The age of the smart home is here

Imagine this. You have travelled but want to make your house look occupied. One of the easiest ways to do this at night is switching lights on or off, so you either preset the function at regular intervals or do so remotely real time. Or you are on the way home from work in the evening and you want to preheat the oven so you can get right into cooking when you get there.

Well, imagine no more as such functions are now a reality.

The home environment is becoming one of the most wired, with the growing embrace of the smart home.

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Let’s come closer home. It is mid-morning in Nairobi’s Upper Hill district. Umut Goktepe, a manager at Lordship Africa, is taking us through a session on how to use Alexa call, a modern home technology by Amazon.

“Hello Alexa,” he calls from a gadget on his table. “Hello, this is 88 Nairobi reception (we are here about their latest development, the 88 Nairobi Condominium Tower). How can I help you?” somebody on the other end responds.

Umut takes a battery of journalists through the conversation to show how the technology will work. He says it is among the new technologies they will incorporate into the upcoming 44-storey development.

Virtual assistant

Alexa, a virtual assistant, is not new to tech lovers, and its capabilities are growing. It will be the home equivalent of Apple’s Siri or Windows’ Cortana on the mobile gadgets front. And as AI capabilities are explored, the going can only get better.

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In some places, it is possible, for instance, for fridges to alert home occupants whenever they are running out of milk or even help adjust a sprinkler schedule to account for weather in their gardens. This is what is now exciting the high-end home market in Kenya.

According to this year’s technology report release by technology experts Gartner, in a little more than two years to come, there will be 20.4 billion connected devices in the world. Companies are revolutionising the Internet of Things (IoT) in homes all over.

But who is putting out these devices? Several companies are in the forefront.

Among them is United States Amazon, Nest which is owned by Google’s parent company, Alphabet, Apple, August, and Philips who have developed the Wink And Hue that helps in controlling light in the house. Others leading the way in this space include Samsung whose gadgets already have a big presence locally.

“Samsung has introduced advanced voice capabilities to Family Hub that allow users to talk to the smart refrigerators to use it, making it possible to carry out a wide range of tasks, from looking inside the fridge to playing music, by simply speaking to the fridge,” says Samsung’s East Africa head of consumer electronics Charles Kimari.

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They announced that by 2020, all Samsung devices would leverage connectivity in preparation for the full-fledged smart home era.

He says they are working on the standardisation of global Internet of Things technologies, Samsung being a core member of the Open Connectivity Foundation.

He says Samsung has introduced in Kenya the Samsung Connect app, which is compatible with all devices and operating systems that allow users to control Samsung home products via cloud.

Some of the products used with the app include the Samsung air conditioners and washing machines, all available in Kenya.

Kimari says the introduction of the Family Hub’s Memo app, which allows family members to draw or type messages and record voice notes to send from their smartphones to the Hub, and vice-versa, will revolutionalise the smart home technology more: “Even kids without smartphones can send their parents messages through the smart refrigerator.”

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He says that one can even use Family Hub to help keep an eye on the little ones, making it easy to check on a sleeping baby in another room, see who is at the door when the doorbell rings, using the Ring app, and, when you’re ready for bed, turn off all the lights with a tap.

Lordship Africa chairman Jonathan Jackson says that smart home technology could soon be a factor when acquiring a home. “Remember, it was great carrying a cell phone 15 years ago. Very soon, smart home technologies will be a criteria for people and investors,” he says.

He says one will be able to add more devices controlled by Alexa like electrical devices, curtains, thermostats and locks.

Other real estate players are even making the smart home technology look bigger with more sophistication, especially for the security of their clients.

Impact on home prices

Johnson Denge, Cytonn Investment’s regional market manager, says that smart home technology is already changing the property market landscape.

“For the lower-middle-income buyer, smart home technology might not seem so critical for now, but the high-end clientele are asking for this kind of lifestyle,” Denge says. “Smart home technology increases the cost of the development by 10 to 20 per cent. However, the life of the resident becomes easier.”

In their Cytonn Towers development, they have smart home technology gadgets that use audio visual technology to guide residents to where there is parking space in the parking lot.

“Smart home technology will soon be an integral part of our community and developments without it will be less attractive,” Denge says.

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Smart homesElectronicsinterconnected homeAmazonAlexa call