The Interface to the Smart Home is Not Your phone

POSTED BY Steffen Sorrell
Now that the colder months are approaching for us Northern hemisphere dwellers, the central heating ads have started showing on TV. Not unexpectedly, British Gas is plugging their connected thermostat system, Hive. What was surprising to me was the fact that, in 2 years, nothing has changed with regards to the sales pitch: it’s still a thermostat controlled by your phone.

Getting the Value from Connected Devices

A remote controlled thermostat is great when I’m at work and it suddenly freezes over or something like that but a) that doesn’t happen very often and b) my ‘dumb’ thermostat ensures that the house is always at my preferred temperature. When I’m on holiday, the thermos goes lower to save energy.

When we look at the Internet of Things, of which the Smart Home is a subset, a recurring theme in the consumer space is: why? Connecting devices is not enough; that’s why services such as IFTTT and machine learning are fundamentally important to moving the word ‘smart’ beyond just a marketing term. The home that reacts to that window being open by closing it before turning on the heating is a smart home: the one that requires me to pull out my phone to do the same: a connected home.

Speak Up

That being said, one has to question why we are always lugging our phones around with us, even in the home. The interface to the smart home is not your phone – it’s your voice, it’s the TV, it’s your wearable device. Speaking to devices to control them is a natural method of interaction, and the technology is getting pretty good now: Alexa, Cortana, Google Now and Siri all perform well. Meanwhile I don’t want to tell the home that I’m feeling hot or cold; my wearable can speak for me. It can also tell I’m in the living room, watching TV and adjust room settings according to my profile. My phone-  unused.

The Chicken and Egg
Nonetheless, the biggest hurdle for this $100 billion industry is showing consumers the potential. One might say ‘the smart home can do this’, but without being shown how products work in unison, the sector will continue to struggle. That’s why connected entertainment will remain the largest smart home segment; that’s why retail now has a huge role to play.