All for one: Unity and diversity the motto for home automation

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Published: December 23, 2019 12:47:37 AM

While most smartphone manufacturers have the same configuration in terms of camera and specification, ease of use and durability has become the main parameter for competition.

home automation, googleHome automation has become a buzz, thanks to smart speakers.

One of my first memories of the concept of home automation comes from a famous cartoon series called The Jetsons. The eponymous family living in space in 2062 that had everything from flying cars to home-assistant robots and automatic cleaners and food prep.

In contrast, the Flintstones, from The Flintstones, had prehistoric analogues of contemporary technology—there was a car, but its wheels were made of stones and feet of the characters the engine. Remember, wheels are not made of stone, and cars don’t run because you use your feet as paddles against the hard ground, and there are no dinosaurs that will serve as earthmovers and long-billed birds can’t play records—but the imprint of 20th century technology made the Flintsones seem familiar.

In the real world, ECHO—utterly unrelated to Amazon—which allowed for the making of shopping lists, was released in 1966 (four years after Jetsons), but it never entered mass production. We had to wait another 33 years for a vision of the future. And, this time it was Microsoft that introduced its users to a smart home. It was all just a concept at the time, and the Windows-maker did not have the bandwidth for mass production. In the next two decades, however, technology allowed transformation.

Home automation has become a buzz, thanks to smart speakers. So much so, that the home automation market has even surpassed market expectations. While, in a 2014 study, Zion Research had predicted the market to grow to $21 billion by 2020, its 2018 report indicated that market had already hit $48 billion in 2018.

Zion now predicts a $102 billion market by 2025, but a new pact between the Big3 will mean that we could approach the future faster than Zion has imagined.

Earlier this month, as BBC reports, Google, Apple and Amazon announced that they would ‘play nice’ and allow cross-integration. Along with Zigbee Alliance, these companies would make sure that one’s technology is interoperable with the other. That is, an Alexa will work with Nest that can, in turn, be powered by an iPhone.

More importantly, this would mean that companies would have devices that operate across the board. While lighting and other equipment manufacturers were following this model, the on-boarding was being done in individual capacity. So, Google was making a deal with say Phillips for its lighting equipment, and Amazon had to do so itself. Interoperability would now push everyone towards the same configuration. A Phillips may end up giving the same setup to all. But more important, any future products from Amazon, Apple or Google will be easily controlled by another.

With the three sharing most of the device and smart equipment market amongst themselves, this would mean an integration of 90% of the devices.

UI matters

Companies would, thus, compete on user interface and ease of use, rather than services and ease of access, making the home automation market akin to that of smartphones.

While most smartphone manufacturers have the same configuration in terms of camera and specification, ease of use and durability has become the main parameter for competition. Besides, this has pushed smartphone makers to experiment with new technologies and designs to attract customers. It was no surprise that Samsung rushed to launch, and then relaunch its Fold series. And, Motorola and Toshiba also showcased their foldable models.

OnePlus, on the other hand, has been competing on price and durability, while also making changes to its UI to make it more reliable and user-focused. The company recently announced its bug bounty programme to signal to the market that it views privacy as seriously as its customers.

One for all

While companies will be doing their best to expand in the home automation market, the truce may not last for long. And, the negotiated truce also may not be applicable to all aspects. While playing together does mean that devices and services would be interoperable, there are still plenty of channels to compete, and, ultimately, there can only be one market leader. And, if companies can’t compete on services, they will surely compete on price.

Indeed, prices would drop as companies try to outdo each other to push their products through the market.

Moreover, there can be front-loading of many new technologies to rush consumers towards an integrated world.
Surely, all this is advantageous for users and the future of automation; what is not clear, though, is whether the agreement would mean sharing of data amongst services. If that is indeed the case, then not only Google, everyone will be able to track preferences and design products.

There is no escape from home automation, and with all joining hands to play nice, for whatever little time, the market may move towards a phase of rapid automation. We won’t be able to have an automatic food processor as the Jetsons did, but the world is soon moving towards a situation where there will be everything else. That too, much before 2062.

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