Today we see an explosion of devices intended to bring technology to different parts of the home. With this explosion comes an important conversation and debate. Technology at its best is magic. It makes your life better by saving you time or bringing you great happiness. On one side of the conversation we see various devices enhance bits and pieces of the home, each in its own delightful way. On the other side, many of the devices have yet to speak the same language, leaving much to be desired in terms of saving time and frustration. In the end, though, we are optimistic that things are headed in the right direction.
We’ve hit a Cambrian moment in computing. What started as a computer on every desk has now become a computer in every pocket. In the home, we already see a computer in almost every room, offering opportunities to control temperature, music, lighting, security, and even the garden. The sheer volume of new devices entering the market each year is inspiring. The mind is quick to imagine every item in the house becoming "smart" in one way or another. Our Jetsons moment has finally arrived. Or, to those keen on recent popular culture, our Her moment is now.
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But something doesn’t quite feel right yet. My Nest and Lutron systems make temperature and lighting control easy, and my Sonos speakers are phenomenal. My new Eero wi-fi system is a game changer; I haven’t had to reset my router in months, and my Internet is faster than ever. It’s cool that my Tesla automatically opens my Liftmaster garage door when I arrive home. I love my new iPhone and discover fun new apps almost daily. But I’m plagued by the nagging question: Why don’t all of these things I love speak the same language? I spend so much time tapping and hunting for the right combination of buttons and apps to create simple environments for the everyday enjoyment of my home. Wouldn’t a truly smart home just make it easy?
Perhaps the answer is a matter of thinking differently. Thinking bigger. The smartphone was a breakthrough because of the revolutionary multi-touch interface invented by Apple combined with an Internet-connected phone. The Tesla is not so much a car as an Internet-connected computer with wheels. Why have we yet to see a house built around a computer, rather than a few computers put into a house?
New interfaces such as Amazon Echo suggest that great innovation can come in a small package. A simple voice interface in a sleek tube on your kitchen counter can now serve as a personal assistant. Nest’s new developer platform is enabling more devices to talk to each other than ever before. Eero brings a wi-fi system into your home that receives software updates multiple times a week. Each product and surrounding ecosystem gives us optimism that a smarter home isn’t far away.
But the fact remains that it’s now possible to put the computer at the center of the home and at the beginning of the design and architectural process. When will the computer become the beating heart of the home? How can my home understand me? My emotions? My needs? My family? How can the technology fade into the background? Rather than a home that requires a huge amount of interaction in order to be personalized for me, could my home "know" me? Take care of me?
The more we search for the answers to these questions, the more we realize that the story has yet to be written. In the pages that follow, we explore the beginnings of this important story and are inspired by the hints we’re seeing of the future to come.
Dave Morin is a Silicon Valley entrepreneur with a passion for design and technology.