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Speaking to security: smart home tech is only getting smarter


February 1, 2019
By Will Mazgay
Will Mazgay

Smart home technology is becoming increasingly ubiquitous, as more and more home owners move to install devices or entire systems in their homes.

The global install base for smart home technology is now at 70 million homes, according to a recent report by research firm ABI Research. Jonathan Collins, ABI Research’s Smart Home research director, says the value that end users see in the technology is driving that growth.

“There’s certainly a usability and an awareness around these devices that’s grown. I think you’re seeing it where it’s become a very simple financial choice whether you want one of these devices in your home or not. You’re talking around $20 low-end at the moment,” he says.

According to Collins, a lot of money is being pumped into marketing, promoting and consumer education on smart home devices, so that the public understands what the benefits are.

Another huge draw for consumers is voice control, using it to make sure if your front door is locked or to turn smart lights on and off.

Collins says Amazon’s Alexa, and Google and Apple, have really made headway in voice technology in the last couple of years, and in addition, consumers are becoming more acquainted with voice commands on smart phones.

As well as making life easier for end users, Collins says there is value to be gleaned by platform providers through the relationship between the platform and the end user: “They get to understand a great deal more about that customer. They get to understand daily routines, personal preferences, plans, spending habits — and that is of great value, to advertisers, to the platform providers.”

He stresses that for big providers like Amazon and Apple, armed with a greater understanding of customer habits, the goal is to entice customers to buy more of their hardware or hardware that is compatible with their platforms.

Blake Kozak, principal analyst, Smart Home and Security Technology, with research firm IHS Markit, agrees that the smart home space is growing in a healthy manner.

New technologies, new horizons

Kozak says video doorbells will continue to be a big trend, especially those with a social aspect. He cited Neighbors from home security products manufacturer Ring (owned by Amazon), a smart phone app that allows end users to share video footage or photos of crimes (such as package theft) or suspicious activity recorded on video doorbells with their neighbours.

When it comes to access control, Collins says that voice biometrics are increasingly being used to profile and verify voices.

Kozak also sees big things in this space: “In terms of disarming the alarm system I think Honeywell and a few others have suggested that that’s going to become a trend where you can send a text to your camera and you can walk up and it will automatically disarm the system, or maybe audio analytics where if you just talk or something like that, maybe it will disarm the system.”

Collins says certain companies are also using Wi-Fi disturbance to understand who and what is moving around in a space.

Kozak elaborates further on spatial awareness technologies, explaining that identifying what’s happening in an environment ties into video analytics: “It’s becoming table stakes now for a consumer video surveillance camera manufacturer to have at least the capabilities, whether it’s a free or paid for service, to determine the difference between an animal or a flag or a tree blowing in the wind versus a person,” he says.

Artificial intelligence is a big driver of these technological improvements: “It’s not so much AI that’s enabling these systems to talk together, but there’s certainly a wealth of data being collected, or that can be collected, that can certainly be leveraged by AI to finesse and make their (platform provider’s) services better,” Collins says, explaining that the more AI that is applied to these technologies, in terms of understanding environments within homes and preferences of specific individuals, the more seamless they become.

DIY or traditional installation

For consumers looking to create a smart security system in their home through the do-it-yourself (DIY) route, it can be a little overwhelming.

“That’s the continuous challenge,” Kozak said. “The consumer, if they really want ‘smart home,’ then they need to do the research. They can’t just walk into a retailer or go online and just make it happen with a few clicks of a mouse. They really have to do their homework.”

Creating a seamless smart home ecosystem is also a challenge for platform providers, as they deal with synchronizing devices from different manufacturers with their systems.

“They do it in a number of ways,” says Collins. “They have outreach programs and developer programs and a degree of funding set aside.” He says there’s a big push and pull factor, with platform providers drawing in original equipment manufacturers, and these players vying to attach their devices to platforms.

Platform providers are also working feverishly to expand their own offerings.

“This year Amazon brought out a number of devices that can start to make a security system, through a couple of acquisitions,” Collins says. “Google also extended their offering. They already had cameras, but they added some contact sensors, key fobs, to really round out that security offering.”

Collins says that when it comes to security offerings, there is going to be increased competition between the traditional installer market and the DIY market.

“If you look at a traditional home security system, that’s not necessarily the same thing as smart home. You’re not necessarily talking to the same level of intelligence in the home, or the same degrees of sensing or flexibility,” he says. “Certainly, there’s more and more interest and more and more capabilities for consumers to build up their own security system, not pay that monthly revenue, or have that monthly revenue as an a la carte option if you like, instead of committing to a long contract.”

Kozak agrees: “Consumers will move more towards the home automation aspect and less focus will be given just to security…especially as price comes down.”

Conversely, Collins says consumers who do commit to long term contracts expect more from their security system, for it to have smart home capabilities.

“We’ve seen in the past the professional security market growing quite slow, not a whole lot of innovation. But I think those companies and those providers have really improved,” says Kozak.

According to Collins, the installer market and the DIY market are also meshing.

“We see retailers start to offer installation services, crossing over into that traditional home security market,” Collins says, explaining that Office Depot recently announced it was going to be offering installer services for smart home devices. Other firms, like Comcast, are “also offering that kind of gateway ability to host and control a lot of smart home devices. They’re doing that very much so they also can get that customer connection and don’t miss out on their valuable subscriber base.”

As for what this means for traditional security installation, Collins put it this way: “There’s probably still a role for installers there; there’s certainly still a role for home security of some sort. It’s just a matter of whether it takes a dedicated, long contract, installation that’s just about security, or really if it’s about a whole range of smart home services and one of them happens to be security. Maybe installation is a part of that and maybe it’s not. It’s a time where a lot of boundaries are being crossed.”