Our homes have always been a sanctuary, a place where we could go to escape whatever was happening in the world. Today I fear that our lives are changing and so is the meaning of home, in more ways than we might think. This is one of my articles that's very personal. I've been thinking about how different our homes are (or not) and saw a Facebook post about a new smart phone app, Design Home.
At first I was baffled about how you could possibly design a house on a phone? It didn't take long to realize Design Home is about decorating your home. Call me old fashion but I can barely grasp the concept of buying furniture online (big screen), so buying furniture on a small screen makes no sense to me … there, I said it!
Living Online is Changing the Meaning of Home
Reading further, it all started to make sense. Maybe it even helped nudge me one step forward in accepting the smart phone revolution, as these gadgets are changing lives. So I'll save my original story starting with my first microwave, to the insight I gleaned from looking at the Design Home app.
- We're seeking more entertainment to escape from reality and relax in a virtual world, to cope with our busy, chaotic lives. Maybe this is a step beyond the reality TV shows where you live someone else's life, and now you can create your own virtual reality life with a home you've decorated virtually?
- We're communicating more through apps on our smart phones, from family and friends … to professional colleagues and online stores, which are morphing into virtual stores (forcing traditional brick and mortar stores like Macy's to close 68 stores).
- We're making more decisions and taking action through apps on our smart phones (or computers?). That means we can do more things anywhere we find convenient, blurring the boundaries between what we normally do at home, at work or at retail locations like stores and restaurants. So what is the meaning of home?
With Home Tips focus on our lives at home, in 2017 we'll start researching and sharing how technology is changing the meaning of home. The barriers that once separated our homes from the rest of the world are disappearing. We're buying technology that's bringing the world into our houses, so we can connect to smart home devices from anywhers. Most houses are already connected to the world, as Amazon's Echo (above) illustrates. The questions is … have you stopped to think about the implications?
People love gadgets so they're experimenting with smart devices at home, ones you can control from your phone. In fact you've probably forgotten when appliances started adding clocks so look around your kitchen some night, and count the number of clocks lit up. My term for these is “marketing gimmicks” added to sell products without delivering real value (read: Energy Vampires: Find & Tame Them).
Pros and Cons of Smart Home Devices
Using smart apps to manage your home makes a lot of sense. For someone like me who has a tendency to forget to close the garage door, having a way to close the door remotely would be helpful. Really, how often does that happen to you, especially with little ones? The question you want to ask though, is what you're giving up in return for this convenience, because it's changing the meaning of home. Our home is no longer a castle protected by a moat and drawbridge. We give that privacy up when we allow apps to connect to our home's wireless router.
We've already introduced these three smart devices -- smart locks like the one from Kwikset, smart locks and Nest's (owned by Google) Learning Thermostat. They can be controlled through your smart phone … from anywhere.
Most homeowners don't understand a lot about electronics, so we're learning as we go. It's not easy because manufacturers selling smart devices focus on the highlights and make you to research the questionable aspects of their products. So here are things you ought to be aware of as you decide when and which smart devices to add to your home.
- To allow your smart phone apps to talk to devices in your home, you have to give them permission to connect through your home network. Once they access your network, you don't have control over what they can see. Remember the recent “Distributed Denial of Service (DDOS)” attack that crippled Netflix, Amazon and others in November 2016? Read: Hacked home devices caused massive Internet outage, to learn more.
- The apps on your smart phone talk to apps on the smart devices, which in turn control the physical hardware in the device. For example, you can open your front door or raise the temperature using the smart devices above. You don't really know what else these apps in your home are able to do. But I worked for IBM for 29 years before starting my handyman business, and know if they're not already tracking your activities using things like motion detectors, they will be soon … and doing what with the information?
- Home automation is in it's infancy making it difficult to map out a strategy on paper. Then you've got to consider how much you're going to invest in infrastructure like your home network, to control smart devices. It will take time for the industry leaders to bubble to the top of the pile so for now, you want to consider what type of company you want, as many different players are jumping into this industry niche like:
- Lowe's with their expertise in home products, has developed the Iris Home Automation Pack with the ability to control thermostats, irrigation systems, motion and door/window sensors, cameras and automatic door locks according to one customer review.
- Technology companies like Apple's HomeKit and HomeSeer's Home Controllers and numerous connectors, to connect anything to … anything. This advantage will provide more flexibility in connecting the devices you want to use, so you don't have to wait for a manufacturer like Lowe's to integrate Skybell for instance.
- Legacy companies with expertise in home security (think ADT) and/or home entertainment solutions which have been around for years, for those able to afford custom design and hard-wired installation of these systems.
- Communication companies like Samsung, that aquired SmartThings with their family of control hubs and monitoring sensors.
Who: Google, Amazon or ??? Will Live at Home with Us?
The players listed above will certainly be players in tomorrow's home. What's not clear is which of the big Internet players will impact the meaning of home more. The big players today are Google, Facebook, Microsoft, Amazon, Apple, Comcast and Verizon. The role they play and how they get there will vary from Google's purchase of Nest to multiple aquisitions in the communication and entertainment industries.
If you're curious about the where things are at the beginning of 2017, here's what I've found so far:
- Good video comparing Amazon's Echo to Google Home which came out in 2016.
- A side-by-side comparison, of the two devices on CNET in November 2016.
- Tips on protecting your privacy on Amazon Echo and Google Home, from the San Diego Union-Tribune.