What I mean by the term ‘connected home’ is a loose network of interlinked appliances and gadgets that combine to make our lives easier, more secure, and more automated, and our media more accessible. The connected home has long been a dream of futurologists and science fiction writers, and over recent years it has increasingly become a reality for the super rich. In 2008 and 2009, I think it will start to become a reality for the rest of us.
The first component of the truly connected home, and the one that will drive much of the infrastructure for the others, is access to media. Be that the web, music, video, photo, or games, we are purchasing more and more media devices that conform to home network standards. Home media servers, network MP3 players, BluRay players with Ethernet ports, broadband video services, and online gaming-capable consoles. Making the most of these devices means a wired or wireless home network and a decent broadband connection. It also means having a server of some description at the centre of it all to store, provide, and control everything else.
The next component is security. Even though crime levels have fallen dramatically (42% in the UK since 1995), our paranoia levels have continued to climb. Security hardware, such as networked cameras, alarm systems, and baby monitoring devices, increasingly conform to IP-based network standards. Not only that, but prices are falling. Now there is little barrier to people integrating their home security and monitoring with their media systems. Streaming images of your kids and nanny to your office? Easy. Setting your alarm to text you when there is a break in? Cheap to do.
The final component is home automation. This has been the biggest dream of many futurologists. Not just a home that responds to you (lights that come on when you are in the room), or the environment (turning the heating on when the house temperature drops below a certain level at certain times), but a home that actively eases your life. For example, the robot vacuum cleaner. These devices are now available, in the UK, for less than £200. At John Lewis no less! Robot mowers are also available. Currently the price of a second hand car, there’s little doubt they too will fall in price. There’s no robot housemaid yet, and internet fridge isn’t yet a practical reality, but we’re getting there.
In the way that the last ten years has been dominated by smaller and smaller gadgets for the person, I think that the next ten years is going to be dominated by connected appliances for the home.