2015 may be year houses get smarter
So what’s in the stars for you next year? You’ll need a fortuneteller to answer you that. But one thing’s for sure, smart technology will be an even more pervasive presence in our daily lives. Let’s take a look in our crystal ball and see what a normal workday morning could look like five years from now.
The minute you wake up, the curtains automatically slide aside. By the time you’ve brushed your teeth the television is ready with the latest episode of your favorite show that you missed the night before. In the kitchen, the voice-controlled coffee machine turns itself on and brews your necessary kick-start to the day.
Can’t decide what to wear, your wardrobe suggests you wear your new sweater. “You look ravishing in it. Have a fun day!” it says.
Such smart home technologies have already got a foot in the door.
Industry insiders say 2015 will witness a surge in smart household appliances in China, with some predicting it will be Year One of the smart home era.
The idea of a smart home is pretty straightforward: to put chips on every appliance and connect them via the Internet for easier operation. But the result will be stunning. By linking an array of appliances to the same network, they will be able to share data and interact with each other, dramatically increasing the efficiency and convenience they provide.
A juice maker that reads smartphone data could make the exact-flavored fruit mix its owner liked at that business event. A refrigerator that receives recipes from that juice maker will know what kind of fruit needs buying and can send a message to the grocery store to deliver it.
Smart connected devices demand in China will create a hundred-billion-yuan market in the coming years, according to industry research company IDC.
The smart home and appliances, along with demands for wearable devices and smart cars, will be the major revenue provider for the emerging market, the IDC said. Router battleground The humble router has spent most of its life accumulating dust in the corner of millions of Chinese homes, but it is set to become the first battle ground for earliest smart home gadgets manufacturers.
Affordable smartphone manufacturer Xiaomi Corp, a fast-rising star in the industry, was the first major player to lunch a smart router product in China. It serves as a data storage device and control center for other appliances with wireless connectivity.
In mid-2014, top Internet security company Qihoo 360 Technology Co Ltd went headto-head with Xiaomi by introducing a similar functioned smart router at a much cheaper price. Zhou Hongyi, co-founder of Qihoo, claimed the smart home kit market will be the company’s next focus because of the enormous potential demand.
Lenovo Group Ltd and Huawei Technologies Co Ltd, along with a dozen technology startups, have also entered the fray.
Xu Hao, a researcher from Beijing-based consultancy Analysys International, said the router’s potential as a household data transfer hub is now the key battleground.
“Routers are the gatekeeper between the appliances and the Web, seizing control of the gatekeeper will give hardware providers a huge advantage to sell other smart electronics,” Xu said.
More than 580,000 smart routers were sold in the country in the third quarter of this year, a nearly 10 percent increase compared to the previous three-month period, data from Analysys International show.
While companies are fighting to be the dominant router provider, analysts believe the competition will also extend to TVs, air conditioners and household lighting systems this year, as some companies start to unveil early-stage products.
About a month ago, Xiaomi’s air purifier that sends real-time pollution updates to its owners was welcomed by buyers in northern China where choking smog affects millions. Challenges ahead Liu Dong, director of Accenture Plc’s Beijing lab, said the smart home market needs a technology boost from the Internet of Things, an emerging industry focused on bringing objects such as cars and appliances onto the Internet through embedded chips.
“Similar to other submarkets, in the Internet of Things industry, the data created by household appliances will grow exponentially in the future. Hardware makers will need to provide added-value to their customers by telling them how the data the company acquires can improve life quality,” he said.
Local hardware vendors are trying to provide an increasingly personalized user experience taking advantage of the personal data they collect.
Xu Xiaoli, Northeast Asia Regional Director of Ericsson Consumer Lab, said the category of smart home devices is far beyond traditional electronics.
“Every item in our home can be a data collector once wired with chips. Products that can talk to their owner are the future of the smart home market,” she said.
But building a well-synchronized household system will take years. “The complexity is the major hurdle separating the imagination and reality,” said Xu from Analysys International.
“Because the smart home concept remains in its early stage, hardware makers need more time to figure out a profit model and consumers also need time to understand how it works,” he said.
At the moment, the majority of the electronics labeled “smart” can simply record user activity data and deduce their preferences.
For example, a smart TV promotes Titanic to its audience because the viewer watched Avatar. The TV knows both movies were directed by James Cameron. Love me, love my dog.
However, what the TV does not know is its audience watched Avatar because it was a science fiction movie; hence the viewer would have preferred Interstellar or the Star Wars series.
The more user data a smart appliance masters, the more likely it will provide tailored services. Analysts believe adding artificial intelligence to smart home devices will improve the quality of service in the foreseeable future.
Mike Calcagno, Microsoft Corp’s director of engineering of online search service, which powers the company’s AI assistant project, said making machines to master sophisticated logic thinking is one of the key ways to improve the user experience.
“To make AI actively respond to human activity will enlarge the area of the technology,” Calcagno said.
Visitors examine smart lighting system on display at an exhibition in Beijing. The smart home concept has taken on a rising number of urban residents in China.