Connected Homes

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Home automation technology, or domotics are devices used within a home that “networks to enable the interconnection and interoperability of multiple devices, services and apps, ranging from communications and entertainment to healthcare, security and home automation” [1]. This is executed through “multiple interlinked and integrated devices, sensors, tools and platforms” [2]. In essence, home automation describes “smart” devices, such as light bulbs, thermostats and security cameras, that are integrated throughout the home, controlled and automated through the use of Wi-Fi. Typical smart home systems consist of switches, systems, and devices that are connected to a central hub unit. The hub can be controlled via mobile device, tablet, computer, wall-mounted interface or, if enabled, by voice.

Each device is programmed with a particular communications protocol, such as X10, Bluetooth LE [3], Z-Wave, or Zigbee[4], which enables streamlined communication between devices with the same protocol.


Electric Home of the Future

The concept of connected homes arrived long before Y2K. Many have said it stems from an early article called “The Electric Home of the Future” from the Popular Mechanics Magazine in 1939 [5]. It details many technologies that seem like a strangely accurate depiction of today’s connected homes; homemakers utilizing a number of “control centers”, which received commands to power appliances in the kitchen and laundry, or having “mood controlled” lights that alter the lighting according to a user’s emotions [6] . This early integration of smart home technology was revolutionary but deemed as exclusively for science-fiction magazines only.

One of the first smart home devices were launched in 1969, the Honeywell 316, also known as the kitchen computer, was invented by Honeywell [7]. It was said that it could whip-up complicated meals on a whim, and was offered on the Neiman Marcus Christmas Catalogue [8] . This piece of technology had an hefty price tag of over $10,000 and required the users to pass a 2-week training program before being granted an opportunity to purchase it [9]. It was also over 100 pounds and required a teletype, a paper tape reader, and some knowledge in binary engineering language (Hernandez, 2012). Despite the rigorous purchase barriers, the concept of computerized home technology was becoming increasingly evident.

Disney later released a movie called the “Smart House” in 1999 [10], further growing interest in home technology,. The movie introduced the first concept of an intelligent personal assistant - a “voice” that had a personality and could assist in activities with human-like characteristics. Similar to what is known as artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning today, the intelligent personal assistant, PAT, was able to change according to the family members’ preferences and habits. In the movie however, PAT ends up taking over the house and tries to replace the protagonists’ late-mother. Interestingly, the fear of AI replacing humans is still evident today.

One of the first signs of the smart home technology being integrated into the mass market was the launch of Nest Thermostat. Tony Fadell, the designer of the iPod, started Nest Labs in 2010 because he saw the need for a sleeker home automation product [11].

For a smart home to become truly integrated, a smart hub must be installed to connect all the gadgets. In 2013, SmartThings launched on Kickstarter, introducing the market to a unified smart hub that linked to almost all connected devices at home. It was the first mass marketed product that bridged the gap between having individual smart products and providing a seamless user experience. With this app came “the closest thing to having a conversation with your house”[12]. SmartThings raised over $1 million on Kickstarter and was later purchased by Samsung [13].

Gartner’s Hype Cycle: 2015 vs. 2017

Connected homes have displayed a lot of potential for growth in the past five years. In Gartner’s 2015 Hype Cycle, connected homes sat within the “innovation trigger”, with an expected plateau in 5 to 10 years. The “innovation trigger” depicts a potential technology breakthrough kicks things off with early proof-of-concept stories and media interest trigger significant publicity.

Gartner's 2015 Hype Cycle

In Gartner’s 2017’s Hype Cycle, people currently have the highest expectations for connected homes they have ever had to date. Essentially, people in 2017 believe that connected home technology has more promise as an emerging technology than ever before. . It is stated that connected home technology will hit its potential as a new technology in 2 to 5 years. A [14] study stated that 65% of U.S. consumers are open to the idea of adopting smart home technology and predicts that by 2018, there will be 9 billion devices connected to the home [15].

Gartner's 2017 Hype Cycle

Users and Usage

IoT Today
Today, the most common uses for domotics include thermostat and temperature control, security and surveillance, lighting control, and the ability to control different aspects of a home remotely through hub devices. The added convenience of controlling different home automation elements from mobile devices are a significant contributing factor in adoption. In fact, 74% of home automation device users cite this as one of the main reasons they use this technology frequently.

There are many companies dedicated to the development of home automation devices, each of which have their own unique value propositions. August Locks works well with all three major smart hub devices (Homekit, Echo, Google Home), and Samsung’s SmartThings is a comprehensive kit built to effectively automate certain aspects of the home. This infographic by PwC provides a good example snapshot of how home automation devices may be used within a home.

Consumer Demographics

The concept of connected homes is growing among North American consumers. Eighty-one percent of U.S. internet users are aware of smart home technology. Current adoption by U.S. adult consumers (Canadian data unavailable) shows that approximately 45% of U.S. consumers either own or plan to own one or more types of home automation devices within the next year[16], while one-quarter (26%) of individuals are current owners[17].

Smart Home Demographics

However, there is a typical user profile for adopters of smart home technology. Generally, families with household incomes of US$100,000 or greater are more likely to interact with these types of devices compared to families that make less money. As the above chart indicates, individuals in the 18 to 34 year age bracket are typically more eager to adopt newer, innovative technologies earlier, due to having grown up with rapidly developing technology.

Purchase Reasoning

Smart Home Purchase Reasoning

While reasons for purchasing home automation devices are wide and diverse, some of the main reasons, as cited by U.S. consumers in a PwC Consumer Intelligence report included more control over their homes, security and safety, convenience, affordability, and improvements to overall quality of life. In a study conducted by smart-lock manufacturer, August, 57% of surveyed consumers would be interested in letting in service professionals (e.g. house cleaners, dog walkers etc.) into their house via smart-tech on their mobile phones[18].

However, few respondents from the PwC study cited energy and cost savings as a key factor when making their purchasing decisions. The study estimates that this will become an important decision criteria in the future for current non-users, as evidenced by the chart below, and will be further discussed in a later section.

Types of Home Automation Devices

The CNET Smart Home Revealed

Home Assistants

Many smart homes are controlled through the use of a central hub system - devices that wirelessly connect to other domotics throughout the house, and can be manipulated by touch, app or voice. With smart home technology being increasingly popular, an emerging piece of technology that integrates all smart devices is a virtual home assistant. Many products can be considered virtual home assistants; both Siri by Apple and Alexa by Amazon are considered virtual assistants but a physical product like the Amazon Echo is also considered a home assistant as it assists with home smart gadgets. To simplify the definitions, this section will refer a virtual home assistant as a combination of a smart speaker and smart home hub, which is supported by a virtual assistant.

A smart speaker is a wireless and smart audio playback device that uses several types of connectivity for additional functions [1]. Its features enhance ease of use, connect to multiple types of audio sources, and provide additional functionality [2]. A smart hub, also known as a home automation hub, is the hardware device that connects devices on a home automation network and controls communication among them [3]. A virtual assistant, also known as an AI assistant or digital assistant, is a software agent that understands natural language voice commands and completes tasks for the user [4]. The combination of these features creates products like the Amazon Echo and Google Home.

Main players: Amazon Echo, Google Home, and the Apple HomePod

Figure 1. Forrester Research's report depicting the growth in households with smart devices

The adoption of virtual home assistants has seen incredible growth. A 2016 Forrester Research report stated that 11 million Amazon Echo devices were purchased in 2016 and the number is predicted to double by the end of 2017 [5] These devices are forecasted to account for 50% of the total installed base of smart home devices in 2017 and will reach 68% by 2022[6]. Virtual home assistants lead penetration into consumers households, and are one of the fastest growing categories among other smart devices [7] are the Amazon Echo, Google Home, and Apple HomePod.

Amazon Echo

A joint study by Strategy Analytics and Consumer Intelligence Research Partners LLC found that the Amazon Echo currently has the majority market share at 60-78% market share [8]. It currently sells for US $179.99 and was first launched in June 2015.

The Echo is supported by Alexa, the virtual assistant created by Amazon. The Echo has many functionalities and shared functionalities with different applications like Uber and Domino’s, for example. A key functionality that has boosted Echo adoption is Amazon’s partnership with SmartThings. Prior to the partnership, the Echo already had functionalities such as ordering an Uber, but did not have major functionalities with smart home devices. However, with the partnership, the Echo can now connect to a home, while controlling products such as a Cree bulb, an Osram Lightify bulb, a SmartPower Outlet, and a Sonos player, just to name a few [9]. To purchase an item on Amazon, a user can just speak to Alexa with the trigger word, “Hey, Alexa”. Most Amazon accounts are already linked up with the user’s credit card and thus, this process creates an even more seamless purchasing experience. To change accounts, the user must verbally change the accounts by stating “Alexa, switch accounts” [10].

Google Home

Google Home is currently the second most popular virtual home assistant [11] at around 20-24% market share [12]. Despite its lower market share, Google Home is growing in popularity and starting to ease into mainstream adoption. The Google Home was launched in November 2015 and currently sells for US $129.999. Like the Echo, the Home also has its own AI virtual assistant, called Google Assistant. To activate Google Home, the user simply says “Okay Google”.

As expected, the Google Home integrates many of Google’s other services. To activate core Google services like Google Maps and News, the user can simply say “good morning” (Kastrenakes, 2017). Google Home will tell you the traffic information, weather, and daily news. These “routines”, like the voice-command of “good morning” and “good evening” to activate certain applications, can be built in by its users. Current Google service functionalities are still somewhat limited. For example, basic Google Map actions such as finding the best transit route to a location is still in development - only driving instructions are currently offered. Still, the integration will likely improve in the near future as Google is forced to innovate to compete with fierce competition from the Amazon Echo [13]. Aside from Google’s other services, the Google Home can also act as a smart home hub, connecting other smart home devices. Google and Nest share the same parent company and therefore, Nest devices are voice-activated through the Google Home. For example, the user may say “Okay Google, show me the entryway” and the Google Home will pull up a specific camera’s video stream on your TV. With Google’s extensive experience in voice recognition, different users just need to speak to their Google Home for the accounts to change to the corresponding person [14].

Apple HomePod

To many Apple users’ dismay, the Apple HomePod virtual home assistant is considerably less functional than the Amazon Echo or Google Home. A Bloomberg Technology article even stated that the Apple HomePod is three years behind the Echo or Google Home [15]. Like many of Apple’s newer releases, the product was reportedly cancelled and resurrected "several times", as the company tried to see where the product fit in the Apple ecosystem [16].

Critics have stated that the Apple HomePod seems more focused on just being a speaker and the other functionalities other smart home hubs have, such as application integrations, appear to be developed as afterthoughts [17]. In June 2017, Apple announced a release date of December 2017, which was delayed until April 2018 as of November 2017. [18]. The HomePod will be mostly limited to playing music from Apple Music, controlling Apple-optimized smart home appliances, and sending messages through an iPhone. [19]. Other in-device purchases via Apple HomePod have yet to be announced [20].


8 People Test Their Accents on Siri, Echo and Google Home

To test the voice-command functionality of each device, this video shows how each device adds the item Worcestershire sauce into their shopping list by interpreting different accents.


Heating, Ventilation and Air Conditioning (HVAC) devices are among the most common types of domotics. Often used to control in-house temperatures, many HVAC units also include functions that “learn” and adapt to owner preferences and routines through the use of integrated Wi-Fi , cameras, motion sensors and temperature gauges.

One of the most popular HVAC devices is the Nest Learning Thermostat by Nest Labs, which has motion detection technology and built in Wi-Fi connectivity. The smart thermostat could save the owner up to 10% of their total home energy consumption annually, and was the first innovation in home automation for years [1]. It was named one of the most beautiful thermostats by Mashable in 2011 [2], and increased awareness of the ease of technological home integration.

Honeywell’s Lyric Thermostat uses geofencing to optimize performance. Other examples of HVAC consoles include the Ecobee Smart Thermostat and the Hisense Portable Air Conditioner with built in Wi-Fi. Today, some newly developed homes in North America come pre-integrated with HVAC systems such as Nest.

Security and Surveillance

Meet Nest Cam IQ

A popular segment of home automation devices are security products, particularly do-it-yourself (DIY) products, which enables home surveillance without a professional service such as ADT Home Security. According to a 2017 1,000-sample survey by Ask Your Target Market, 22.9% of smart home consumers purchased security products[1], including cameras, motion sensors, smoke sensors, door locks, and security lighting.

In 2013, Nest began expanding its brand to include other smart products such as DIY smart security products starting with Nest Protect[2] - a smoke and carbon monoxide (CO) detector with voice assistance and phone alerts. Using voice assistance, it provides early warnings and can indicate exactly where the smoke (or CO leak) is located since the detectors are interconnected. If they are connected to other Nest products, it can command a Nest Thermostat to turn down the heat, lessening the spread of CO. Nest also has a variety of surveillance cameras including Cam Indoor, Cam Outdoor, Cam IQ Outdoor, and Cam IQ Indoor. Nest Cam Indoor, for example, provides 24/7 live streaming at 1080p – although the quality may depend on Internet connectivity. Additionally, it plugs in and requires no batteries. With a subscription to Nest’s Aware subscription service, any time the cameras get activated by motion or sound, recording begins and is saved and accessed on the cloud. The Nest Cam IQ series was released September 2017 and are an upgraded model of the original cameras[3], with increased AI that can detect movement, alert the user, and recognizes whether the face is familiar or not[4].

There are various brands of smart security light bulbs, one of which is BeOn Home. BeOn Home was released in 2015 funded by Kickstarter in 2014[5]. It automates lighting system patterns both when residents are home or away to dissuade would-be burglars. BeOn contains backup battery lighting for power outages, listens for smoke detectors and will turn on to indicate a safe passage out. There have been criticisms in that it does not work remotely, meaning the lights can only controlled within the range of the network[6].

Finally, August is a brand of smart security products that includes keyless smart locks, doorbell cameras, and a smartphone[7] application. Its DIY smart lock and camera is connected to a smartphone and while within Wi-Fi range, the phone can unlock or lock the door. August can also give temporary access to friends or family members. August Connect can grant entry access via the smart lock from anywhere.


There are a number of popular models of lighting solutions within the home automation market, with the Philips Hue Bulb being one of the most popular of these examples. The bulbs come with adjustable colour and brightness functions, and are Wi-Fi enabled to be controlled with Alexa and Siri for example, or through mobile applications. Pairing smart light switches, such as the Lutron Dimmer Light Switch is also a solution to automate lighting based on motion, time of day and outdoor brightness level.

Home Appliances

Sub-categories of this type of the home appliance category include cooking, cleaning and outdoor maintenance products. Cooking products such as the Anova Culinary Precision Cooker (Wi-Fi controlled temperature, timer and monitor), Char-Broil Digital Electric Smoker, Samsung Smart Fridge and various auto-start coffee machines are a few examples of simple connected kitchen products.

Cleaning devices have been around for a number of years, and include the popular iRobot Roomba automated vacuums, the iRobot Braava robo-mop, and the Eufy RoboVac. Through the use of beacons, sensors, adjustable schedules and mobile app remote controls, these devices make home cleaning much simpler.

Similarly, outdoor cleaning and maintenance products exist. The Polaris 9650iQ pool cleaner roves around pools to remove algae, and the Robomow machine does exactly what the name suggest – mows the lawn and replaces manual labour...when it doesn't get attacked by moose that is.

Moose Attacks Automated Lawnmower
Garage door controllers such as the MyQ Garage Door Opener enable the remote opening and closing of garage doors.

However, smart homes are not only limited to products that are built for home automation purposes. Various switches and sensors exist that can trigger the activation of a standard lamp on voice command or via mobile app, or can be programmed to turn on and off based on the time and after a prior event occurs. For example, a Christmas tree equipped with regular tree lights can be plugged into the Insteon Remote Control Outlet to be wirelessly activated when the front door opens for the first time since the homeowner left for work.

Entertainment Systems

Smart TVs

In 2017, Smart TV technology developed at an accelerated pace to make Smart Home devices like the Nvidia Shield and Amazon’s Fire TV legitimate connected home devices.

Background on Smart TVs

Smart TV’s are different than normal TV’s in that they have built in internet connectivity, are often connected to other devices in the home, and have recently become capable of hosting smart home AI[1]. The first smart TVs were introduced in late 2012 and were essentially just TV’s that featured web connectivity and could run apps like Youtube[2]. Products like the Apple TV box and Google TV were also introduced around this time and were consoles that could be plugged into regular TV’s to give them access to internet based application software such as Netflix[3].

Recent Developments in Smart TV Technology

Devices such as the Nvidia Shield 2017 and Amazon’s Fire TV have revolutionized Smart TV technology such that Smart TV consoles are no longer devices purchased buy to give a TV improved internet connectivity. Instead, they now provide a TV with additional functionality and connectivity to other devices in the home. The Nvidia Shield 2017 is a console that can be connected to a TV. The device can run Google AI Assistant technology and offers voice command technology. This allows the device to connect to other smart enabled devices such as home security cameras, thermostats, cellphones, and kitchen appliances allowing remote control of these devices from the comfort of a living room couch[4]. It also runs Android and therefore can be used to download apps, music, and video games straight to the TV, eliminating the need to buy a gaming console , pull out a cell phone to shop online or call for an Uber[5].

Google Assistant comes to Nvidia Shield

The Nvidia Shield therefore can function like a smart home device similar to the Google Home Device. Other less expensive smart TV consoles were introduced in late 2017 that also are capable of supporting AI and connecting to other smart devices in the home. Amazon released Fire TV in late 2017. This device hooks up to a TV and connects it to the Amazon Echo smart home device. Consequently it allows control of all connected home devices through the TV using voice controls and Amazon’s Alexa AI[1]. As these devices becomes less expensive and more powerful, connected entertainment devices will likely become one of the most popular connected home products on the market in the near future.

Emerging Companies and Virtual Home Assistant Products in China

The availability and success of many North American smart home products often do not transfer to other nations. In places with strict government regulation and censorship, such as China, it is difficult for foreign-designed products to flourish. Despite the limited access to foreign-designed products, many users still crave products that are similar to the Echo, Google Home, or Nest. China’s growing technology sector has been spurred ahead by the emergence of large companies such as Tencent, Alibaba and Baidu that have paved the way for other local firms to follow [2]. Furthermore, “both consumer appetite and government support led to the creation of new industries and the domestic dominance of Chinese firms in existing areas of technology” [3]. One of the key players in smart home technology and devices is Baidu with its Baidu Little Fish.

Baidu Little Fish

Through the years, there have been parallels drawn between Baidu and Google. Both are the dominant search engine companies in their respective nations. Baidu, partnered with AiNemo, created a home assistant powered by their own AI virtual assistant, DuerOS, and has a screen, a camera, and a touch of robotics [4]. It currently sells for 3,299 RMB, or US$478, and is Baidu’s first major steps into the smart home market and commercializing AI. It was said that Baidu is looking to enhance its current growth among increased government regulation and growing competition from Tencent Holding and Alibaba Group [5].

Xiaoyu, or Little Fish in English, can be put in many categories; it can be both a smart home hub and a “family robot”, helping Chinese parents better take care of their children amid a busy work schedule [6]. “Home is an important field for Baidu to put artificial intelligence technology in people’s everyday life,” said Lu Qi, Baidu’s chief operating officer and a top-level AI expert [7]. In comparison to the Amazon Echo and Google Home, the functionalities provide different value to its users. The Little Fish primarily serves a home market, including search and financial services - the technology has been used to optimize search results, intelligently match users with the right financial products and assess credit risks ([8]. Aside from its home-centric features, it is designed to handle many of the same tasks one might expect from such a device including managing calendars, answering questions, getting news updates, and ordering food [9]. The Little Fish also has a camera and a screen, can track a user’s face as they move, and is said to provide a potential advantage over the other screenless counterparts as it can digest more complex information with the inclusion of data types e.g. biometric, voice, word choice, etc. [10].

Current Criticisms

Privacy Concerns

Gartner released a survey on March 6, 2017 based on 10,000 consumers responses in the U.S., U.K., and Australia on the topic of smart homes and smart home products [11] . One of the results of the survey was that roughly two-thirds of consumers reported that they were concerned that smart home devices would listen in on conversations they had in the home and record them [12]. This is one of the reasons that people have reported they are hesitant to adopt smart home technology.

Data Collection

Smart home devices typically collect data automatically to impact decisions and enhance future user experience. For example, Google Home, Amazon’s Alexa, and Apple's Siri record conversations when activated [13]. This has caused many concerns regarding what the data could be used for, who owns it, and how secure it is.

Data Usage and Ownership: On November 2015, an Amazon Echo was entangled in a murder case [14]. It was noted by the police officers that there was a possibility the Echo may have recorded some of what the defendant had said that could be used as evidence to implicate the defendant. The victim was found in the suspect’s hot tub with broken beer bottles nearby as well as a bruised lip. The defendant’s home had many smart home products, including a Nest Thermostat, a Honeywell alarm system, a wireless weather monitor, and a smart water meter. Witnesses testified hearing music playing from the Echo during the night of the murder, leading to a warrant for the homeowner’s Echo. Although there was a warrant to claim any recordings the Echo had, Amazon denied it on the grounds of the first amendment and privacy laws. The defendant, the owner of the Echo, later voluntarily agreed to release the recordings and Amazon handed over the data on March 3, 2017 [15]. As of November 26, 2017, the hearing has not been held, with the prosecution yet to present its case, so it is uncertain if any evidence was actually saved on the Amazon Echo [16].

Unsecured Data: Despite the increasing concern people have that corporations keep unnecessarily large amounts of personal data on consumers, there is also concern with how the data is being stored. Wink and Insteon are smart home hub device brands meant to integrate compatible smart products along with an Android application. Both faced criticism in September 2017 on how they stored collected data. Rapid7, a software company with a focus on IT integration, data analytics, and uncovering application vulnerabilities, released findings on Wink and Insteon’s security vulnerabilities on September 22, 2017 [17]. A key point made by Rapid7 in this situation was that although the data could only be accessed locally (within the network) or with actual access to the physical device rather than remotely. Accessing data remotely means it could be done outside of the server that that data is contained in, i.e.: on another device or even in another city. However, they reinforced that it was still insecure and a concern.

Details on Wink and Insteon's Vulnerabilities

Hacking and Monitoring

As with all network-enabled technology, smart home devices are susceptible to hacking. Hackers can access confidential information, control devices, and even monitor the users. For example,on July 7, 2015, a family’s connect security device was remotely hacked into from the router, and the hacker played music and spoke through a family's smart enabled speakers telling the family they were being watched [18]. The case still remains unsolved to date (December 1, 2017).

SmartThings Criticism:

University of Michigan Engineers Hack SmartThings

In 2016, SmartThings was criticized for its faulty hub software. It was revealed by a Cognosec researcher that it’s smart motion sensor and smart door lock could be hacked as communications on network levels could be decrypted [1]. Additionally, whitehat hackers – which are “good” hackers, discovered they could easily jam signals to their smart devices and users would not receive any notifications about motion sensors turning on from home intrusions [2]. Engineers from the University of Michigan released a video demonstrating how SmartThings door locks could be hacked and unlocked without the owner’s knowledge by embedding malware in applications for its SmartApp store [3]. However, as privacy and security concerns regarding smart homes increase as more stories of security breaches become publicized, technology companies are increasingly investing in smart home security technology to combat the issue . Since then, Samsung released statements about being conscious of downloading third-party apps and software updates. Samsung partnered with ADT, a home security service company, to be optionally bundled with its new SmartThings-powered security system that was announced on October 2, 2017 [4]. The idea was to combine DIY smart home devices with professional monitoring. In 2009, Shodan, a search engine for the Internet of Things (i.e.: internet connected products), was launched. Shodan falls in a grey and controversial area regarding its existence and use. The website allows users to search for internet connected products that have weak or no password production, and provides access to camera feeds for paid accounts [5]. It is mainly meant for the purpose of showing security vulnerabilities used by cyber-security companies, researchers, and law enforcement agencies [6]. The issue is that any person can make an account as it is not strictly regulated and the website itself is not illegal.

Prevention Methods

Although preventing hacking can be difficult, given that smart home device manufacturers clearly have introduced products with serious software vulnerabilities as evident from the Wink and Insteon cases, there are some ways to minimize the risk and impacts of having your device hacked.

To minimize the impact of having over-privileged devices being hacked, it is important to be conscious of current criticisms of technology from credited sources. In addition, users should be aware of what is being agreed to when giving applications access to certain aspects of the phone and product.

Since companies like Shodan take advantage of non-existent, weak, and default passwords, altering default passwords for devices is an easy way to prevent hacking. It is common for users to not alter the default login information, but these passwords may be public information and not unique to each user - a flaw in the manufacturer’s design. When creating a password, it is important for an account to be difficult to hack into. Using birth dates, nicknames, maiden names, or pet names may not suffice. Having easily remembered passcodes creates easily accessible devices for the users, but also for the hackers.

Market Fragmentation Challenges

Because of the extreme fragmentation of the market, and the lack of regulation within the home automation space, very few rules are in place for manufacturers[7]. This frequently results in manufacturers creating products designed to integrate with very specific technology and for specific uses. With a lack of consistent standards, numerous devices enter the market that do the same thing but are unable to talk to one another. This has resulted in challenges when building customer growth, as there is no single mobile application that can control all types of products in every capacity. Often, manufacturers purposely prevent integration with other brands by keeping information related to their devices a secret.

The Useless Samsung Smart Fridge

The Future of Smart Homes

Smart Home Hubs with Screens

Smart home hubs traditionally have been speaker systems that are controlled via voice controls. The addition of touch screens has vastly increased the functionality of smart home hubs. Amazon introduced the first smart home hub with a touch screen in June of 2017 named the Echo Show. With the addition of a screen, the Echo Show can be used for video call, changing settings for various connected devices in the house, managing playlists for the home’s connected speakers and for video playback for connected security cameras throughout the house[1]. Google has also announced it is developing a very similar smart home hub device dubbed the “Google Manhattan”. The Manhattan would also feature a touch screen but is expected to run Android, opening the possibility for independent third-party software developers companies to create apps for the Manhattan[2]. The introduction of the screen and smart home hubs running popular operating systems will attract more developers to create apps for these devices. As more apps are created, the possibilities for the devices will increase. Furthermore, more devices from different manufacturers may be connected seamlessly if they start running on the same operating system.

Amazon's Alexa Can Now Show You Things

Smart Homes for Senior Living

Smart home devices may enable senior citizens to live independently for much longer in life. Companies like TruSense have introduced application software and monitoring equipment that is designed to keep track of seniors in the home, help jog their memory from time to time, and call for assistance the moment the senior displays any signs of being in trouble[1]. Programs like TruSense are promising because they do not rely on having the senior wear a monitoring device in the home, it uses cameras and voice commands instead. Furthermore, given how expensive in home senior care or assisted living facilities can be, this technology has the potential to take off.

Rapidly Developing Artificial Intelligence

Currently, the majority of the North American market for Smart Home Hubs has been dominated by a few major companies such as Google, Amazon, and Apple. However, many companies such as Cubic Robotics, Neura, Kakao, and Facebook (via Mark Zuckerberg) have been developing new Smart Home AI to compete with the likes of Google’s Smart Assistant AI or Amazon’s Alexa[2]. These newcomers have announced they have developed AI that have features that AI like Alexa do not. For instance, both Neura and Cubic Robotics have declared that the AI they have developed will feature greater machine learning capabilities and the AI will actually adapt its personality and style to the preferences of the customer[3]. Mark Zuckerberg’s home assistant AI, Jarvis, will feature more analytic capabilities than AI like Alexa and will also act more like an actual person than some of the home assistant AI on the market. Jarvis is designed to run different voices depending on the user’s preference and even engage with the user on a personal level telling jokes[4]. Clearly, smart home AI is becoming much more advanced.

Mark Zuckerberg's Jarvis AI for Smart Homes

Historically, many companies like Amazon have developed smart home hubs like the Echo to run with Amazon developed accessories like the Nest or the Fire TV[1]. However, as many new entrants to the smart home market have been introduced, companies like Sonos are developing devices such as smart enabled speakers that can run different AI and therefore come “unlocked” in a sense[2]. If this trend continues, consumers will be less concerned with which smart home hub can host the most compatible devices and more concerned with which smart home hub features the most powerful AI.

Sonos Speakers Work With Multiple Third Party AI

Energy Management

Many experts in the field have agreed that one of the most promising applications of smart home technology is the potential to save energy usage within the home[3]. The company that developed the Nest Thermostat has claimed that users save between 12-15% of the total energy used to heat and cool the home each year[4]. The company that developed the Ecobee claimed its users saved around 23% each year[5]. These numbers are extremely promising given how expensive utilities bills can be. Furthermore, these statistics only consider energy saving for heating and air conditioning in the home. Smart home enabled light bulbs, fans, and appliances can help optimize the usage of energy in the home and save home owners money off their utility/hydro bills[6]. Companies such as Intel and Omron have developed smart home energy saving system that they plan to market to businesses and residential complexes in addition to just detached homes[7]. Omron and Intel have stated that they believe smart home technology can been adapted for larger buildings and achieve similar energy saving results. These energy saving systems will be attractive to many developers given the increasingly strict environmental sustainability and emission restrictions governments are introducing for developers. For instance, the municipal government of Vancouver has made natural gas three times the cost and has introduced new standards to try to make Vancouver a zero emission city[8].

Ecobee Claimed U.S. Customers Saved 23% on Their Heating and Cooling Costs in 2013

Future Concerns

Smart Homes as a Target for Hackers

Smart home devices have been found to be relatively easy for hackers to access given that they are all connected and gaining access to one device may allow a hacker to gain access to others and devices are often not secure[9]. A consumer research group, Which?, conducted a study on 15 of the most popular smart home devices and found 8 had significant security flaws that render them accessible to hackers. Given that hackers may have many incentives to hack a smart home system such as to get access to a smart home lock to enter a home and rob it or hack security cameras and hold footage hostage, this may become a serious concern for owners of smart home devices[10]. Alysa Kleinman, Co-Owner of Smart Home Solver, has suggested that smart home security software such as Cujo or Bitdefender Box may become essential for all smart home hub owners in the near future[11].

Targeted Advertising

With smart home companies now capable of ‘listening and watching’ directly into homes from its smart home devices, there is increasing concern for increased personalized marketing. For example, Google Home allows for voice-enabled shopping from Target and Walmart[12], and Amazon’s Alexa allows it for Amazon[13]. They both provide product recommendations based on previous purchases, current shopping carts, and past recorded conversations[14].

Companies such as Amazon and Alibaba that have introduced smart home devices to their respective online shops will likely continue to use smart home hubs to advertise products to their owners[15]. For instance, owners of an Amazon Echo can order goods using their smart home devices and Amazon’s delivery services will bring them to the user's home without requiring the user to even be home upon delivery (Amazon will allow the delivery guy access)[16]. Now that smart home hubs like the Echo Show and Google Manhatten have touch screens, companies like Google and Amazon will have an easier time marketing products directly to the consumer. If the trend of advertising on smart home devices continues, users may become frustrated with all the unwanted ads and adoption rates of smart home technology may plummet.

Constant Update Frustrations

Smart home devices are becoming like computers given that smart home operating systems such as Google’s Brillo are being introduced and run on smart devices in the home[17]. While the introduction of smart home operating systems will enable third party developers to develop smart home application software more easily, it will also introduce the problem of updates. Just like computers, smart home devices may need to be replaced every few years so they can run the latest smart home operating systems and devices the user wants to have. This could become problematic for people who were hoping to use their new smart fridge for more than ten years. Some smart home devices that were introduced back in 2014, 2015 have already become unsupported by modern smart home hub technology[18]. Consumers may become hesitant to purchase smart home devices if they believe the expected lifespan of the device will be much shorter than a non-smart enabled alternative.

Without industry standards, consumers also run the risk of buying into devices where manufacturers cease updating those platforms. These products become what’s known as “abandonware”[19] - manufacturers aren’t required to provide updates, so a device becomes useless in the long run. A similar risk can be applied to protocols. If a significant number of manufacturers use the ZigBee protocol, for example, and the market becomes standardized to a different protocol, or simply evolves, all existing products under ZigBee may become the next useless floppy disk.


Nicole Ho Ethan Hait Jordan Eng Vivian Nguyen
Beedie School of Business
Simon Fraser University
Burnaby, BC, Canada
Beedie School of Business
Simon Fraser University
Burnaby, BC, Canada
Beedie School of Business
Simon Fraser University
Burnaby, BC, Canada
Beedie School of Business
Simon Fraser University
Burnaby, BC, Canada

Works Cited

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