Connected homes at Fuori Salone

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While in Milan to bring The Good Home to Fuori Salone, we tried to find some time to see what else is happening around connected homes. Turns out, a lot and not a lot at the same time.

Let me explain.

Every major exhibitor (kitchen manufacturers, etc.) has smart appliances of course – fridges, ovens, you name it. Also, smart lighting. Overall, a lot of home automation. Which is in the brief window of “kinda exciting” before, I suspect, going straight into banal in a very, very short time.

Going through the motions

But for all the novelty, overall it feels a bit like the big companies are merely going throught the motions. As if they’re ticking boxes off their bucket list: Smart light, check. Connected fridge, check.

I expect there’s a lot more interesting stuff coming up in a second wave of smart home products. For now, it seems there’s a lot of engineering and design power thrown at fairly minor problems.

At a (somewhat sterile, but very well done) corporate smart home exhibit in Puorta Nuova for example there was a touchscreen-equipped oven. When you pull up a recipe it can check in with the fridge to see if you have all the ingredients stocked. Interesting and convenient? Sure! Could I imagine using it? Maybe. Is it revolutionary? Hardly.

Smart homes crash

More importantly, at this same exhibit plenty of the exhibits wouldn’t work. They had crashed in the way that exhibits at fairs have always crashed. Only here it seems like it might not be a fair-specific issue but one with the whole category of product: If it’s connected, if it runs on a computer, it can and will crash. If the thing that crashes is an essential thing of our home, it sucks.

Failing infrastructure

When we think of infrastructure in the context of connectedness, security, and reliability we tend to think of “high risk” infrastructure: dams, power plants, public transport. This is the kind of connected infrastructure that gets a lot of attention in terms of security and quality assurance.

In the consumer space safety, security, and reliability is a different story with different (worse!) financial incentives to put as much effort into failsafes. Who’d pay twice the price for their kitchen appliance on the basis of security features after all?

However, I expect we’ll see a rethinking of that space. As we see more and more failures, as you hear of friends who can’t eat dinner because of a failed software upgrade or your fridge mis-orders food from Amazon or your heating will switch off in mid-winter because your wifi router goes down, we’ll start rethinking what infrastructure means in the home. After all, for decades we just assumed the appliances in our homes worked no matter what, because usually they did. (The occasional power outage is the exception that proves the rule. I still vividly remember a Christmas dinner during a storm-related power outage that we prepared in the fireplace – we were lucky we had one at the time!)

For now my impression is that the connected home is still in its infancy. This also means it’s a great time for our contribution through The Good Home. There’s much to be gained, many ideas to explored.