The Smart Home. The holy grail of tech-enthusiasts world wide. Thanks to the complexity of systems, competition between vendors and expensive technology mean, up until recently, Home Automation has been limited to the wealthy or extreme enthusiasts. But all that could be about to change as technology leaders start to cotton onto the expanding demand for home control, and start to think about how they can help manoeuvre into the Home Automation Market.
Emerging technology and an increasing number of Wi-Fi enabled retrofit solutions mean users no longer have to be tech literate or one of the countries elite to enjoy the benefits of a home which more or less looks after itself. The infiltration of smartphones into the everyday routine combined with increasing retrofit wireless options and an ever increasing online community is pushing retailers who already have their foot in the door into the average consumer’s home.
Whilst the vast majority of home automation systems are understandably classed as a luxury product, specialists Control4 can already fit a basic system for less than £2000. And now with US companies such as Comcast, Vivnt and AT&T offering basic home automation services on a tariff basis (around $50 p/m) options are slowly being made available to the average home owner. Even specialist products are getting in on the action; the past year has seen Phillips introduce an LED bulb to their range whilst across the pond, ‘Nest’, enjoy the success of their first intelligent thermostat, both of which are fully controllable through any Apple IOS Device.
But it’s the big household names that are really kicking up a stir. Having already streamlined our home entertainment systems Industry leaders, Apple, Microsoft, Sony and Google engaged in a bidding war for Home Automation Start-up Company R2, indicating the Smart Home could become the next big thing in consumer technology. And with each Global name featuring products and platforms compatible with home technology, combined with loyal customer bases and comparatively exhaustive advertising budgets, these big names have the big selling power to open the industry up to a wider market.
Microsoft’s Xbox Console and Sony’s PS3 (and soon to be released PS4) both use wireless and cloud based technology with the ability to stream and store movies, music and TVs shows onto an external server. Sony’s Play Station has the capability to play multi-region Blu-Rays whilst Xbox Music, released earlier this month, is rivalling the biggest online cloud services, iTunes & Spotify. With Microsoft winning the battle for R2 and with an expanding range of interactive options (Nintendo Wii, Microsoft Kinnect) it seems clear that these technologies, already an integral part of most home entertainment systems, could well cross into Home Automation territory.
Although Apple don’t currently have any platforms promoted for home automation, the compatibility of the iPhone (already used to great effect with Control4) and Apple TV (again, another staple in a lot of our systems) mean that they’re in a strong market position should the industry continue to expand. With such strong brand power and a customer base willing to buy a piece of shiny cardboard as long as it had the infamous logo on, it’ll be interesting to see what they come up with. That being said, at least they will have designed the product. Systems such as Google TV and Google Play have allowed Google to push its Android operating system to the forefront of the market, thanks to the constant developer support from an open system. Who needs to spend millions of pounds paying web and app developers when the Average Joe is constantly creating new lifestyle affirming apps?
One off products and tariff based simple-control units have opened the floodgates to a wider audience with even our own big industry player getting in on the action; Control4, Creston and AMX all showcasing new lines at this year’s CES with the goal to make affordable home automation a reality. Yet, whilst it’s true that opening the market naturally leaves us traditional (can we apply that term yet?) Integrators with more competition than ever before, increasing awareness and product accessibility can sure only be a positive for the Industry.
Why? Because despite new, cheaper and products coming into the market, the success of a system is essentially down to the initial design, installation and care of the system. The cabling, product knowledge and personalised settings which go into transforming a property into your very own Smart Home ensures that custom integrators will never be short of business – it’s about intuitive modes and energy saving devices, personalised modes and security features, all of which involve a large amount of programming. The Integrator’s job is to make sure we use all of these to create a system which moulds the home into your lifestyle, rather than attempting to slot your life around your home. Control a system right, and we are able to future-proof your home for the long term, meeting needs now and ten years down the line. An individual semi-intelligent thermostat is a great way to introduce the benefits of automated living to those of us still spending half their income on rent – but will more than likely leave you confused, possibly rather sweaty , and wanting more control.