The good news is, this one is here already! Developments in technology are making it possible for our homes to become more intelligent little by little, until eventually they will be able to complete tasks that have previously required our input. The recently coined term for these houses is ‘Smart Home’, which refers to the next generation of house automation.
It all comes down to improved connectivity in an apartment or house. Various devices are connected to the internet through a control unit, also called a box, hub or gateway, and can be operated through digital inputs instead of analogue switches. ‘Compatible devices can communicate with each other through the control unit or be accessed through a cloud using an app or smart speaker,’ explains Jörg Heinemann, who, in his role as the principal of OTTO, focusses on digital innovations that have an impact on product ranges and shopping behaviour. The glint in his eye betrays his genuine passion for new forms of technology and the opportunities that they create. He has even added Smart tech to his own home in Hamburg.
Everything that his Smart Home can do by itself has him positively in raptures. ‘Using a voice command to tell the television in the lounge to switch to my desired programme without leaving the kitchen and at the same time being able to set the ideal volume and lighting in the room is already tantamount to the height of comfort.’ And when the dishwasher knows that the tablets are empty and orders some more virtually by itself, there’s only one thing you can call that - extremely convenient.
The same applies to the resulting new purchasing behaviour. In the so-called Internet of Things (IoT for short), it is no longer the customer who buys things in the conventional sense, but the device. In the case of the interconnected dishwasher, this is already possible; together with Bosch, OTTO first presented devices capable of almost automatically ordering more tablets, rinsing agents and detergents at this year’s Internationale Funkausstellung (IFA) in Berlin, which began on 31st August.
Alongside practicality and comfort, Smart Homes also focus on considerably more existential aspects. Safety, for example, and reducing energy costs. ‘Cameras with alarm or notification features watch over the house when nobody is home. Smoke alarms, for example, can be connected in such a way that they switch on the lights in the emergency exits in the event of a fire,’ clarifies Jörg. ‘And when live weather data determines whether the watering system in the garden comes on or not, and light sensors control the lighting in the house, the result is not only more time with your family, but also a more positive environmental footprint and minimised utility bills.’
Where there is light, there must be shadow, I hear you say.
What sounds too good to be true usually throws up one particular question - what’s the catch? Or to be more specific, does living with interconnected technology have its downsides too? ‘In order for our devices to become ever smarter, they require information - that’s why they gather data,’ Jörg summarises. And this frenzy of data collection undertaken by manufacturers is a thorn in the side for many customers. Since May 2018, the protection of the private sphere and personal data has been regulated by the new General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR). ‘Should customers wish to prevent details of their mapped apartment being passed on, they now have the option of withholding their consent’ writes Computerbild.de in its article ‘Data protection: what is a Smart Home allowed to gather?’ The basic principle behind this assertion is that personal data must not be used without consent.
It is up to individuals to decide whether a Smart Home is now a must-have or not, the experts believe. ‘While living with interconnected technology was for a long time the reserve of technology enthusiasts, nowadays it has a wider audience thanks to more useful devices and possible uses. Due to the increasing number of online-capable devices and improved connectivity, customer interest in connecting these devices in a useful manner will rise in the future.’
Jörg’s job at OTTO is based on precisely this point. ‘We want to offer our customers the full product portfolio in the Smart Home sector and a wide range of interconnected household devices. That’s why we are currently massively expanding our collections and services.’ And it’s paying off - sales of Smart Home products have been increasing considerably at OTTO, especially since the middle of last year. ‘The reason for this is the increased opportunities afforded by voice control,’ Jörg believes. ‘Digital assistants such as Siri and Google Assist combined with smart speakers like the Google Home and Apple HomePod have helped the Smart Home to grow significantly in recent times - and do so to an even greater extent in the future.’
Today many people still find it bizarre to control processes in their home by voice command or to make online purchases in the same way. ‘The same thing used to apply to smartphones too. It will become more normal in the future - and it won’t be long before we won’t want to be without it,’ Jörg predicts. And there’s more. ‘We are predicting a doubling of sales of Smart Home products this year in comparison with 2017. And this sector is only just getting going.’