Making life easier and more secure with smart living
"Alexa, play me a song."
In markets such as the US, smart speakers have grown from a fad to popular to being commonplace. When Amazon released Alexa in 2015, the entire market was worth $188 million, according to Gartner. By 2017, it grew to $2.2 billion and competitors such as Google and Apple joined the race.
The smart living boom only happened once smart speakers appeared. Smart speakers blend intuitively with connected environments, where wireless networks and broadband Internet are available. This realised the decades-old dream of a smart home that responds to its inhabitants and their needs.
“It’s almost crazy if you think about it,” says Julian Seiderer, Country Manager Intrusion for Sub-Saharan Africa at Tyco Security Products. “The original approach to smart homes was to design a system that people would then move into. Instead, once current homes got basic digital infrastructure, then devices appeared to make normal homes smart. We now have digital ecosystems through which smart homes can grow organically.”
A variety of smart products have been appearing in the past decade or so. But speakers opened the doors and those other products started to find larger audiences. From thermostats that follow voice commands to doorbells that tell you who’s knocking, these could show their worth and integrate like never before.
Security, in particular, has been enjoying a leap into the future. Today, an Airbnb host can integrate that app with smart locks. Unique codes can be provided to guests, who use the app to unlock everything authorised to them. Some of the world’s best hotels can’t even provide this. But it’s a relatively uncomplicated product for Airbnb spots. This is how accessible smart living has become.
A more secure world
South Africa has not yet adopted smart living to the levels seen in many developed countries. But there is certainly a growing market here.
“Compared with other major countries worldwide, South Africans are a bit behind in adopting smart home and smart living technologies, but it’s growing,” says Seiderer. “Already, smart home devices are in about 5% of South African homes, and the indications are that this will double in the next four to five years.”
Smart security can be a catalyst for that growth, covering crime safety as well as other hazards such as fire or flooding. Security is a major concern for the country, but it also functions as a good platform for other smart living systems. For example, automated lights and blinds are both helpful and act as useful deterrents to would-be burglars. A smart doorbell is convenient as well as secure since it can send a photo of the visitor to a smartphone.
Breakthroughs in smart technologies also create efficiencies that in turn lower costs. Modern smart CCTV cameras can distinguish between important and unimportant activities, saving on storage and reducing false alarms. Modularity and integration make deployment more seamless. Today, it’s common to offer integration with something like Alexa or to allow other peripherals to use your ecosystem.
No wonder Statista estimates sales in South Africa for smart home technologies will reach almost $300 million in 2019, spread across 500 000 households. But while there is a growing smart living market, it’s important to realise that successful smart living products need a solid foundation, says Seiderer:
“It’s been shown numerous times that many connected devices are not secure and can be easily compromised. Many also don’t work as well as they should. That’s because they need a secure and reliable ecosystem to secure them. For example, a customer might invest in a lot of smart living products, but then use a low-end router that can’t handle the traffic thrown at it. Now you can’t log into the home’s video streams or now your smart speaker gets stuck trying to follow your commands. Smart quickly becomes dumb because of one device.”
Smart living is a growing choice for South Africans. There will be many opportunistic suppliers that will sell unreliable and poorly designed products to the market. This is an opportunity for ethical companies to stand apart from the crowd. By partnering with the right smart living vendors, they can create the ecosystems that let smart living do what we all want: convenience right in our own homes.