Now is the time to get a smart home

The ability to transform any object or appliance into a device by attaching an internet-connected sensor or controller has led to the rise of the smart home. People can live more intelligently as technologies, such as the internet of things (IoT) and artificial intelligence (AI), enter their household and enhance their lifestyle by offering small but transformational automated assistance.

The growing use of such innovation advances user insights, which in turn fuels further technology developments that make the smart home a more integrated and sophisticated experience. But like most emerging technologies, adoption has been held back as users learn about the choices available and benefits it can offer them.

In the case of thermostats, for example, users might not be aware they have an option for better comfort, control and savings. Others are frightened of introducing new technology into the home and some think it’s a luxury they can’t afford, despite price points even for the most cutting-edge technology starting below £100.

However, uptake is now entering the early stages of mass adoption. “Many who don’t consider themselves early adopters may actually be further along the cycle than they realise,” says James Coulson, global consumer marketing director at Honeywell, a leading player in the smart home space. “The smart home is becoming available for everyone.

“Forcing someone to become a tech expert overnight is not what we want, nor is it realistic. Our products are made to cover a wide gamut of ages and abilities. We also see how the uptake gives rise to further adoption. As people become more familiar after taking that first step, they are encouraged to find something more ‘connected’ and explore its potential.”

Smart-home technologies have the potential to transform a person’s lifestyle and home comfort completely

The less tech savvy among the population are often hesitant that smart-home technologies may require a costly installation and further professional support to get the most from them. However, many can approach much of the connected-home space with a DIY mindset and, when help is required, there is a raft of affordable professionals who are readily accessible.

Some of the awareness gap comes from a tendency to view smart-home technologies with a consumer-electronics mindset; users want to pay for it over time and expect immediate gratification.

Some products are integrated into the fabric of home and family life, and a lot more is at stake. “If a smart speaker fails then people are inconvenienced and can’t listen to Ed Sheeran,” says Mr Coulson. “Whereas some other smart-home products are an integral part of our home infrastructure; they keep our families warm and our homes safe, so these need more rigorous thought and development.”

The growing uptake of home assistants, such as Amazon Alexa and Siri, is helping to improve the awareness gap and educate consumers on how future-proofed their investment in connected technology is. Connected products operate on a scale of functionality and fulfilling a user’s needs doesn’t necessarily mean utilising a product’s full capabilities.

“We allow quick and fast access to the mainstream functionality,” Mr Coulson adds. “This helps our customers get to grips with using the device and gain confidence. From there we introduce enhancements and encourage our customers to explore further, such as creating an automatic IFTTT (if this then that) recipe to turn off the heating if it’s over 19 degrees outside.”

Smart-home adopters tend to begin with a basic need, such as making efficiency-savings in heating their home, but as they learn about the system they start to explore and play. Having experienced the benefits – be it comfort, energy-savings, peace of mind or convenience – they gain confidence in the advanced capabilities of the smart home and move to expanded solutions that further supplement their lives.

The connected home offers homeowners a range of benefits. Some are immediately obvious, such as saving energy with smarter heating and lighting controls. According to the British Electrotechnical and Allied Manufacturers’ Association (BEAMA), adding heating controls can reduce running costs by 40 per cent.

Others benefits are driven by more preventative measures for when something goes wrong, such as water leak or freeze detection. “Interestingly, a smart thermostat is one that has a quicker payback,” says Mr Coulson. “Honeywell’s ‘smart-zoning’ thermostat has the highest efficiency rating and can save a significant chunk on your heating bill.”

Ultimately, smart-home technologies have the potential to transform a person’s lifestyle and home comfort completely, though users often realise its value from small unforeseen incidents, for example rushing to the airport and realising you’ve left the heating on.

Others will use the technology as a matter of daily routine, such as asking Alexa to turn the lights out when going to bed. “The best integrations are those which are invisible, such as geofencing,” says Mr Coulson. “For example, our security camera will automatically activate when you are away from the home and deactivate when you come back. These interactions are all based on your behaviour and not necessarily your intervention.”

The smart home will continue to improve the functionality and breadth of its capabilities, and offer users a better living experience that gives them more time for the things they love. Soon that mentality will extend beyond comfort and security, and into softer but even more impactful aspects of life, such as health and wellness, and the wider caring for others.

“Indoor air quality, water purity and filtration, and other actions taken to make your home more optimised will come,” says Mr Coulson. “The good news is that the connected-home investments being made now provide a solid foundation for this future. But don’t forget to enjoy them today as well. All you have to do is take that first step.”

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