Smart by any other name

Is smart-home technology merely home tech in a shinier, more intelligent suit? Possibly. But the well-worn but finally accurate term shouldn’t put independents off the opportunities to increase sales, says technology journalist Rob Lane

Smart home. Intelligent home. Connected home. Whatever you choose to call this increasingly essential part of our business – and all of its overlapping component parts (think home automation, voice control, Internet of Things, etc) – it’s impossible to ignore.

Indeed, you’d be crazy to overlook smart-home solutions, as they offer endless ways of adding value to your sales.

Only a few years ago, smart homes weren’t quite as smart as they are now. Until very recently, in fact, it’s fair to say that the nomenclature was somewhat overstated – similar to when everyone started talking about ‘smartphones’ before we even had 3G.

Back then, phones weren’t smart. I was briefly deputy editor for What Cellphone over 20 years ago and can attest to this. Equally, as long ago as 2006, my own, now defunct, trade magazine Home Cinema Digest (HCD) boasted a pull-out smart home section every month. Again, while less than a stretch than 1997’s so-called smartphones, ‘smart’ home was still overstating things. Connected home would have been a much more accurate representation of what we were writing about.

Now, though, homes really are smart – intelligent in some cases. They can also be connected in a way like never before with smart-home automation products. Ultimately, though – and maybe only a year or two from now – the term smart home will be redundant. Having taken almost 20 years to fulfil its initial promise, it’ll be cast aside like smartphone, the term ‘smart TV’ not far behind.

When everything is smart, everything is connected, why give it a name at all? Home technology is perhaps a more accurate, catch-all label. Everything in the home, some of it smart, some of it connected – all of it a potential turnover boost for retailers and integrators.

Why does this matter? Well, for me it gets right to the nub of things. Breaking technology down into smaller categories – smart home, multi-room, home automation, etc – is a mistake in my opinion. It allows for cherry-picking and over-relying on certain skill sets – “I’m a home cinema installer” – ignoring potential revenue streams because they’re not part of “what we do”.

In some respects, the label ‘smart home’ is part of the problem. Sure, it’s a reasonably broad term, bringing to mind multi-room audio as much as iPad system control. But it also takes in intelligent lighting and window blinds, Internet-of-things refrigerators and voice-controlled anything. Facets of home technology grouped under the smart-home banner that you would perhaps not consider part of “what we do”.

When a customer books a table in a restaurant, the proprietor generally ensures that everything on the menu is available for consumption, including the wine, which he or she is highly unlikely to have produced. Why then would technology professionals shy away from offering everything on the home-tech menu – including intelligent lighting, IoT fridges and voice-controlled audio? Sure, package it all up as smart-home technology if you want, but for me it’s tech-in-the-home, plain and simple. And as it gets more and more intelligent, there are more and more opportunities for tech providers and installers to make an additional buck.

I realise it’s not as simple as that. A hi-fi specialist is unlikely also to offer a refrigerator to his or her customers, for instance. But you take my point: there are some elements of the smart home – or home technology – that are being under-exploited as a revenue stream by some of you – and it’s time to change that.

That might mean bringing a lighting professional on board, on a contract basis, or employing an IT expert to help with the ever-growing AV/IT convergence. But if you broaden your offer, and think of all home technology as something that you can take ownership of – as opposed to areas outside of your remit – then you’ll grow revenues and ultimately profits, too.

In the February issue of ERT, I wrote about Roon, and how it presents an opportunity to make additional hay from the triple-threat boom in vinyl, streaming and multi-room audio – expanding sales beyond turntables and Sonos speakers to include Roon-ready network players, MQA-ready DACs and media servers.

Is Roon smart? Yes, but not in the same way that Alexa is – it doesn’t learn. But, as stated, so much of so-called ‘smart’ technology is merely home technology with an up-to-date twist. Better to think of Roon as another new home-technology add-on. More intelligent and more connected? Possibly. An additional way of broadening revenue streams and growing your profits? Definitely.

Home technology is smarter now than it has ever been. It’s time to get equally smart and exploit the revenue opportunities available to you. Think smarter, not harder.

  • Main image: Savant Pro allows users to control their lighting, climate, entertainment and security from a single app