It’s time to smarten the home – slowly.
Much as some people in tech hate the idea, some things are better taken slowly. The smart home may well be one of those.
Can't we just relax?
Look, the modern smartphone is just about a decade old, and we really can't bring ourselves to ease off and just enjoy it, can we? No, we have to keep worrying about what's coming next. I'll admit that thinking about the next wave of tech is pretty much the point of this conference, but we have to do it in a more thoughtful and meaningful way than most, as a counterbalance to the fake utopianism out there. So, while everyone is getting very excited about the internet of things, and autonomous vehicles, and bots and AI, it's our role to think through what they could mean for us – and make sure we don't end up with digital sucking worse than ever.
And sometimes that means saying "slow down - let's do this carefully".
Here's an example of a technology that we seem unwilling to just let slowly mature into its place: the smart home. But we should be really careful with it. Can you think of anywhere you'd want things to go wrong less? Our homes our our fortresses – our places of safety, if you like. Once we start wiring them up to the internet, we gain both utility and, more worryingly, risk. Other people could start controlling elements of our homes, and that's not something anyone wants.
I can't think of any area of tech I'd like to see a slow and steady approach to more than the connected home. It's basically just a subset of the internet of things, connecting together objects in a way that allow intelligent automation of our homes. Apple did a lovely video giving an example of the promise a few months back:
On the Eve of something smart
We're still a long way from that vision for most of us. One company that seems to be doing a good solid job of rolling our product slowly and intelligently is Elgato. The range of Eve connected home devices are (fairly) low cost and easy to get up and running.
Every year, they announce a new round of products in the range, that develop the capabilities of the devices. We've had smart weather and air quality sensors, motion sensors and window and door state sensors. And, for 2017, that range is getting some expansion, and we start to see how things might hang together.
As well as revamping the Eve Thermo - a smart thermostat for radiators, Elgato is adding:
- Eve Lock, an intelligent door lock
- Eve Window Guard, an intelligent contact & tamper sensor
- Eve Smoke, an intelligent smoke detector
- Eve Aqua, an intelligent irrigation controller
What's interesting is that most of these are more active than most of the original range. They started with sensors that determined the temperature, air quality, or humidity, and have added devices that can act on the information the sensors deliver.
So, for example, if your Eve Smoke detects a possible fire, the Homekit system can trigger the lights in the bedrooms, allowing sleeping residents to be working quickly, before they're overcome with smoke. Eve Aqua can be tied into the existing weather sensor, turning on irrigation when the temperature rises too high. Somebody is breaking into your house? Thanks to the Window Guard, you can have lights switch on automatically, possibly scaring off the thief…
This is the sort of small, carefully interaction around products that insinuates them into people's life. Few people are going to sign up for a smart home right away - although they do exist - but will instead slowly upgrade their existing homes into smart homes. That's the path I'm on. Our 1980s riverside home is very far from smart, but through Eve sensors, and Phillips Hue smartbulbs, we're slowly edging towards something much more modern.
But I'd really like to get stuck into the kitchen…
A healthy life could start in a smart kitchen
One of our partners this year is Rhizome, a conference dedicated to the smart kitchen. Why the kitchen? Well, where do you have such a concentration of devices in one place as the kitchen? Fridge, freezer, oven, kettle, microwave, coffee-maker… We also need groceries all the time. There are whole efficiencies about food storage, preparation, timing and planning to be achieved - and with them the opportunity to improve our nutrition.
A true smart home strategy is more than just "let's wire things up because we can", because we know where that leads, and it sucks. It's about thinking through what advantages that a connected kitchen could bring. Could I trigger my coffee maker when I'm five minutes from home - or as I leave the shower? Could I turn the oven on, while I'm out for a walk? Or could I turn it down, if I'm delayed on the way home for a Sunday roast?
Beyond that simple utility, food – and by extension, the kitchen where we prepare it – is a central plank of our health. Smartwatches are rapidly becoming one half of the health equation – but nutrition tracking probably needs to start in the kitchen.
If this sounds interesting, you might want to add a day at Rhizome to your trip to Next.