I’m at an IoT event at Qualcomm today and one of the presentations was on the future of the Smarthome. I live in a Smarthome and can categorically say that the present of the Smarthome increasingly sucks. The primary control element in my house is the Amazon Echo and I have one in every room, I also have Insteon controlled lights, and Arlo Security cameras none of which integrate well with each other.
My most recent problem was just using the Echo show in the bedroom as an alarm clock, when I set the alarm, rather than it going to the relatively quiet Show, it instead set on the Sonos Beam which I had in the bathroom so, when I went off, it likely woke the dead instead of just me (my wife was not amused). And, on the beam, a lot of the features on a regular Echo aren’t enabled (this isn’t Sonos’ fault, for some screwy reason Amazon cripples what they license to third parties). So, when I tried to use whisper to shut the damn thing off, instead of whispering back, it yelled back the confirmation (at this point I’m kind of surprised my wife didn’t hit me with something as it was 3AM).
The Problem With Smarthomes
Ironically, back in the 1990s, IBM tried to launch a platform that would have centralized home control and provide a way to assure every smart thing would work with every other smart thing. It had two big problems, it needed to be designed into the home when it was built, and it was wicked expensive. It didn’t survive.
This decade everyone and their brother is launching Smarthome products often proprietary, using a wide variety of wireless technologies and often home-grown control software, and most have no ability to auto-discover and self-configure. These things include routers, cameras, door locks, alarm systems, sound systems, smart speakers, smart TVs, door openers (exterior doors, interior doors, garage doors, gates), blinds, shutters, HVAC systems, appliances (including stoves), and sprinklers.
These are often installed by home owners who have technical skills that lag their 7-year-old kids but come with technical requirements that often stump professional technicians. The end result is often, particularly for us technically inclined guys with non-technically inclined spouses, a lot of unneeded home drama. Some days I think my wife identifies way too much with the mad crowd that wanted to go after Dr. Frankenstein with fire and pitchforks with regard to how she views me.
On the positive side, today’s Smarthome is making me a far better runner.
Qualcomm’s Better Smarthome
In short, the vision that Qualcomm is working on would make me less likely to have a pitchfork rammed up my butt as a marital conversation aid. Their view its to wrap this mess of stuff with a set of standards which assure they are designed to work together when created much like the host of Bluetooth accessories generally works with every Qualcomm powered Smartphone.
Everything would be wrapped in security so someone outside your home couldn’t say “Alexa unlock the front door” in their attempt to relieve you of the burden of your stuff. Configuration would be more like pairing a headset with your phone and far less like trying to get two cats that are new to each other to play nicely together. Cameras and alerts would be tied to real people in the wrong place rather than your home being attacked by hostile bushes or your pet channeling Arsenio Hall.
Don’t get me wrong, I like funny pet videos as much as anyone, but I don’t need the same level of alert as I might need if I were instead facing the Zombie Apocalypse or some nimrod helping themselves to my latest Amazon or eBay shipment (I shop way the hell too much).
I expect the end game will be to loop in your Smartphone, so it becomes an integral part of the solution along with your wearable device so that the house not only knows who you are but where you are and can adjust accordingly. In effect, Qualcomm is moving to fix home (and business IoT because they have a huge effort there) they way they fixed 4G and are assuring 5G. Or so that it finally works they way it always should have worked.
Smarthomes today are a mess, at Qualcomm’s IoT they made a compelling argument why some of the methods used to fix Smartphones and make them usable, need to be used to fix the Smarthome and make it, finally, usable as well. This is great news for me because I’m getting really tired of finding new places to hide the pitchfork and torch, and I’m getting slower with age. Having a Smarthouse that doesn’t make my spouse thinking homicidal thoughts about me would also help me sleep much better. Apparently, we will be seeing many of these changes move into the market in a few months, I just hope I can find a way to survive until then.