Smart home confusion: What do we really want our homes to do?

Smart home confusion: What do we really want our homes to do?

With the constant release of devices, appliances and applications, the popularity of home automation and the Internet of Things is taking over residences. Homebuilders can create a more secure and convenient environment for homeowners by implementing smart home technology in the planning and building process of new homes.

But there is some confusion about what smart technology can do now, and what it may be able to do in the future.

In an exclusive interview with, Phil Dumas, founder and president of Unikey, talks about the confusion between home control and home automation, and how consumers respond more to products that simplify their lives.

Dumas created Unikey – for one key to replace all the keys in your pocket or purse – as a software company whose products bridge the gap between home products and mobile technology.

UniKey provides a secure mobile platform to leading lock and access control companies. UniKey’s technology replaces keys, codes and passwords by turning the smartphone into a convenient, universal electronic key by simply touching the lock without the need to remove one’s phone from a pocket or purse. UniKey partners with leading lock manufacturers like Kwikset Corporation, Miwa and ERA, to bring smart locks to residential homes, commercial businesses and enterprise around the world. The Kwikset Kevo smart lock powered by UniKey is the first lock in North America, also available in Canada through Weiser. Unikey is expanding with a new agreement with ERA for the TouchKey smart lock in the United Kingdom.

PGH: What is Unikey's vision for the future of connected home products?

PD: When you leave your phone, you do the phone, wallet and keys check, in three to five years, maybe you'll just do the phone check. Your wallet is moving into your phone and Unikey is moving the keychain into your phone.

PGH: What's the current state of the smart home eco system?

PD: There's a big misunderstanding in the industry and among consumers because home automation is different than home control.

A lot of today's smart products are getting miscategorized as home automation when in fact they're home control. The big differentiator is, home control allows you to control your home, maybe from your smart phone. So you pull out the phone, open the light bulb app and turn on the light bulb. That's home control.

Instead home automation is, if I walk in the door and it's dark outside, my hallway light automatically turns on. That's what people expect when they buy a product that's a home control product and the think they're getting an automation product, there's a big disconnect with them.

PGH: Given the confusion, what's the current state of the smart home eco system?

PD: One of the biggest realizations around the consumer expectation of the Internet of Things and smart home products and automation products, is that it's well beyond the realities of where the technology is at as a whole.

The whole ecosystem of a smart home is very confusing and cumbersome and daunting in a lot of aspects, and one of the major reasons is that all smart home products aren't created equal. It's much better to focus on the product today, vs. building an eco system. Companies that try to build their one size fits all model and run the whole home, they end up doing lot of things poorly instead of one thing great.

A lot of companies are getting ahead of themselves trying to make products talk intelligently to products to create great experiences. They're finding out that the products aren't smart enough and not gathering enough data and they don't speak the same language as that other product, so when they do talk, they're pretty dumb on the communication level.

PGH:So how will the technology evolve?

PD: With more development we will start getting great integration experiences that people want. But that won't happen on the local level, my TV won't talk to my front door. They're both going to talk to the cloud and the integration is going to happen in the cloud.

PGH: Will people want to use different phone apps for managing all their home technology and activities?

PD: The goal will be to use the app to only manage exceptions, not daily activities. So instead of going into an app to turn on the light when you get home, or set the app to do it automatically, the apps will be smart enough to recognize your behavior.

So if you come home after dark and turn on the same hall light three days in a row, on the fourth day it will ask if you want to make that the default setting. So now the hall light will turn on when you unlock the door and it's dark outside. The cloud will start making use of al the data and learn your habits and start making recommendations. It will be recommended integration instead of configured integration. I think we'll see that coming next.

For instance, the Kevo app runs in the background and the only time you ever have to open it is if you want to check the history or send a key to someone. When you interact with the Kevo product daily, you walk up and touch the door, as a user you don't feel like you have an extra app.

PGH: What can consumers and homebuilders look for in the short term?

PD: Companies that focus on a single thing are doing the best job right now, like the Nest thermostat, Hue light bulbs or the Kevo lockset. HVAC companies for example are trying to make their thermostat the hub of the home, but they're getting away from their core competency. They need to focus, stay in their lane and do what they're good at.

Right now no one has nailed an integrated system, because I don't know if it's possible to nail it right now. You're only as good as the weakest link and a lot of products out there aren't smart enough yet, let alone have the ability to communicate with other products to create great experiences yet.

Topics: Appliances, Connected Homes / Smart Homes, Cost of Ownership, Heating & Cooling, Kitchen, Plumbing & Fixtures, Refrigerators, Sustainability Trends & Statistics, Sustainable Products

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