The State of the Smart Home: January 2015

The State of the Smart Home: January 2015

If you follow home tech at all, you’ve probably been hitting the big tech sites this week to follow all of the craziness that comes out of the annual Consumer Electronics Show (CES). Like years past, CES 2015 has been a noisy labyrinth of product announcements, early demos, and vision presentations from some of the biggest names in the game.

CES is interesting to watch each year as the focus seems to swing from one hot new product category to the next. In 2009, 3D technology was all of the rage as James Cameron lured the world back into theaters to watch a mediocre movie with some killer new effects. The last few years have been all about wearables and VR as everyone does their best to beat Apple to the punch. 2015 though has been especially interesting to me due to the overwhelming focus on the “Internet of Things” (IoT).

Why so interesting? Despite the terrible name (seriously, we can do better, internet), the IoT is a group of technologies that actually has somewhere to go. 3D was a fad to try and sell TVs in a time where there wasn’t a great reason to upgrade. VR and some of the wearable stuff produced in the last few years is still either vaporware or technology with very limited appeal.

I think the IoT has the potential to be different. It’s the collision of abundant new sensors, falling prices, and creative minds. It’s taking us to a place where it’s affordable and practical for just about any item to communicate with the gadgets and world around it. The rise of omnipresent information from the internet was disruptive. The rise of omnipresent computing power and knowledge in the smartphone was disruptive. I think the rise of omnipresent communication and extensibility from the IoT will be just as impactful.

So, where does the smart home come into play? It’s probably one of the first playgrounds for the IoT. Smart thermostats and light bulbs have turned into components of larger systems that offer greater potential when they’re used together. Controlling your lights with your phone is cool. Having your thermostat communicate with the power grid and adjust the intensity of lighting (in step with current energy prices) is transformative.

We’re just at the cusp of some incredible technologies coming to the home, and like I’ve said before, it’s still the wild west out there when it comes to products and standards. The market is about to be (or already is) flooded with smart bulbs, smart thermostats, WiFi cameras, sensor clusters, and much more. Honestly, we’re probably five years away from having mature products and systems that work seamlessly and play nice together. I’m encouraged by the fact that most of the big players seem committed to open standards and interoperability, but am overwhelmed by the number of hubs and systems that are popping up every day. It always seems like the public at large won’t adopt new technologies until a few dominant, respected platforms emerge (remember how messy the smart phone market was before Apple and Google took over?).

Nevertheless, it’s a great time to build a smart home. Prices are falling, integration is growing, and the momentum is there… Just don’t expect buying decisions to become easier over the next 12 months.


Eric is the creator of At Home in the Future and has been a passionate fan of the future since he was seven. He's a web developer by trade, and serves as the Director of Communication and Technology for a large church in Nashville, TN (where he and his family are building a high tech home in the woods).