Digital Smart Homes, including some of the same sensor and networking technologies that we promote for home health care, have long been associated with large and expensive new homes with custom installation. It’s a market that has languished as a niche for over 40 years now and has never managed to find its way to mainstream consumers. Why?
Someone asked that question in a forum I monitor, and I had to add my two cents, which I include here for perspective.
Contrast the Digital Smart Home with a modern car. When you buy a new car, it comes with everything included and already integrated to work together. There are many things you DON’T have to buy separately and install yourself, including tires, air conditioning, radio, CD-player, navigation, antilock brakes, towing package, etc.
Could homebuilders ever offer that level of system integration? Theoretically yes, but not likely, because when you buy a new home, you expect to use your existing TVs, refrigerator, alarm clocks, phones, etc. You also expect to upgrade with new (maybe automated) window treatments, ceiling fans, light fixtures, a new hot tub, and other things over time too.
That’s the dilemma facing the Digital Smart Home market. The home itself is just a structure that houses many different digital subsystems, each from different manufacturers in different industries. Each product or subsystem was developed by a different set of stakeholders having different objectives. Lighting systems, for example, only understand commands like On, Off, Brighten, and Dim. They don’t understand Open/Close, Volume Up/Down, Favorite Channel, Record, Stop, Fast Forward, Set Temperature, etc.
That basic concept goes back 20 years to the CEBus days, where a few developers got together to “try” to define a common language. It also reflects on the Device Discovery and Plug-n-Play concepts, where any new “compliant” device introduced into the Digital Home would announce itself and broadcast its capabilities so all other devices would know what commands it could respond to.
All of that sounded great to Digital Home systems integrators but not to product manufacturers who would need to add new technology, even when they were already fighting to compete on price and where there was no clear market demand. And Government was in no position to force such standardization.
It’s also helpful to understand that new systems introduced into homes appear over time, and the technologies change over time. Consumers tend to upgrade their systems in piecemeal fashion rather than all at once. In the entertainment center, for example, one person might install surround sound, while another adds a new game console, changes out their VCR for a DVD player, replaces DVD with BlueRay, adds cable TV to replace an external antenna, or connects Internet TV to replace cable.
My perspective has evolved over several years from when I wrote a major market research report on the home controls industry. The mass market that I said was now possible never materialized. As it turns out only one of the barriers to mass market adoption was addressed. I cited the need for better marketing as the remaining barrier, but I failed to consider the above factors.