Smartphones are a sign of the speed of change that our homes may soon face. These rapid lifecycles bring risks, such as security vulnerabilities and broken devices. There's an urgency to address these issues now, as well as innovation opportunities, to ensure throughout that the home remains a place that puts humans first.
The speed of change
In 2007, Apple released the first iPhone. Shortly thereafter in 2008, Google released its first Android device. At the time of writing, those milestones are just shy of a decade ago.
These touchscreen smartphones represent a threshold in the evolution and adoption of the phone. In the years prior, there had been a range of exploratory devices, such as Nokia's first clamshell phone and PDAs running PalmOS that one could interact with using a stylus.
Since the advent of the iPhone and Android, we've seen entire industries and social practices boom. App stores, accessories, the rise of mobile photography, messaging, payment and more.
HTC Dream mobile phone with AZERTY keyboard for French market. By Akela NDE, CC BY-SA 3.01
If anything, the last decade shows us how quickly new technologies can be picked up and become mundane in their ubiquity. We anticipate a similar trajectory for the connected home.
While today's connected objects can be clunky and exploratory, there will be some iconic releases or "must have" devices that change how people see this space: The iPhone moment of the connected home.
After this threshold, there will be electronics and connectivity in many of our everyday objects. At this stage, the speed of change of our built environment will begin to resemble that of our computing environment. The lifecycle of things in our homes will be shortened dramatically.
Software will need to be patched. Devices will be rendered incompatible and obsolete. Entire services will rise and fall in months.
Our homes will move at the speed of our smartphones—or faster. The era of the "disrupted home" is coming.
With this speed of innovation comes volatility and unpredictability. As a result, we will likely see an increase in waste and exploitation. There will be vulnerabilities and security breaches. If history teaches us anything, it is to expect these patterns, as we've seen them with many technological advances before.
With that knowledge, we can approach the connected home with some understanding of what is to come.
For example, let's look at security. As our built environment begins to change at the speed of software, our homes may experience new kinds of security vulnerabilities.
A smart lock system is installed in your front door. The company who makes the locks goes bankrupt. There is no longer a support service to maintain your locks. At some point, your locks might get jammed, or hacked, or become incompatible with your smartphone's latest update. You can no longer patch security bugs in your smart lock. And the lock on your front door is no longer in your control.
These scenarios abound2 and serve as a reminder that how a product ends its lifecycle is just as important as how it begins.3 Considerations such as security must be addressed not only at the moment of purchase, but in anticipation for how the object will be used for years to come.
From installment, to use and maintenance, to upgrading, to uninstalling and dismantling, technology must be in service to humans and put our concerns and needs first.
Privacy as an opportunity
There aren't many connected homes today. Similar to smartphone proliferation, it might take a decade for products to go from invention to widespread adoption.
Exceptions may be in some cities, such as in South Korea, where large-scale network infrastructure is being installed directly into the new buildings. In other places, retro-fitting is a more common path to connectedness, and that will likely move at a slower pace.
For a glimpse of what the connected home may be like, we can examine the trajectories of other connected environments, such as retail spaces, office buildings, and hotels.
Already our behavior in these spaces is being tracked. As we move through the city, into stores and offices, in transit and on our devices, many systems are recording what we look at, what we click on and what we do.
Due to the generally temporary and transactional nature of our interactions in those spaces, we tend to use them with less emotional investment and critical thinking than our homes. For example, in a high street store, we may be more accepting of privacy-diminishing interactions4 if they come with financial gain or if they seem, frankly, unavoidable.
Mannequiner i en tøjbutik i Canada. By Colin Rose, CC BY 2.05
Similarly, on the web, advertising companies are particularly aggressive in how they track us.6 Through consumer education and protection as well as browser tools like ad blockers and Do Not Track, we can mitigate these tracking measures. However, it is basically an arms race with online advertising. Our privacy is increasingly eroded, and our web experiences slowed down as ad companies try to ensure we are humans and serve us tailored ads.
We are seeing parallels in online tracking and behavior tracking in the physical world. As this trend continues, we need to ensure we can make informed decisions whether to enter these spaces and what information we consent to giving. Connected spaces, similar to websites, should communicate what data they are collecting, how it's being used, and how to opt out.
Going forward, the tracking dilemmas we're facing in streets, stores and in our online lives will confront us in the home.
For anyone making connected products today, there is a huge opportunity to build in better privacy and control of personal data. Companies can innovate by offering higher default settings, better controls over how personal data is collected and shared, as well as assurances when data is deleted.
These privacy tools will be features that people increasingly seek out, as the prevailing practices of tracking in our online lives and in public spaces encroaches into our home.
The home is for humans
There's an urgency to figure out these issues. A lot is at stake, from our personal data, to safety and the health of our relationships and interactions at home.
As with the advent of smartphones, we will need to revisit vocabularies,7 literacies, and ways to negotiate preferences and resolve digital conflicts in the connected home.
The future is one that promises augmentation. But the only kind of connection and augmentation we want is one that we can fully read, control and participate in, and then, whenever we want, turn off.
We will continue to explore concepts and scenarios that bring these risks and opportunities to life. And throughout, we will be guided by the understanding that above all else, no matter what technology can, the home is for the people living in it.
1. By Akela NDE: commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/User:Akela_NDE, Own work. Licensed CC BY-SA 3.0: creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0/, available at commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=6680413. ↩
2. For a recent example, learn more about how Alphabet company Nest killswitched one of its home automation products, Revolv, and explained to customers how the warranty had expired: boingboing.net/2016/04/05/google-reaches-into-customers.html ↩
3. For more thinking about how products and services should end, see Joe Macleod's Closure Experiences: closureexperiences.com ↩
4. EyeSee mannequins, for example, recognize retail customers' faces and record their movements in a store. theverge.com/2012/11/20/3670222/almax-eyesee-dummy-retail-facial-recognition-privacy ↩
5. By Colin Rose: flickr.com/photos/73416633@N00 Licensed CC BY 2.0: creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0, available at commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=3214087. ↩
6. The documentary "Do Not Track" by Brett Gaylor explains the perils of tracking and practical measures to reducing it: donottrack-doc.com ↩
7. There is a growing number of apps and services to offer unified interfaces. San Francisco-based startup Thington (thington.com) offers a simple concierge-like interface that aims to bring all smart home devices into one app based on their APIs. It's an easy-to-use approach with intelligent, well-designed interactions. Other approaches that are even more explicitly conversational include the smart home hubs Amazon Echo and Google Home, both of which bring voice control into the home (and fold their respective mother companies' services right in). ↩