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The homes of the future

The homes of the future 

It’s clear that people are living busier lives than ever. With both the family and the office requiring supervision and scheduling, the lines dividing work and play have become blurred.

It’s no longer simply a practicality issue, but one that pertains to health and safety. As the population ages, over 25 per cent of Canadians are taking care of elders, with even more looking after children. Employees spending extensive hours at the office want to ensure that home life is running smoothly, without compromising the sanctity of either location.

To extend the boundaries of the home and allow for increased control and supervision, Ericsson has released the Connected Home Report. Connected home technologies allow homeowners to know everything from the moment a door is opened to a degree’s change in temperature. Meanwhile, a single central storage unit means that digital media can be shared and accessed anywhere within the home – and outside of it. For the first time, you can truly take “home” with you, wherever you go.

Based in Stockholm, Ericsson is testing mobility’s potential to transform culture. IT in Canada spoke with Patrik Hedlund, Ericsson’s Senior Advisor of Consumer Insights, to discuss the obstacles and opportunities for the homes of the future.

 IT in Canada: The report indicated that five in ten people are interested in connected home services. Why is this?

Patrik Hedlund: From the qualitative interviews that we made and also the quantitative study we did, there are several reasons for this interest. The main thing we think is that the ‘big city life science’ today is making people have less and less time, and people have lifestyles where they should match work life with family life. People think they don’t have much time to bother with things in their home, but of course they want to make sure that everything is okay at home. Their home, obviously, represents emotional values and has a big functional value as well. The need of control could be seen as one of the drivers of the interest, and peace of mind is something a lot of consumers talk about.

What we found surprising in this study was that cost-saving wasn’t really a key-driver for this interest. That’s what many people may think. It was a driver for smart energy and so on, but not really for the connected home as a general concept.

ITIC: What kinds of people are more likely to use connected homes?

PH: Today, as you can see in the study, we saw an overrepresentation of people living in suburban areas and more male people.

We [also] looked on the “needs” side. That means people who have unmet needs, but aren’t necessarily interested in having the features and services today. For example, maybe you have a need in having a clean house, you have a need to save money, you have a need to have a more organized day. We could see some potential services meeting those needs. People that have those needs are more representative among women and also more people living in cities, rather than urban. Obviously, it’s an opportunity for these people to get to know the services and try them out.

ITIC: Why is it important for connected homes to be simplified?

PH: Today, you have a lot of vertical services and segmented services on the market that fulfill the concrete needs of security, surveillance and smart household appliances and so on, but neither of them are really connected to each other. That means that each service needs a separate router, separate cables – it’s a separate application. That means you can’t really get this seamless experience, and if something fails in these services, it can be a lot of components involved, and it’s very difficult for the consumer to know the risks. So we interviewed some people who showed us the problems they had, and it was almost impossible for them to know who to call. Should I call the service provider? The internet operator? Another company maybe? So the role of simplicity is very important for the consumer to have someone to call if something fails, but also to have a system that is more easy to manage and can be understood by everybody in the household–not only the subscriber but the family members. Rather than be a technical issue only, we think that simplicity is about professional services coming together and also getting all the soft and hard pieces together in a package. That’s what I mean by simplicity in this report.

ITIC: What are some of the barriers to adoption of the connected home?

PH: The barriers depend a little bit on the market and the different target groups. The main barrier is that there’s a group of people with high unmet needs that aren’t really interested in this. A majority of people really see no need for a connected home, and therefore they don’t really see the benefits as of today.

Another barrier we see is that it’s perceived as very costly. The life cycle cost can be very expensive, but also the upfront investment they must make in this kind of technology, [as well].

The third barrier is the complexity. As we talked about earlier, simplicity is needed, as it is perceived to be quite a complex area. For example, one woman in Barcelona said, “What happens if something fails in the connected home? Then I cannot even turn the T.V on because everything is connected.” It’s essentially wired to a central brain in the house, and if that central brain fails everything is shut off.

ITIC: The report also stated that many users are focused on health and wellness services for their connected homes. Why is this?

PH: We see both a match of high needs and high interest in health and wellness services, and we think that has to do with the busy lifestyle of today, people are concerned over not eating health foods in their home, getting sick and so on. It’s a concern people have, and when we compare it to some other areas that are “good to have” areas, we think that health and wellness is a very basic human need. Also, services are starting to emerge on the market now which make it possible to care for an elderly person, for example, something that is quite common here in Sweden and in Canada. A lot of people care for someone who is older that they must check [on].

ITIC: In the next five years, will more people be living in connected homes?

PH: Yes, for sure. We think that this is going to have an uptake. There will probably be a few people who have all of the possible areas in a connected home, but this is an area that we will see a lot of potential services for children, elderly people, and people that just want to have the safety. For sure, we see an uptake today in the safety area, in the U.S especially. We see also, in the utility sector, control and lowering energy costs are going to be the first services to be adopted. Then, later, of course, we think people will actually live in smart homes that are also able to take decisions made on algorithms, smarter decisions made on complex integration and so on.

As before, the barrier is that people don’t see the value of it. The other side of the coin would be to say that the industry hasn’t been able to find the right benefits. It’s important to see what kind of problems people have in their daily lives, and how to address those needs in a smart way. Rather than starting with a technology and what you can do technically, you must start by asking, “How can we make people’s lifestyles easier?” 

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