By Giles Sutton, CEDIA Chairman and Managing Director of James+Giles
Over the last year, I have had countless conversations with other home technology professionals around the subject of IoT products. While some of these conversations have been positive, the majority have centred on the negative impact that these products will have on our industry. Many have gone as far as saying that the DIY-nature of these products will result in the demise of the CI channel in its entirety. I felt that after an extended break from attending CES, it was about time I returned, so I hopped on a flight to Las Vegas for the first time in 4 years.
A trip to CES
Walking around the show, I was struck by the fact that the smart home is now at the centre of the consumer electronics world. Everyone wants to get in on the act, from automotive manufacturers such as VW (that displayed a schematic of its new technology as part of an LG smart home ecosystem), through to white goods manufactures, telecoms companies, Intel and utility providers, to name just a few!
Being part of the industry for many years, I knew that this day would eventually come. While there is nothing particularly revolutionary about any of these products (we’ve been doing this for years) it was, nonetheless, still overwhelming. From the outside it looked as though many of these blue-chip companies were going to muscle in on our industry whether we like it or not. Perhaps we are going to pale into insignificance?
I attended a CNET panel discussion that was enlightening. Yoon Lee, Senior Vice President at Samsung stated that “all homes have to be wired, the Wi-Fi has to reach every corner. If those infrastructures are there, then the next evolution will be really rapid. It’s very difficult to do it as a DIY approach. It has to be considered a utility for homes”. This to me was a turning point. The world needs us to make their systems WORK.
By the time I arrived back in London, I felt more positive about the future of our industry and decided to embrace the change by ordering an Amazon Echo, Samsung Smartthings hub and sensors and a bunch of Philips Hue lights. The next step was to connect it all, and this was very enlightening.
It’s not that ‘easy’
While connecting all the devices together is fairly simple using the manufacturer apps, any in-depth programming to make your system ‘smart’, requires a bit more programming knowledge. Smartthings has made this easier by utilising a SmartApp market place, which contains preconfigured macros for a variety of different uses, including generating notifications and monitoring.
As a home technology professional, this is very exciting to use, as we are all used to this level of sophisticated programming being written using programming software and hidden away from the user of the system. However, whilst this is empowering, in my opinion, you still require a certain amount of technical knowledge and an understanding of programming logic to fully benefit from all of the options.
For example, I struggled to get the movement sensor in my office to only send me notifications if movement is detected at the weekend and evenings, rather than have the same schedule for every day of the week. Perhaps I need to have two macros to cover this sort of complex scheduling? In the end, I gave up. This is only one example, but I wonder how easy any of this will be for people outside of our industry to get to grips with?
I don’t have time
Let’s be honest, when we get home from work at the end of a long day, how many of us feel like rolling up our sleeves and getting into some control system programming? Even being a geeky technologist, I still enjoy my downtime. So if I feel like that, what is the likelihood of my clients having the will and inclination to do this themselves? Sure, there may be a small percentage of nerds out there who love nothing more than time away from their family, locked in a dark room, setting up a proximity sensor.
Back in the ‘real world’, time is precious and very few of us are likely to want to waste it when we can pick up the phone and pay someone to do it for us. There is nothing new to this. We all do this every day by employing decorators, plumbers, electricians and other specialist trades people.
My conclusion is that unless IOT vendors suddenly decide to fill a call centre full of technical support staff that know everything about every connected product and have a fleet of installers on the road, CEDIA home technology professionals can be of huge value. Alongside making sure the infrastructure is up to scratch to enable IoT products to run smoothly, we can also configure these devices alongside more professional systems. This is a big opportunity that we shouldn’t ignore, so embrace it.