We’ve long been promised the voice-activated, automated, robot-butler-equipped home of the future, a nuclear age dream of the 1950s that’s inspired everything from The Jetsons to Back to the Future II. And while the smart home concept is now finally, slowly becoming mainstream, there remains a crucial barrier to entry – with so many devices to choose from, and so many smart home ecosystems to rule them all, where does the forward-thinking homeowner start?
Apple, working with Swedish property developers Trivselhus, is helping to develop a new neighbourhood that could help answer that question.
Sommar Place, currently under construction in Milton Keynes, will offer 56 modern houses and apartments with a key difference from your standard new-build properties: they’re being built from the ground up with Apple’s HomeKit ecosystem in mind.
So, as well as benefiting from Trivselhus’s 20 years experience in Scandinavian design, each home comes fully equipped with a whole range of HomeKit-enabled smart home products, as well as the Apple gear needed to control them. (You can find the full list in the Smart Home Furnishings boxout).
Ready to go
Here's a complete list of what homeowners will find as standard in their Trivselhus Sommar Place homes as standard upon purchase, broken down into their respective categories:
- Entertainment / Fun
Apple TV 4K
- Energy control/monitoring
Netatmo Smart Thermostat
Netatmo radiator thermostatic valves
Lightwave RF Link Plus hub
Lightwave RF 2 gang sockets
Lightwave RF 1 gang light switches
LIFX bulbs (E27 screw fitting)
Elgato Eve Motion
Netatmo Presence - external security camera
Elgato Door & window
Logitech Circle 2 Camera
- Health & wellness
Apple Watch Series 3
Netatmo Healthy Home Coach
Linksys (2-pack system)
HDMI lead (for Apple TV connection to TV)
From smart lights to voice activated blinds and heating, as soon as a homeowner takes receipt of the keys to their new property, they’ll already be living in an established smart home.
“Over the last couple of years we’ve been working with Apple doing proof-of-demo installations on houses, just to see how workable it all is – obviously it’s an emerging platform to work on,” says Paul Armstrong, Technical Director, Trivselhus UK.
“So we were working on things as they came to the market, trying to make sure that we went deep enough into the offering to make it worthwhile, and demonstrate a full working smart home rather than it being a token gesture, touching on as many smart home categories as possible.”
It’s all focused around the Apple Home app, the core controller for the HomeKit devices. Here you can see all the smart home products active in your home, grouped into rooms (and easily identifiable with custom photos for each room of the house). Paired with a HomePod speaker, with a few taps and swipes, or carefully selected voice commands, your house can essentially run itself.
These can be simple commands like asking the Siri voice assistant to turn up the temperature on smart radiator valves in the bedroom, or turning on the lights in the living room. It gets even more exciting when building “scenes”. These are commands that trigger multiple devices to act at once. For instance, a command of “good morning, Siri” could lift your bedroom’s mechanical window blinds, turn on the heated towel rack, give you a quick weather and news report from the HomePod and even turn on a connected kettle.
What’s perhaps the most interesting element of the Milton Keynes smart home development is its relative affordability. A three storey, four bedroom townhouse with a reasonable sized garden and its own parking space costs just £450,000 – of which only roughly 1% of the cost can be attributed to smart furnishings. A similarly priced apartment in London would be the size of a shoebox.
“Anyone can offer a package that’s an add-on, where you try to squeeze the living daylights out of somebody,” says Ken Forster, Managing Director, Trivselhus UK.
“That’s not what we’re going to do here. What we’re talking about is lifestyle, and offering something a little bit special, a little bit different [...] We see our market advantage as acting in a completely different way, putting the consumer first.”
Apple’s eco-friendly credentials have been a big part of the company’s messaging in recent years, and the collaboration with Trivselhus continues in that green-conscious direction. Thanks to the demands of the harsh Scandinavian winters, Trivselhus has to be ruthless when it comes to insulation and energy expenditure, and so the Sommar Place homes have been built to the same exacting standards.
Each house the company builds typically positively sits 40% above the nation’s new build energy guidelines – and this is before factoring in any energy savings that could eventually be attributed to smart home energy management through automation.
Building for the future
It’s fair to have some concerns around building a home so connected and smart-focused.
“When you start to think about putting this sort of technology into something that’s worth anywhere between £250k for apartments and £450k for townhouses, what you can not do is take any risks,” says Forster.
“We’ve all seen data leaks and security issues. If we sell someone a house of this nature and someone manages to get past the front door smart lock, it wouldn’t take a genius to work out we’ve got a major problem.”
As touched on by Forster, things like door locks and wall sockets (in a traditional home at least) may never be replaced for the lifetime of a tenancy – what happens if a software update renders them obsolete just a few years after purchase? Trivselhus believes its choice of smart products will act as a failsafe in this respect – the items it has installed can, with a few rare exceptions, be controlled and relied upon in an 'analogue', offline capacity.
In terms of information security, any HomeKit data that is collected by Apple is anonymised and encrypted before it reaches the Cupertino mothership, meaning it’d be impossible to identify your particular living habits.
“Working with Apple from the ground up has been key in this respect,” adds Forster.
“It’s not about putting a Hive in, or this or that, picking and choosing technology – this is about choosing really strong infrastructure, from the minute the buyer drives to the home to the moment they leave it. From a security point of view, it’s absolutely rock solid.”
Although it’s the first development of its kind to focus on Apple HomeKit products, the company’s key competition is also trialling similar schemes around the country. Samsung, for instance, has partnered with property developer Quintain to supply digital connected appliances to 3,000 rental apartments in Wembley Park. But there are few developments taking as holistic an approach to the smart home as Sommar Place.
While this sort of neighbourhood remains novel, expect to see many more like it in the near future. Trivselhus alone has plans to build 1,000 similarly-equipped smart homes of the next three years, up and down the country.
The foundations of the smart home of your dreams may be being laid sooner than you’d think.