Not smart when all home gadgets cannot get along
BURLINGAME, United States
FOR most people, a motion-sensor light that switches on automatically when someone walks into a room is considered "smart" home technology.
Today, that definition is being taken to higher levels.
There are thermostats that "learn" your preferred temperature in different weather conditions. Security cameras that can differentiate between people and harmless critters. And, yes, refrigerators that tell you when to stock up or that a product is nearing its expiry.
Smart home offerings have been around for years but gained more attention only recently.
Google, Amazon and Apple are now jostling to be at the heart of managing devices capable of wirelessly taking commands or feeding information.
Last week, Google unveiled a virtual home assistant device as the Internet giant laid out a future rich with artificial intelligence.
Google Home, about the size of a vase, will hit the market later this year, vice-president of product management Mario Queiroz said at Google's annual developers conference.
It will go up against Amazon Echo voice-controlled assistants that have been a hit since the online retail colossus unveiled them two years ago.
Echo models have Alexa virtual assistant software that can be built into anything "from a lawn sprinkler to a ceiling fan", said Amazon Echo chief evangelist David Isbitski.
He was speaking in Silicon Valley at the Connections conference that opened on Tuesday, which is devoted to smart homes and the fast-growing Internet of Things.
Meanwhile, Apple has been wooing developers with a HomeKit framework for using its devices and Siri virtual assistant to manage smart appliances, fixtures and more.
It is believed that Apple will share HomeKit news at a press event in San Francisco next month.
These developments reflect a deepening desire among consumers for smart utilities and appliances at home.
A study by market research agency Parks Associates conducted in 2014 predicted that half of North American households with broadband will be smart homes by 2020.
Some 44 per cent of households who do not have a smart home device plan to buy one by this year, added the study.
Meanwhile, Coldwell Banker Real Estate said in a report earlier this month that a survey of its customers in the United States found that more than a quarter already own at least one smart home device.
For all its promise, those setting up a smart home network may be frustrated by the incompatibility of products across different brands.
Industry insiders say smart home technology will become mainstream only after rival gadgets and services get along.
"We need to... realise it is the value of all these devices working together that will drive adoption of the smart home," said Curt Schacker, senior vice-president of connected products of EVRYTHNG, which works with businesses to manage data from objects given a "digital identity".
Agreeing, Mark Skarpness, who chairs IoTivity, a project aimed at establishing standards that would let the gamut of smart devices work together, said: "I think the market will get much bigger if you are not spending all your time competing on connectivity."
Still, many remain optimistic that smart homes will be a mainstream reality soon.
"We are crawling; we are going to be walking pretty quick and we are all looking forward to running towards that smart home that we have always envisioned," said Mr Isbitski.