Apple And Google Take On The Smart Home

Smart Homes Are Getting Smarter

Smart homes and home automation have been a multi-million dollar market for years, reaching multi-billion dollar market status in 2012. Systems such as Piper, Canary, Vivint, and SimpliSafe have seen moderate success for some time and start ups like Sentri, Oort and AngelBlocks pop up with increasing frequency. These start ups, offer everything from around the clock video surveillance, with a live feed available on your smartphone, to sensors you can put on your keys and in your purse. All these companies and systems represent the development of the long-awaited IoT (Internet of Things), a concept advocating for the expansion of the internet into the physical grid. Nest is one of these new devices, and its recently been making a number of headlines.

Nest is a thermostat that looks a bit like something from the future, a round device smaller than your hand with a minimalist touch screen, it's pretty and sleek. It's futuristic in other ways too; Nest learns your patterns and schedules in order to set temperatures around your daily life without needing your help. There's even the option for Nest to track your location in order to adjust accordingly. It also allows you to remotely change the temperatures of your house through a smartphone app, as everything is these days.

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Nest Learning Thermostat On The Ellen DeGeneres Show:

In February, Nest, previously valued at around 8 million, was bought by Google for a hefty sum of 3.2 billion dollars. Google has also been considering the acquisition of DropCam, a home monitoring device similar to Piper. Then Apple, on June 2nd, announced HomeKit, a home automation project designed to debut with iOS8 which will allow you to control home devices from your iPhone or iPad. These projects are pointing to something pretty exciting: Google and Apple are entering the home automation market.

Will Big Names Change the Smart Home Market?

The progression from useful, but sometimes gimmicky devices to a true automated home experience requires a strong centralized developer and a pretty ambitious vision. With arguably the two largest tech companies moving into the home automation market, we could be seeing some real steps into the future Internet of Things within the next couple of years. The focus on usability, ease of access, and device integration could be the push home automation needs to break into the mainstream.

While the initiation of Apple and Google's projects represents a move towards an accessible, consumer focused, user-friendly system, it also alleviates fears for those concerned about the stability and security of home automation systems. Google and Apple will provide service and security backed by two very powerful names. Currently, worries about smart-home hacking, have some basis, but most of us already trust Google and Apple with our information, probably for good reason.

Issues Of Demand And Privacy

Google and Apple may be taking a stab at this growing industry, but for the average consumer, home automation isn't a current priority. Smart homes remain relatively inaccessible to the mainstream because home automation is often a techies, personal do it yourself project. There's a varied array of possible devices, sometimes pricey, all with different features, and many times these devices don't do a great job of working with each other to create an overarching smart home experience. In addition, as Neura CEO Gilad Meiri told, Mashable, the "[Internet of Things] is a supply-driven phenomenon, the consumer isn't screaming 'I want it.'

Even those who are interested in home automation have their own reservations. Privacy, security, data collection, exploitation, the advent of in-home ads, and the threat of being hacked are continuously brought up and argued over online. As paranoid as some of these questions may seem to those who have been waiting for smart homes since the advent of Bluetooth, the fact is that there isn't a real answer to all of these questions quite yet.

In May, Google stated that in the near future they could be serving ads and other content on refrigerators, car dashboards, thermostats, to name just a few possibilities." The statement frightened many Nest owners, and although Google later clarified that there wouldn't be ads on Nest thermostats, it's pretty clear that ad-related concerns are legitimate. Apple has expressed concerns regarding privacy, but they also haven't released any sort of official statement addressing the possible drawbacks of the Internet of Things.

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The Future Of Smart Homes

The Internet of Things seems to be the logical next step in the development of today's technology. It promises increased security, flexibility, and efficiency, and often smart home technology makes green living and energy conservation a priority.

Additionally, for groups like the elderly and handicapped automated homes are a very important factor in universal design. Smart homes will help ensure that homes are comfortable and accessible for all, and can bring a previously unreachable level of comfort.

It's been estimated, however, that the Internet of Things won't have significant effect on consumer lives until 2025. While Google and Apple's actions signal that something pretty big is coming, this market is relatively new, there are still issues to be solved in areas of hardware, software, and integration, and still so much to explore and discover.

The Smart Home has a long way to go before it will have a real presence in our lives, so worrying too much about possible issues instead of celebrating new technology and innovations may be a bit cynical. It all comes down to this: technology is a tool, designed to be used by the consumer. While existing worries are no doubt legitimate, enforcing laws and restrictions preemptively may stunt a developing market and subsequently deprive consumers of some very useful tools.

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