‘Smart home’ refers to the ability to control household devices remotely, usually by linking with a smartphone. Such devices include entertainment systems, heating, lighting and security systems and have been around for several years in certain forms.
While many of the smart home concepts appear to be science fiction, smart home technology has already achieved some penetration. A YouGov survey reported that almost a quarter of all UK households currently own at least one smart home device. The most widely-adopted smart home devices are smart speakers featuring voice recognition, with 11% penetration. Interestingly, smart speakers seemingly act as the ‘gateway drug’ to further smart home adoption, with owners of smart speakers far more likely to own other smart devices such as thermostats and security systems. However, the number of homes with a combination of devices is still very low, at around 1%.
Figure 1: Proportion of smart device owners with another smart device
Source: YouGov survey
Adoption of at least some smart home devices will be widespread far sooner than 2040, with PWC reporting that the number of people expressing an intention to introduce smart home technology within the next two years doubled between 2016 and 2018.
There is much to suggest that smart home products will be almost universally adopted by 2040. The pace of technological uptake has been rapid over recent years, demonstrating consumers’ appetite for new technology. In 1998, just 9% of households had internet access, but by 2017 this had risen to 90%.
The most significant barrier to smart home technology penetration currently is cost (cited by 38% of consumers who do not own smart home technology). Technology typically becomes cheaper over time so by 2040 this is not likely to prove to be a significant factor. There are clear parallels here with the adoption of home internet.
There are factors that might slow the rate of uptake and prevent the home of 2040 looking like the vision presented by The Jetsons. The second most cited reason for not adopting smart technology is data privacy (22%) and even 11% of early adopters cited concerns regarding data privacy. News stories of toothbrushes having access to smartphone microphones, snooping on conversations and smart speakers allowing burglars to remotely unlock doors have gained much attention. Furthermore, the concept of a smart speaker always listening can be unsettling to even the most open-minded tech enthusiast. These concerns might be one reason why only one in five households that were offered a smart electricity meter wanted one.
However, consumers’ concerns about technology tend to be overcome in time, in proportion to their sheer usefulness. Stricter data protection regulations may also go some way to alleviate fears, breaking down barriers for those who want to have a handy way of monitoring how many eggs they have in their fridge without being spied on while they scramble them.
If the pace of home internet penetration were to be matched by that of smart speaker penetration, then it’s reasonable to forecast that 90% of all homes will have some sort of smart voice recognition system by 2040 and therefore the proportion of other smart devices for such systems to control will also be very significantly larger. Extrapolating current trends, around half of homes might have smart lighting and heating.
The wider spatial consequences of all of this technology are difficult to foresee: at the city level, implications seem to be confined to the enormous amount of telecommunications capacity necessary to power it. The immense volume of data generated by these devices might also prove useful to utilities providers to help them predict and manage demand.