Wireless Technologies

Will consumers run from home control confusion?

The north London home of luxury design firm Casa Botelho founder Joao Botelho is, on the surface at least, a bit of a show home. Surely no one can live in a manner that clean and tidy? After renovating his four-bedroom semi-detached 19th-century Victorian house in Hackney, the former UK managing director of Donna Karan New York has set up a new career for himself as an interiors and furniture designer. On the evidence of his moodily lit and Art Deco-inspired modern home it’s a good decision, but the Brazilian Botelho has added another dimension. His casa (home) is now a smart casa, a showcase for Austrian-founded home automation company Loxone, complete with remote door control and automated blinds.

“Convenience and luxury,” says Botelho when asked his reasons for installing the technology. Of course. Luxury oozes from every corner and feature of the house. His set of self-designed side tables fetch upwards of £800 each, so the natural assumption is that Loxone is here flogging the aspirational. Botelho certainly has the lot. As well as lighting, heating, blinds and door locks, he has a security system and music in every room, all run by a dedicated Loxone central ‘mini server’. So how much did it all cost?

“About £10k,” says Philipp Schuster, MD for Loxone in the UK. Not huge but still a considerable investment.

Schuster is quick to point out that for the average three-bed home Loxone-powered lighting, heating and security would cost around £1,700 for the hardware. His point is that smart home control is now affordable and focussed on the areas of living where the technology can have the most impact in terms of convenience and comfort.

It’s a fair point but home automation is still a luxury. Give most people £1,700 and they’d be happy to draw their own curtains and keep the cash. It’s a challenge for companies like Loxone to educate the market and convince consumers that automation is worth the investment. With around 40,000 homes in Austria, Germany and the UK using its technology it is clearly making some sort of headway. A recent deal with Barratt Homes, one of the biggest house builders in the UK, will no doubt boost its sales figures but it’s surely a slow burn.

Much of the current interest in smart homes appears to have been driven by makers of smart thermostats and other gadgets such as Nest (now owned by Google), Honeywell and Hive. Smart thermostats are warming up initial interest in home automation, at least according to a recent report from IoT Analytics, which claims that in 2015 this was an $879m market with 4.9 million devices installed.


Security concerns

The projected market for smart home devices looks healthier - $60 billion by 2021 according to recent statistics – but the underlying concern and one that could dampen market enthusiasm is security. Another report from IFSEC Global unsurprisingly suggests home security could be “the fastest-growing part of this burgeoning [home automation] market.”

All good stuff but the problem most people have with connecting up their homes is the fear that it opens everything up to abuse. Fear of hackers and denial of service are understandable. And then you have James Clapper, the US director of national intelligence, who was reported in February as saying:

“In the future, intelligence services might use the [Internet of Things] for identification, surveillance, monitoring, location tracking, and targeting for recruitment, or to gain access to networks or user credentials.”

Great, there’s a sales pitch for the home automation business. How do you get over that?

Loxone’s Schuster seemed unperturbed. He talks about the closed Loxone network, minimising potential point of entry. Loxone’s system is not automatically on the internet and when it is there is just one secure access point, the mini server. It makes sense but it goes against the grain of current open thinking, which doesn’t, of course, make it wrong.

In fact Schuster seems more worried about consumer perception than the realities of security. He says that most people’s home automation education is in retail stores selling expensive thermostats and internet-connected devices. There is confusion among the buying public, he contends, and that’s not surprising. This is still a market in its infancy and inevitably the fragmentation of a new market creates mixed messages and fears around future proofing. Most buyers will be hesitant and until vendors such as Loxone can convince the masses that this is a must-have rather than a nice-to-have it will remain a slow burn.


Also read:

Honeywell designs an ‘iPad for smart buildings’

Lessons from Nest

Experts mull where next for the Internet of Things

Samsung pays its way into smart homes future

Nest goes international with UK smoke detector launch


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Marc Ambasna-Jones

Marc Ambasna-Jones is a UK-based freelance writer and media consultant and has been writing about business and technology since 1989.

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