In the past, smart homes were something of a quirky indulgence. Smart technology was the exclusive realm of fashionable (but short lived) startups, who offered a fun way of doing simple tasks. Nowadays, smart technology development is in full swing. Major companies are moving in on the action, secure in the knowledge that people are comfortable using their smartphones and tablets to control aspects of their homes. However, smart technology is not without its pitfalls.
One of the first examples of smart home technology to earn mass-market appeal has been remote control of thermostats and boilers. People are now able to turn their heating on or off with a finger on a touchscreen. Such has been the success of this roll out (often sold under the auspices of saving people money) that more smart technology is arriving in our homes: motion-activated lights so that people never need to turn off a light switch again, “refill” buttons that automatically complete orders for essential items when you click a button on a dongle. Fridges that can work out a recipe based on what food you have inside. However, this convenience comes at a price.
Recent scandals about data collection have left many consumers feeling suddenly uneasy about the level of data they share with technology companies. Some are coming to realise that their smart technology is not immune from this situation—by using this connected tech, they are sending enormous amounts of data.
Companies envisage a new way of living that involves marketing being a part of the way we live. Your mirror might be able to suggest a new outfit to you, based on your preferences, for instance. To some consumers, this alone might be reason enough to switch off and stick to an analogue way of life. To others, it represents an exciting future.
Either way, this level of data sharing presents an objective problem, due to the vulnerabilities it creates. Should a hacker manage to either compromise your personal accounts or that of the company providing the technology, they would have control of your home. For example, hotels that do not adequately guard their systems could allow anyone with a modicum of coding knowledge to switch on lights in other guests’ rooms, open their curtains and turn up their heating.
There is little doubt that the homes of the future will be enjoy smart technology and be connected to an Internet of Things. Yet, even the developers of this technology acknowledge that there are challenges to overcome, and solutions to be found. It may be that consumers require more reassurance their technology is under their control, and that although their data is collected, it is still safe. There is the other possibility that smart tech may see reduced sales over the coming year or two, as people gauge its impact on their lives. Rory Hyde, the curator of V&A exhibition “The Future Starts Here”, explains:
“People seem scared of the future at the moment. There’s a sense that all this new technology is arriving so fast that we don’t really understand its implications – or have much of a say in where it’s going.”
Against this backdrop, whether smart homes truly take off in the next few years remains to be seen.