This all came to me yesterday as I fitted new Phillips Hue lights into my house. A few words to my Google Home now turns the lights on or off. And – you have to be the parent of a teenager who plays computer games buried behind headphones to love this – when I tell Home to ‘get my son’ it flashes the lights in his room – no more “I didn’t hear you..”.
Right now it’s fun, basic utility balanced by hobbyist enthusiasm, and useful to at least some degree. But it’s also clearly the direction in which things are going – a connected home with the wireless connective tissue leading back to a virtual assistant.
So I’m trying to imagine what would happen if I sold the house. Do I rip out all of the features, replace the doorbell, the security system, the lights, with dumb versions? Right now I could probably do that but every additional feature makes it harder. And does that de-value the house when, for example, the skylights no longer open automatically when a certain temperature is reached in the bedrooms and rain is not forecast?
Do I factory re-set the lot and leave the new owners a book of instructions on how to set up each system, which IFTTT recipes to use, and so on? But what if the assistant the new owner has use doesn’t play nice with my technology choices? Or if the task of completely setting up the house from scratch rather than item-by-item seems daunting.
For that matter how would I feel about selling not only my house but my carefully crafted and controlled environment?
I think the answer to a lot of this lies in the technology maturing. There needs to be interoperability between all internet of things systems and the various assistants. There needs to be far simpler ways of mapping a home set-up and of moving things about – and especially ways involving simple drag and drop maps and instructions. Going to one system and seeing an overall ‘map’ of the house sub-systems and then being able to simply configure them in that one place is where we need to get to. Then, upon selling, you’d create an admin account for the new owner, delete the old owner, and the new owner would easily configure the system as they please.
Or another way of looking at this is less about the dumb appendages and more about the assistant – you tell your assistant you’re moving, instruct it to relinquish access to the old house appendages, such as the lighting, and tell it to settle into the new house learning where all the bits it can now control reside. But that requires the assistant to be able to find all the stuff in a house that it can control.
As an aside to the selling question, there’s also what happens when you have visitors. Wouldn’t it be neat if you could simply allow a visitor’s virtual assistant a limited set of controls over your house – turning on lights for example. We’re already seeing a basic issue with the Hue lights – how to prevent visitors from flicking the switches and turning them off at the wall.
Not sure of the actual answer but this is going to present a more complex issue than whether you consider the TV attached to the wall and wired for surround-sound to be a fixture or not. There’s a real opportunity for someone here to fill what’s going to be a burgeoning niche of internet of things and home control. As a basic starting point it would be nice to think that Google, Apple, and Amazon make sure they play nice at a basic level; and that they start investing some serious thought into how users interface with their home system overall rather than how they go about adding or deleting individual devices.
It would be a great shame in ten years time to see a search criteria on real estate websites allowing you to search for homes with IoT systems compatible with your particular brand of assistant. While I hope that doesn’t happen, I can easily see listings including information on the complexity of the home assistant systems as a feature.
Having a virtual assistant that actually does stuff has been a science-fiction staple forever. It’s exciting to see the beginnings of that start to emerge and it will be fascinating to see how all this develops as it has to deal with the real-world problems that science fiction never covers – like people moving house.