Understanding the Connected Home: Different kinds of things

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This blog post is an excerpt from Understanding the Connected Home, an ongoing exploration on the implications of connectivity on our living spaces. The whole collection is available as a (free) ebook: Understanding the Connected Home: Thoughts on living in tomorrow’s connected home

The home is full of things that fall into various categories: furniture, lamps, appliances, gadgets, etc. For the connected home, we might need to re-examine these categories.

Which categorization scheme might lead us to interesting insights? Let’s explore a few.

Connected v unconnected

The bluntest and most obvious categories. Binary, on/off. If we look at the last 10 years, this held up nicely: Table off, lamp off, phone on.

Over the last few years, the lines have started to blur: TV on or off? Fridge? Lamp? As more things come online, the distinction will become more or less meaningless – it might just be the default that changes.

Active v passive data processing

Which devices, which things, in our home actively listen/sense/interpret/process/act on what’s going on in the room? Which ones just sit there until we deliberately trigger them? Will we be able to distinguish these modes at all?

This one is interesting as already it shows how tricky these questions might be to navigate: Where does Amazon Echo fall on this spectrum? A smart TV? Siri? Nest?

Types of sensing

User acceptance varies wildly between different types of sensors in the home environment. For example, carbon monoxide detectors might be perceived as perfectly harmless whereas a microphone or camera is usually considered an invasion of privacy.

While this isn’t hugely surprising, it’s worth noting that even through consciously most people might reject the idea of having a microphone listening in on them, there are exceptions – Trojan horses if you will – that already have established themselves in our living rooms despite their (often active) microphones: Smartphones, laptops, game consoles, TVs to name just the more obvious. Increasingly, this list might grow to include things like personal assistants (Amazon Echo), fridges, ovens, home automation hubs: If it’s voice-controllable, it’s a small step to acive listening.

Special categories: routers, white goods

Two types of things seem to warrant their own categories as they might turn out to be special cases.

First, routers, which might turn out to be the hub that controls all our smart home infrastructure. It’s not clear this is how it’s going to play out, but it’s a strong scenario. Google’s new wifi router On Hub comes with all the protocols equipped, plus microphones and speakers.

Second, white goods – dishwasher, fridge, washing machine – have been the connected fever dream of manufactures for years. (The internet-connected fridge has become a running joke by itself.) There might be something there. Assume for a second that a scenario where we have a home server in every house; a local cloud solution of sorts. It’s a long shot, but the fridge might not be the worst place to house this device, or to double as a hub.

Key takeaways

  • We can derive valuable insights from re-examining the categories – the mental models – we sort the things in our apartments by.
  • The lines between categories are increasingly blurry.

This blog post is licensed under Creative Commons (by-nc).

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