home or investing heavily to get into the home - the smart home, that is. [caption id="attachment_4177" align="aligncenter" width="600"] Data exchange for the connected home, car and body.[/caption] Whether any of these companies wish to take control of the home in the conventional way that we understand is a moot point, but they certainly have the ability in terms of programming, financial clout and clear incentives. I suspect that we may see simple discoverable devices with an integrated and well-thought-out operating system as the backbone of any smart home platform. Who Will Win? This raises the question: which team do you want to play for? Team Apple and Team Android are fairly well established. If we are to see manufacturers moving into this marketplace, surely it makes sense to buy into one philosophy. Will we therefore see homes where everything electronic, with a MAC address, from a single manufacturer such as Samsung? Apple, for example, pretty much have the entertainment side wrapped up providing huge amounts of content into the home, so a bit of lighting and heating control would see them pretty well entrenched in the market sector that we'd typically have called ours. I'm not sure that any of these companies really want to sell thermostats or even light bulbs, but they do want control of the home in so far as the data that is available; which room you are in, when you are home and what you are watching. Advertisers will, I'm sure, pay a pretty penny for such insight into the way you live. If, either by accident or design, they bring a simple and reliable smart home system into the home, we will need to think hard about how we make our living. Conclusion There is a marketplace that lives just before la-la-land, that will always need custom programming, bespoke products, and bleeding-edge technology, but it is a relatively small sector that is right at the very top of the pyramid. Below that sit millions upon millions of everyday houses. It is not ours to win or lose, but it would be great to understand it and be involved when the day comes. The super highways of data out of the house, and entertainment into the house, are well and truly open. Simon Buddle is the Technical Director of SMC – systems integration consultants and installers. Simon is also a regular contributor to HiddenWires, and the first winner of the CEDIA Region 1 Special Recognition Award. Comments on this article are welcome. See below.

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