The future of smart home technology: ultimate control for who?

Smart home automation ipad
An iPad with home automation system installed

Industry experts are predicting that 11% of homes will be 'smart' by the end of 2014. This is compared to 17% of households in the US and a global average of 5%. The smart home trend is expected to continue growing with the market set to double across 7.7 million UK homes by 2019.

Many of the big household name companies – Apple, Samsung, Google – are either leading or jumping onto the smart home bandwagon. This year, Google bought out smart system manufacturers Nest for $3.2 billion (around £2 billion, AU$3.5 billion). Apple released HomeKit, enabling developers to safely connect gadgets to iOS. Samsung is currently looking to make a name for itself in the smart market with a potential acquisition of SmartThings.

Robotic overlord

Reports of new technology, innovation and streamlined efficiency are released daily. Colin Angle, CEO of iRobot, predicts that homes will soon have just one super robot which will be the centre of communications, command and control. This human-interface robot will be so advanced that it'll be able to talk to you and serve as an interface for a robot-enabled home or business.

But do home and business owners want a robot to be the head of their household or workplace? While home automation gives more control to homeowners and small businesses, it simultaneously gives more information to the home automation companies. These companies will no doubt try to use this information to gain control of an even bigger portion of the market than they already have. The question remains: how much information are we prepared to share in exchange for an easier life? At what point do we draw the line?

Control for smart technology providers?

For homeowners and business owners contemplating a move into smart home design and smart technologies, there are increasing concerns that technology is further eroding our privacy. Companies like Apple and Google already know our birthdays, viewing habits and search histories – soon they will even know what time we go to bed and what time we leave for work, through data that shows when we turn off the lights and when we open the garage door.

One thing that is crucial to the continued success of home automation is the security of data and this kind of personal information. A recent study by HP revealed that the majority of the most popular app-controlled devices for the home were extremely vulnerable to hackers. Lack of secure passwords and encrypted communications sent to the internet and/or a local network were the main issues. These early mistakes by the companies responsible for smart home systems may prove costly if they lose the trust of the consumer.

Ultimate control for the customer?

There are a lot of benefits that come with smart technology – and I don't just mean the everyday conveniences of washing machines that don't need to be told when to wash. Businesses are already reaping the rewards of digital technologies which are offering innovations in workplace management and giving employers access to insights on employee productivity and a range of data sets that weren't available before.

Homeowners are beginning to see the benefits of bringing smart technology into their homes too. One of the most popular aspects of smart home technology is home security. Keeping our home and family physically safe is a top priority and a smart home system is the best way to do that.

With a smart home, you can set the system to remember your previous two weeks usage of lights and curtains and have the system mimic your usage patterns while you're away to give the impression that someone is still at home. Smart homes are also able to detect intruders with passive infrared sensors, or window sensors, and relay the information to you and the police by phone call, email or text message. With certain home automation systems, the homeowner will be able to view the security cameras installed in their home from anywhere in the world, so they can always know exactly what is happening.

Another great smart home security feature is the ability to turn on your security system online when you leave the house, or go to bed. By installing proper security features – alarm systems, cameras, safes, security doors and windows – you make your home six times less likely to be broken into. This kind of control is empowering for the individual homeowner, who is able to protect their home even when they're away.

The future smart home

When it comes to the future of smart home technology, there is one thing we can be sure of – technology is continuing to improve, innovations are being made, and they are all focused on the consumer. Of the 10 brands reviewed by HP, six or seven were deemed insecure, but you can bet that the three or four that did have encrypted information and secure passwords are going to become market leaders and set the standard in the industry.

The consumer – the homeowner – remains at the centre of the smart home. Smart home systems are there to enhance the lifestyle of the homeowner, make their lives easier and more productive through intelligent devices, and put them in the position of ultimate control.

  • Malcolm Stewart is owner and founder of Kensington AV, a high-end home automation installer in and around London.