Smart home, connected living

We’ve slipped into the digital world like a second skin – out of necessity, but not unwillingly. This new familiarity will probably have an impact on acceptance of the smart home idea too: it’s becoming more common for items in private homes to be connected with smart technologies, and interior design is adapting to this increasing connectivity. We’re bringing the world into the house – a top trend and a growth market. 

Mar 16 2021

© Illustration: Björn Steinmetzler, KoelnmesseThe smart home market encompasses the sale of connected appliances and associated services that permit home automation for private consumers (B2C). The appliances involved are directly or indirectly connected via the internet. Their main job is to control, monitor and regulate functions in a private household. According to the recent Digital Market Outlook study by Statista, global revenue in 2020 amounted to $77.3 billion.With the increasing digitalisation of private households and growing acceptance from occupants, revenue in the smart living market is expected to reach $175.7 billion by 2025.

In private homes too, the corona pandemic is acting as a catalyst in many areas: Connected Living provides greater convenience through automated routines and digitalised functions from the home office all the way to leisure activities, and in many cases even promotes improved hygiene – for instance as a result of touchless controls equipped with motion sensors and voice control technology. Connected Living simplifies life and reduces stress factors. A smart TV or robot vacuum cleaner are regarded as gateway appliances that open the door to the smart home world. 

A more digital way of living 

But there’s more to Connected Living than classic smart home applications like building services and building automation. Whereas until now smart home themes like energy management, air conditioning and above all security have been the “door-openers” for tech-savvy consumers and home builders, the experience of the pandemic and resulting lockdown has focused attention on the potential applications of digital networking: with home working and home schooling, Zoom and the internet, social media and streaming services, we’re bringing the world into our homes.

What’s more, almost every third German (31%) has made greater use of digital services like video chat consultations, streaming apps or digital finance tools as a result of the corona crisis (according to a population-representative study by digital insurance manager CLARK in collaboration with survey institute YouGov). Digitalisation has become the umbilical cord that keeps us in touch with the outside world. 

This experience has fundamentally changed many people’s relationship to the technicisation of their own four walls. Today many see Connected Living as a welcome possibility for networking – whether it’s for entertainment or work, sport or socialising, or to compensate for the lack of cultural activities. 

Interactive platforms like Peloton, Catapult or Vaha are particularly successful at closing the gap between virtual event and real experience – with a broad offering of fitness classes with or without the character of a live session, with a personal trainer, spin bike or smart workout mirror. The new concept is based on the combination of fitness, technology and media.

For a monthly membership fee, users can enjoy the studio experience in their own home and integrate it into their everyday lives at their own convenience. But the real success lies in the social dimension added by the group dynamic in live-stream training sessions or by individual input from a personal trainer. Peloton already has approx. 2 million paying subscribers worldwide, and the German market is attractive to providers on account of its well-known technophile tendencies and fondness of premium products.

The apps work on various devices, including smart TVs, tablets and smartphones, and the bikes, treadmills and mirrors are confidently integrated into the interior design. The Fitness Trend 2020 report by the American College of Sports Medicine predicts annual growth of approx. 6% for the home fitness equipment market until 2025. 

Target group appeal: early adopters, digital natives – but older people too 

The target group the Connected Living trend appeals to is as diverse as the topic itself. In addition to tech-savvy building owners who digitalise their new home completely, younger generations are particularly open-minded about smart home solutions. For them, Connected Living means something else than for building owners and architects: their perspective on smart equipment is very application-oriented and takes smart TV, online fitness classes and the availability of digital media in every room of the house for granted.

The majority of them are also open to voice assistants, wearables and people being connected with their home environment – an aspect that will take on a whole new quality. And under the aspect of universal design, Connected Living takes on a whole new meaning: for people with physical limitations, smart technologies, such as innovative lighting systems, make life in their own four walls considerably more convenient. 

Smarter living 

Can we use an app to grow herbs? Can a computer take care of plants to improve the indoor climate? Does the climate have an impact on building installations? Can a smart control system turn off the lights and coffee maker when we leave the home? Smart applications are becoming more and more multifaceted, reliable and easy to use, and they can be tailored to occupants’ concrete needs with increasing precision.

At the same time, smart technologies are increasingly becoming an integral part of the architecture too. Computer-controlled optimisation of the indoor air, innovative controls and functions for shower toilets, or anticipatory and energy-optimising control of the ambient temperature – more and more, smart technology is being integrated into our interiors.  

Lamps that double as Bluetooth speakers; bedside tables with cordless phone chargers; cabinets that provide mood lighting; mirror cabinets with multimedia functions, tables that adjust themselves to make sure we change position often enough and sofas that remember everybody’s favourite sitting position; lights that help us fall asleep and beds that gently guide us into a different position when we start snoring – technology is becoming an integral and preferably inconspicuous part of our furniture. 

Besides the general home automation trend, the kitchen is the room with the greatest degree of connectivity thanks to the many and varied options for connected kitchen appliances. In addition to ovens and kitchen appliances that can be synchronised with online recipe suggestions, the optimisation of day-to-day work routines is another innovation driver.  

The bathroom is increasingly experiencing a digital update as well. Here the focus is on improved heat and water management. Showers or bathtubs can access user profiles tailored to the individual needs of the occupants. Touchless taps aren’t just more convenient, they improve the standard of hygiene as well. And the private spa is increasingly being used for fitness. Multimedia monitors provide support in the form of needs-based content. And, in the next generation, technology will provide support for bathroom users young and old. 

More connected working 

First and foremost, however, the home office will become a permanent part of many interiors. Video calls and conferences aren’t just making people want to raise the aesthetic standard of the domestic backdrop; there’s more demand for integrating the technical equipment into the smart home technology as well. 

With the reduction in contacts necessitated by corona, millions of working people have set themselves up in a home office – and the majority of them feel just fine with that. According to a representative survey of 1,503 working Germans aged 16 or over conducted on behalf of digital association Bitkom, every fourth member of the working population (25% – approx. 10.5 million people) is now working exclusively from home. All in all, almost every second person (45%) is working at least partially from home. 

Home is becoming an AI-based hub: more personal and personalised user experiences 

The infrastructure within the home (think connectivity) and beyond is becoming increasingly important. Digital management of the energy supply is being complemented by autonomous units like pellet heating systems or solar energy – important topics for the smart home. But the growing importance of logistics for the organisation of the household will also call for a thoroughly analogue framework for service rooms and docking stations in apartment blocks and private houses. The vision: at some point, a robot will clear the table, load the dishwasher or tidy up a messy room.

Author: Frank A. Reinhardt

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Read more about "Connected Living" at the magazine by imm cologne

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