I built a Connected Home from scratch. Here’s what I learned

Jun 9, 2015
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Connected Conference - Day 1 - Image by Dan Taylor - dan@heisenbergmedia.com-166 copy

Everyone talks about the Connected Home, the opportunity to build the next great platform (after the smartphone), and yet, not many people have built one. I spent three months putting one together for Connected Conference, and I can tell you – we’re not there yet.

The rules were pretty simple: we wanted to build a house that you could live in today, and we wanted to make it as connected as possible, as long as 1) it had an actual purpose 2) a regular consumer could put it together themselves and 3) no custom development allowed (and we even broke that rule in the end).

The goal was to put together a Connected Home that you could walk through, so that, instead of hearing about this futuristic home in which some startup said they would play a central role, you could actually see what that product looks like in the wild. It was an effort to benchmark what is connected in the home today – and, more interestingly sometimes, what isn’t. Here’s what we learned:

1) The Network Bandwidth is Key.

We spent 24 hours building the walls, the doors, and all that. I thought it would be hard to put windows into a building built from scratch in the middle of the exhibition hall, but it was much harder to get a dedicated network with bandwidth equal to that of a household full of geeks to stream 1080p home security video to a mobile app. It turns out, streaming 1080p is data-heavy: go figure.

A standard home wifi network can handle this, as long as you don’t also connect 4 MacBooks, a handful of tablets and your smartphone of preference. Not to mention the 30 or so other products that were communicating either to their own cloud or with other objects in the room over Wi-Fi.

Today’s connected home objects have surpassed 4G & high-speed Internet network standards even in the most connected of locations (our venue was outfitted with multiple networks with ranging levels of bandwidth – the house had its own dedicated 10 Megabyte/s network.)

2) No new tech where there wasn’t tech before

The kitchen was pretty full – the Triby fridge magnet (on top of a Samsung fridge with an LED screen), a connected cocktail maker (MixStik), and even a connected fryer (Thanks SEB) – however, the bedroom was… minimalist. Beyond our awesome Keecker robot and a sleep-monitoring platform and associated lightbulb, the bedroom doesn’t seem to have many dedicated products. Does this reflect the consumer’s desire to disconnect from the world in the bedroom, or is this an opportunity to create the must-have bedroom device? (I know what you’re thinking – get your minds out of the gutter).

What we really noticed is that Connected Home technology that is really making strides is currently piggy-backing off of existing outlets, existing appliances, knowing that consumers already expect a speaker to connect to a power outlet, so adding wi-fi-enabled speakers contains less friction than a wi-fi-enabled plant, for example (even though we had two of those).

3) Everything you’ve heard about Connected Home interoperability is BS

It doesn’t matter what your standard of choice is – we played around with all of them. I won’t name names, because i’m not into shaming, but the core issue is that multi-object communication doesn’t work. Sure, you can hook up your music streaming service of choice to your speakers to play music from anywhere in the house, and you can even hook up that same service to a lamp which will choreograph your multi-color LED light in time with music; however, doing both at the same time just isn’t possible. Right now, both of those connections (on the devices we played with) happen inside the respective apps of those products, instead of via your central music streaming app. Short of simultaneously playing the same playlist on both apps at the same time on different devices, it’s just not possible right now.

4) It’s only going to get better

Because we restricted ourselves to products that are being on the market (or will be in 2015), and because we didn’t want to do any custom dev (Rasberry-Pi enabled curtains, anyone?), our home was as evolved as the Connected Home industry. Which is to say: it’s on its way. Sure, we could’ve included more than the 30 devices we had in the home, but it would’ve only underlined the above points even more (and potentially taken down the neighborhood’s network); however, we see what’s on the horizon – API’s for your fridge to tell your stove what items are going bad so that your phone can preheat the oven in anticipation of your proposed meal, for example.

2016 will see the Connected Home get even more interesting, which is why we will be building yet another Connected Home, and we’ll be looking at measuring how far we’ve come. For now, there’s work to be done before Connected Homes will become the norm.