The Future is Now: Smart Home Technology Continues to Grow

BY Kristen Fowler | Mon Apr 24, 2017
The Future is Now: Smart Home Technology Continues to Grow

With each passing day, smart home technology gets closer and closer to the future. In fact, it’s really already here, though some can attest that it arrived a long time ago.

More than 30 years ago, pioneer Tom Riley founded the original home automation company, Unity Systems. A home manager system armed with a touchscreen-based graphical interface was the belle of the ball at price tag of upwards of $15,000. With it, homeowners could monitor and have access to various rooms, all by using a touch-tone phone.

In today’s money, the price tag for Riley’s system would get you a fully-loaded pickup truck, or “Texas Cadillac”. For $15,000 in 2017, a homeowner can practically get rooms to talk to each other and monitor themselves. Maybe a little over the top, but not too far-fetched.

The definition of home management today can mean total functionality and remote access of everything inside and outside rooms, including door locks, thermostats, window blinds, energy saver devices and more. Each are relatively inexpensive and widely available, and can be installed in minutes.

Smart home technology has been on a fast track in recent years, and is destined for bigger and better things. Here’s why:

Consumers are Embracing Smart Home Technology

In recent years, consumers have embraced smart home technology in North America and Europe and the trend is growing.

North America is now the top market for smart home technology, according to Berg Insight’s latest, “Smart Homes and Home Automation – 4th Edition,” published last May. Almost 10 percent of all households have some sort of smart technology, and Europe is not far behind.

North America’s smart home market growth in 2015 skyrocketed 62 percent with 16.9 million installations. Point solutions designed for a specific function like thermostats or smart door locks dominated installations at 14.1 million. Multifunction or whole-home systems installs were nearly 3 million.

Berg Insight predicted that 36 million homes in Europe and North America would be smart by 2016. While the 5th edition is not out yet, other data indicates that the forecast is on track.

Fueled by high consumer expectations of technology spending, the Consumer Technology Association (CTA) estimates that smart home purchases in 2017 will climb a whopping 63 percent over last year. Purchases will reach 29 million units at a whopping $3.5 billion.

Even though CTA’s Index of Consumer Technology Expectations (ICTE) showed a slight cooling in March, spending is generally higher than a year ago.

Smartphone Apps and Voice Technology are Quickly Evolving

Information Communications Technology (ICT) leaders believe voice-driven user interfaces will make it easier to control smart home solutions, which help further consumer confidence in smart home technology, says Berg Insight. “Smartphone apps are today the most common user interface for smart home solutions. In the future, users are however unlikely to be willing to launch a number of individual apps to be able to use their connected devices. A cross platform compatible and voice driven user interface would instead have the ability to connect and control a wide range of devices and services using simple voice commands.

Digital assistants like Google Assistant, The Alexa from Amazon and Siri, now supported by Apple’s HomeKit platform, likely will serve as easy bridges for consumers to unlock doors, adjust thermostats and dim lights inside or outside their homes using their smartphones.

Americans are using smartphones more and more for reasons other than talking. A recent Pew Center for Research survey, “Online Shopping and E-Commerce,” noted that 80 percent of Americans now shop online. About half have bought products and services from their phones. So, it’s not at all out of the question to think John Q. Public will purchase and control a smart home device from an iPhone or Android. It just seems natural.  

Multifamily Industry is Becoming a Proving Ground

The amenity-rich multifamily housing industry is booming, and many top industry leaders are seeing the value in smart home technology. It’s a hot topic at industry conferences, and there is force in numbers.

More than 111 million Americans renting apartments, based on data from the National Multifamily Housing Council. The potential exposure of smart home technology appears limitless.

Today’s renters view apartment living as more of a lifestyle choice, and the conveniences of managing their living spaces with a touch or swipe of smart phones is highly desirable. Pamela Darmofalski, Director, Advantage Solutions/National Accounts and Sustainability for Greystar, told Property Management Insider that “residents of all ages are interested in the technology and they are just starting to see how it can enhance their lifestyle.”

The selling point is not only convenience but savings on electricity bills that residents typically pay. Some apartment operators advertise energy savings of 10-20 percent per month using smart thermostats, while also charging additional rent for those and other features.

Operators are keeping a close eye on how technological fragmentation of smart home ecosystems is being addressed, and how easily properties will be able to “hit the reset button” on devices when apartments change renters. Figuring out interoperability from apartment to apartment is the golden opportunity, says Richard Holtz, CEO of InfiniSys Electronic Architects.

Security of Internet-Connected Devices is Getting Better

Smart devices, as with other technology, has not been immune from hacking. But security has evolved, and just recently leapt forward with CTA’s March announcement that it is offering installers of smart home technology products a security checklist for internet-connected devices. The Connected Home Security Checklist tool offers best practices for installing and configuring products to prevent unwanted malware and hackers.

Of course, the tool is mobile-friendly so installers can reference industry practices for topics including passwords, networks, modems and routers, VPNs and Z-Wave/Zigbee, according to CTA. Consumers get an emailed assessment of security steps performed by installers after the job is complete.

“Good cybersecurity practices are critical at the installer level – one of the first lines of defense against security breaches,” said Melissa Andresko, chair of CTA’s TechHome Division and communications director at Lutron Electronics. “To better safeguard consumers’ privacy and sensitive information, CTA created the first-ever tool designed by installers, for installers, that outlines existing best practices, standards and methods for today’s smart home security challenges.”

Smart homes still may sound light years away. But recent advancements and climbing consumer confidence in the technology continue put it on a track for acceptance and success right now.

Continued evolution is expected to improve and resolve integration issues. With it will further quicken the pace of smart home technology.

Guest Author Bio: Tim Blackwell is a long-time publishing and printing executive in the Dallas/Fort Worth area who writes about the multifamily housing and transportation industries. He has contributed numerous articles to Property Management Insider, a RealPage blog, and worked as a newspaper reporter in the D/FW area. Blackwell is president of Ballpark Impressions, and publishes the Cowcatcher Magazine. He is a member of the Fort Worth Chapter/Society of Professional Journalists.

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