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Okay folks. I’m calling it. 2016 is going to be the year of the smart home.

It’s going to be the year when everyone – your grandparents and technophobe friends included – embraces the Internet of Things. It’ll be the year when it finally pushes past being the preserve of early-adopters and power users, and enters the mainstream. You can quote me on that.

So, what makes me so confident? In a word: evolution. Smart home technology has undergone its own Cambrian Explosion, and it promises to make your life much more convenient in the years to come. Here’s why.

Easier, Not Better. Convenient, not Augmented.

Amazon has had a busy few years.

In April 2014, they launched the Dash Wand. This allowed people to restock their pantries simply by scanning the bar codes of goods they’ve run out of. Less than one year later, they followed up with the Dash button. Available exclusively for Prime customers, it allowed people to order products from Amazon with merely the press of a button. No passwords, computers, or thought required.

A few months after that, the Amazon Echo Amazon Echo Review and Giveaway Amazon Echo Review and Giveaway Amazon’s Echo offers a unique integration between voice recognition, personal assistant, home automation controls, and audio playback features for $179.99. Does the Echo break into new ground or can you do better elsewhere? Read More exited beta, and was available for anyone to buy. One of the key features of this is that simply by speaking to a cylinder of metal and plastic, you could order items from Amazon. “Alexa, order me some pens”.

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So, what do these have in common?

They’re not trying to change the shopping experience. Amazon doesn’t want to add layer-upon-layer of artifice. They will never, for example, release a virtual reality shopping app. That’s not their style.

They’re just doing what they’ve been doing since the mid-90s. They’re making it more convenient to buy things online. They’ve distilled the process of buying things into its purest, simplest form. The Internet of Things provides Amazon an excellent opportunity to do that.

I don’t doubt that this trend for simplification will be reflected across the smart home landscape. Eventually, device manufacturers will realize that people don’t want to replace their existing “dumb-products” with complicated dashboards and features they’ll never use. They just want the appliances they use to be better.

They’ll start to get wise to how things like machine learning algorithms 4 Machine Learning Algorithms That Shape Your Life 4 Machine Learning Algorithms That Shape Your Life You may not realize it but machine learning is already all around you, and it can exert a surprising degree of influence over your life. Don't believe me? You might be surprised. Read More , artificial neural networks, and artificial intelligence (AI) What Artificial Intelligence Isn't What Artificial Intelligence Isn't Are intelligent, sentient robots going to take over the world? Not today -- and maybe not ever. Read More can accomplish this.

We’re already seeing some great strides in this direction. The Nest Learning Thermostat is a great example. It can learn from how it’s used, and set the household temperature according to the owner’s usage patterns. The latest iteration can even control household boiling units, in order to create hot water when it’s most in demand without being prompted. This is a great example of a smart home product that doesn’t try to reinvent the wheel, but simply make it better.

The WeMo Insight Switch has a similarly distilled design philosophy and purpose.


This is a “smart” electrical socket Which Smart Plug Is the Best One for You? Which Smart Plug Is the Best One for You? Even if you aren't into the whole smart home automation trend, you really should get yourself a few smart plugs. They're one of the easiest smart home products to use. Read More which can be remotely controlled and scheduled, in order to turn on a standard mains appliance. The units themselves are cheap, single-purpose (although they can track and monitor power consumption), and don’t have any complicated interfaces. You just control it through your smartphone. It does one job with a laser-focus, and it does it well.

That’s how it should be.

Smart Home, Meet Smart Phone

Computer-driven smart homes have been around for longer than you think, either as real-world products, or conceptualized in fiction.

In October of this year, long-time MakeUseOf writer Mihir Patkar interviewed someone I Lived in a Smart Home for 20 Years. Here's What You Should Know. I Lived in a Smart Home for 20 Years. Here's What You Should Know. MakeUseOf spoke with one of our regular readers and commenters, Ben Stutt, of Rock Hill, South Carolina, USA, about his experiences living in a smart home. Read More who’s actually been using and building smart home tech since the 1980s. Before that, TV’s The Jetsons depicted what the homes of the future would be like, with every mundane task automated and computerized with a mesh of mechanical Rube Goldberg machines.

Believe me. Smart homes are nothing new. Despite that, it’s only recently that smart homes have started to take off. Why?

Well, there are a number of reasons. One of the biggest is that the display and UX (User Experience) technology required to make smart homes actually pleasant to use has only recently come to fruition. Nowhere is this more obvious than with Microsoft’s Smart Home concept video, which was released in 1999.

In six minutes, it depicts what Microsoft thought the home of the future would look like, through the prism of the technology that was available at the time. You’ll notice that many of the predictions it made eventually came true; from being able to track family members in real-time (realized by Google Latitude How to Trace a Mobile Phone Location With Google Latitude How to Trace a Mobile Phone Location With Google Latitude Read More , and later Google Plus with Location Sharing); to being able to control lighting, sound, and security systems from a single control panel.

Despite that, you can obviously see that it’s not a seamless and (dare I say) graceful experience. The mother in the video has to use a static, desktop computer in the kitchen to control the environment. The daughter was using an old Microsoft CE Pocket PC, with a monochrome display and a resistive touchscreen. Household appliances were controlled from a static touchscreen control panel, again with a crummy resistive touchscreen. This was the crème-de-la-crème of smart home technology in the 90s, and it still kinda sucked.

So, what changed? In a word, smartphones 4 Ways Your Smartphone Will Drive Smart Home Technologies 4 Ways Your Smartphone Will Drive Smart Home Technologies Smart home technology is still very much a niche interest; but that could soon change because of the humble smartphone you have in your pocket. Here’s why. Read More .

Virtually every piece of smart home tech can be (and very often can only be) controlled through a smartphone. That’s not hyperbole.

We’re now at a point where you can set your home’s temperature, watch your security camera, and check for carbon monoxide from anywhere in the world, simply by using a smartphone. It’s something that’s both convenient and deeply personal.


Phones themselves make for great devices for controlling smart home products, simply because they’ve evolved over the past ten years to be inherently easy to use. Google and Apple both have “style guides” which tell developers how to write applications that are accessible, and consistent.

Even the cheapest smartphone in 2015 has a screen that is relatively crisp and clear, and readable. Moreover, touchscreen technology has gone from sluggish, resistive touchscreens, to responsive, multi-point capacitive touchscreens being the norm.

Smartphones have essentially liberated smart home tech, and turned them from experiences that were frustrating and tethered, into something that’s personal, portable and delightful to use.

Plunging Prices

When a consumer technology product is first introduced, they’re expensive and appeal only to a small niche of users. Then, after a bit of time, they drop in price, reach a critical mass, and become ubiquitous. The only variable is how long.

It took twenty years for the laptop market to go from $2600 Powerbooks to $200 Chromebooks. That’s not adjusting for inflation. It took five years to go from $500 iPads (the first successful mass-market tablet computer), to $50 Kindle Fires. You can now get a half-decent smartphone for about $30. It’s remarkable.

Smart home technology is no exception to that, with prices having dropped precipitously over the past few years. Our Christmas home automation buyers guide 7 Home Automation Gifts to Surprise Your Geekiest Friends 7 Home Automation Gifts to Surprise Your Geekiest Friends Scratching your head trying to work out what to get your nerdiest friends and family this Christmas? Perhaps you should get them some smart home automation gear? Read More was a great example of that. Virtually everything listed was comfortably under $200. Some, like the Belkin WeMo Light Switch and WiMo Insight Plug, could be had for under $50.

As prices continue to drop, we can expect to see more and more homes augmented with smart home technology. They’re now entering the price range where they could be an impulse buy. Especially when you consider that some of the more popular products on the market have the marketing clout and finesse of Google, Philips and Honeywell behind them.

The Year of the Smart Home Awaits

So, let’s recap. The latest smart home gear is all about improving existing devices and processes, not augmenting them with additional features. The devices are increasingly beautiful and easy to use, and are getting cheaper by the day. All of this is a recipe for success.

But what do you think? Let me know in the comments

  1. Jack
    December 28, 2015 at 4:15 pm

    Sad, that there are those who fear the use of smart technology. I live with one of those. She has a tendency to make things more difficult than necessary. She can not remember the steps to find the music she desires on a SONOS system. She can not grasp that one only pushes one button on the remote to turnvon the TV, cable box and Bose speakers. It's too difficult because if one changes the cable channel, one mus push the cable button first. If one wishes to raise the sound, one must push the aux button first.

    If I were to add lighting controlled by a smartphone, I can't imagine the repercussions.

    • Matthew Hughes
      December 31, 2015 at 1:25 pm

      Yeah, some people aren't comfortable with it. I think that'll change with time. Remember: at first the idea of people listening to a walkman on the street was considered strange and bizarre.

  2. Mats Svensson
    December 27, 2015 at 1:55 pm

    Finally, the 1996-show!

    • Matthew Hughes
      December 31, 2015 at 1:29 pm

      ... With a soundtrack by Hootie and The Blowfish!

  3. Joe Rohde
    December 26, 2015 at 3:59 pm

    Irrespective of the 1999 model of hyping 'everything Internet' the gaping flaw in IoT remains lack of a viable security model.
    Two main bits:
    1) Existing security is decades old and thoroughly compromised
    2) Digital Certificates and Certificate Authorities are completely unworkable when dealing with billions of devices.

    To be viable requires chip level unique identity and certificate-less authentication for all devices. Cool stuff (PUF for chips and CLAE/IBE3.0 for security) is on the horizon, but until it's baked in I won't trust my home, car, and certainly not anything that can affect safety to 'smart' anything.

    • Matthew Hughes
      December 31, 2015 at 1:28 pm

      Agreed, there's a lot of improvements to be made when it comes to security and privacy. But I'm pretty optimistic. Like you said, a lot of the stuff that'll help is on the horizon.

      Thanks for your comment!

  4. Skip Adkins
    December 26, 2015 at 5:31 am

    The one thing holding everything back is interoperability. Some are a closed silo and others are a mish mash of competing standards or even proprietary formats that lock you into one service, brand or manufacturer. I am really looking forward to the smarthome revolution, but I have to very carefully look at what I buy to make sure that they'll work together. One thing that I can't understand is the almost total lack of vision of the industy... there is already a huge number of (relatively) smart appliances and gadgets out there, but no one is integrating them into the systems. I'm talking about all the IR devices that we have in our homes. From where I'm sitting on my couch, I can count six different appliances that are controlled by IR within my sight but can't be scheduled, controlled or monitered by any smart controls.

  5. Daylen
    December 26, 2015 at 3:33 am

    Zuli Smartplugs are far superior to WeMo's Insight Switch.

    • Matthew Hughes
      December 31, 2015 at 1:26 pm

      Perhaps so, but that's not the point. My argument was smart home technology is increasingly cheap, and has a design philosophy that makes it accessible to all.

  6. fcd76218
    December 25, 2015 at 9:36 pm

    " 2016 is going to be the year of the smart home. "
    Just like 20xx was supposed to be the Year of the Linux Desktop? :-)

    • Matthew Hughes
      December 31, 2015 at 1:25 pm

      No. This might actually happen.

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