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inside the smart home

• “They [smart homes] have not been a hit because they have been too expensive, the housing stock is old, there has been a tendency for little networked connectivity, and finally, there has been too much technology push,and little attention given to users or usability.” p.2

Richard Harper, Inside the Smart Home, Springer-Verlag: New York, 2003.

Possibly already mentioned is the inclusion in ‘smart homes’ of features not necessary or desired by the mainstream. People have not taken well to all-in-one systems; rather they understand and are comfortable with specific products that perform specific tasks. A smart home that acts to control the entire home environment is beyond the scope of what is desired – it also assumes a modern techno-centric position on what constitutes a home. The market has not shown a desire for a home automation system to control HVAC, lighting and lighting schemes, hot water, entertainment storage and preferences, telephony, and computers. Entertainment, such as movies and music, is generally relegated to the living room – the desire to pipe music through the entire house is generally appealing to a very small tech-savvy segment of American society. Lighting schemes, or the ability to dim banks of lights to specific levels, has not apparently been all that important to the greater public. There appears to be a general acceptance of an on/off state in regard to lighting, and no dire need to automate that process – with the exception of being able to program lights while one is away or turn lights on and off according to leaving or returning home. There are smart refrigerators under development, as described in the MavHome, which should ideally inform the user when items are in low supply or empty. This is a bit of gee-whiz technology (which very likely needs additional new technology to work, such as special milk containers or such to detect the stored amount of the product in question), and is not a necessary part of a home automation package.

Such technologies do not immediately and noticeably improve the functioning of a home or provide savings. In order to break into the mass market, a home automation system needs to serve immediate needs and have a noticeable impact. It needs to not be bloated with unnecessary components that serve a niche market.

“…what our studies did show is that what people want interactive technologies to provide is not automation, so much as communication, or as we like to put it, social connectivity.” (Richard Harper, p.4)

  1. April 2, 2006 at 9:50 pm

    Surely the whole point of automating a house is lighting, dimming and audio above all else. VOIP in the home may be interesting at a later date, but theres nothing like the feeling of walking into a room, the lights come on automatically, the air-con starts and with a push of a button your favourite music is piped into any room you are in.

    Its not so much that people don’t want the technology, its that currently its overpriced and the generation that are buying homes are newer to technology than homebuyers will be in 10-20 years. Once people have actually witnessed what smart home technology can do, its ver rare for them not to show interest in at least soem of the components involved,

    Ben Hobbs

  2. April 22, 2006 at 8:57 am

    my opinion is not that the technology is necessarily overpriced, but that the technology is too complex for the average user. you see the same issue with cellphones – the manufacturers cram as many features as possible into this tiny contraption, but most people just want the phone for making calls. they can’t figure out how to control its myriad functions in its bizarrely designed and impossible to use interface.

    for the most part, people take to devices that are easy to use and perform only one or two duties, and perform them well. my ultimate point in this post, though i guess perhaps not articulated so succinctly, is that for home automation systems to really take off, they need to develop a simple, unbloated, clean and easy to understand usesr interface. if that requires shaving off some of the bells and whistles that come with current home automation systems, so be it. perhaps in the future, when these simple systems have already gained a foothold, additionaly features can be added.

  3. April 3, 2007 at 8:46 am

    I agree on the overly complex systems, however part of the smart home designers job is to gear it to the end-user – often this involves removing complexity and often having a keypad with 4-6 buttons for the whole room, perhaps 3 for lighting and 3 for audio.

    It’s for this exact reason I dislike touchscreens, sure they look great but most people want something useful and so easy that anyone can use it. In my opinion it is the designer/installers job to hide technology from most clients, they often don’t care that it can do X,Y,Z when they are just looking for a simple way to control lights/audio etc..

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