122 devices and counting: Creating a smart home should not be this difficult!

If the Olympics had an event for how often you forgot to lock up your house when you went away on business, I’d win gold.

(Of course, that’s back when we actually travelled.)

I challenge anyone to have better stories than mine about leaving my home insecure. On one trip I was in China before I realized I’d left my garage door open and my car unlocked. I’m very good at focusing on my work, but the problem is that laser focus is very narrow. Everything else gets forgotten!

So having a connected home — with all of my 122 devices connected and accessible remotely — is very important to me. OK…admittedly, it’s also fun getting your kid out of bed in the middle of the night by turning lights on and off from the other side of the world.

Fortunately, I like to explore and understand how things work. One of the advantages of being a part of the software engineering community is that you can actually experiment with different interfaces, protocols and APIs, to try to get all the different gadgets and systems and devices in your home to work together.

One of the disadvantages of being a software engineer is that you discover pretty quickly how difficult this can actually be.

Which is a shame, because I think all of us would like to get our devices working together without having to spend hours failing at the attempt. As I said in an earlier article, the technology should not have to rely on the technical expertise of the user.

Standards are great — if only they were standard!

I live in downtown Austin, Texas, and I have a yard with a gate, not a garage. I wanted to fit a device to the gate so that couriers can deliver parcels to me using their apps to open it.

It’s common enough for garage doors or side gates, less so for yard gates, so I thought I’d buy and adapt a garage door system. There are connectivity standards for garage doors and gates, that are designed to allow you to connect them to your home networks and to apps that open and close them. But I spent more hours than I care to remember failing to integrate this device and the software protocols into my home wifi network. Either the server wouldn’t connect, or the hub wouldn’t connect. In the end, the garbage collector took the device away in the weekly collection.

Connecting devices together must be easier than this. Interconnectivity across devices and making it easy for devices with very different applications to work together would ruin it for a software engineer with too much time on his or her hands but it would be the right option for everyone else. Integration and interconnection are now a must for all of us, at work and at home, because work and home have become two parts of a bigger whole.

An integrator’s dream (or nightmare)

My home has 122 devices (and counting) connected to my home wifi network.

I have my thermostats connected to motion sensors, my garden sprinklers connected to weather apps and my outdoor lighting (so that the sprinklers don’t work if the lighting is on), and of course my music and photo collections connected to speakers and my desktop devices.

The latest device that I recently connected is my Vespa scooter, which I use to go shopping. (I keep my superbike for longer journeys and for weekend race days.)

Part of the difficulty in connecting all of these devices is different standards but another is the battle of the ecosystems that’s taking place in the market.

It’s a problem that’s constraining market growth and creating huge disadvantages for users. Single smart device penetration of households is 85%. Multiple smart device penetration is 40%, and fully-integrated homes is less than 1%. The market is growing in single-device deployment, creating a very limited customer experience. Because of the battle of the ecosystems, the benefits of having multiple devices integrated in your home, workplace, or across multiple locations are not flowing through to users as they should.

It’s one of the reasons Lenovo works with all the main industry partners: To provide users with all the choices they could want, and integrate those choices to meet the user’s needs.

And let me tell you, my home is the battleground!

The Bergman home: a prototype for the future

Although I work for Lenovo, I’m agnostic when it comes to devices and what I want to do with them: Lenovo, Apple, Google, Synology, Sonos, and many more can be found in my home, alongside the thermostats, the garden gate and the Vespa.

I have a private cloud connected to a 12 terabyte NAS. That stores about 900 4K movies, all my music, thousands of photographs, and all the apps needed to connect all the devices in my house to each other.

The whole network is of course managed from my Lenovo laptop.

I can ask my network for photos taken at Joe’s Diner in April two years ago, or featuring a friend or family member, and it finds them for me.

If I change rooms while I’m watching a movie, it switches the speakers.

And my smartphone acts as a geofencing locator. When I leave home, the house knows I’ve gone, and turns off what needs to be turned off, and locks all my doors and windows.

(I might also have to program it to know where the Vespa is parked, so that it doesn’t get wet if the sprinkler system comes on.)

What makes this real is a horizontal approach to integration, which is our strategy at Lenovo, designed to embrace and integrate multiple devices from multiple vendors across multiple ecosystems, with a simple user interface that makes it easier to set things up.

This is really important because the last 12 months have seen everyone move faster towards work-from-anywhere hybrid models, with devices anchored to the person, not the place and definitely not the device vendor. According to research from Statista Smart Home, Deloitte IOT and McKinsey Connected Homes , the smart home market will be worth US$195 billion by 2025, and the average number of connected devices in homes will grow from 11% to 25% by 2025.

Time to be smart about smart homes

What will deliver those types of growth numbers will be the removal of pain points — complex set-ups, insecure devices, and so forth. We need more cross-device functionality, multi-brand management, and interface and integration protocols capable of integrating new devices in the future.

That’s where we are today with implementing smart homes. It’s like giving your kids a LEGO set for Christmas but taking out 150 of the pieces. It makes it very difficult to build the set, and creates a poor user experience. Your pets might suffer as a result. We’re missing too many important pieces. Connectivity is difficult to do. Protocols and standards don’t work. Security is compromised. (Smart homes can be a hacker’s dream.)

Yet the benefits are epic. We all want smart homes to work. We want them to know where we are, and whether we want to watch a movie or do work. We want to be able to add our new Tesla when we’ve bought one, and to know that we’ve driven our Vespa to the local store and that it needs to be filled up with petrol on the way home.

All of the elements needed for smart homes are here. We now just need to make them work together.

Originally published on LinkedIn.

Vice President of Cloud & Software at Lenovo