When presenting and discussing smart homes, I often talk about pseudo-smart homes – smart homes that are not actually smart. Most ‘smart homes’ are really electronic homes or connected homes.
Most homes have multiple standalone electronic systems (e.g. lighting control, security, access control, heating and cooling, music, television, data network etc.) that have varying levels of control, connectivity and integration with each other.
Modern homes implement are range of user interfaces, typically electronic switches, remote controls, touchscreens, mobile applications, and perhaps voice control. These user interfaces are mostly what I describe as ‘digital-analogue‘ user interfaces – analogue control that has been replaced by digital control.
Unless a digital-analogue user interfaces provide a solution to an identified problem, they will have little benefit in the design of a smart home, other than providing short term convenience.
Think of a traditional electric light switch – a switch that has a basic on or off state. Now think of a traditional dimmer light switch – a switch that has a rotary dimming pot next to it. The traditional switch is hard-wired to a lighting circuit, and doesn’t provide much flexibility.
Analogue user interfaces are very simple and easy to use, but can become very cumbersome and unsightful when controlling multiple inputs or devices. This is where electronic systems provide many advantages. Traditional analogue interfaces such as light switches, can be replaced with digital interfaces.
Typical electronic light switches have push buttons – press a button once to turn on, press it again to turn off. An electronic dimming system operates similarly but with the addition of dimming – press and hold the button to ramp up (make brighter), press and hold the button again to dim (make less bright).
Digital control can provide a higher level of convenience if functionality and usability is carefully considered, but they are not necessarily smart or intelligent. Many electronic control systems merely replicate analogue functionality by providing a digital interface.
Often, electronic control systems with their digital user interfaces (e.g. electronic switches, touch screens, mobile apps voice control etc.), provide a new level of complexity that can be counter intuitive, more difficult to use, and much more costly.
Homes needs to be designed and built with functionality and usability as a primary consideration. Electronic systems need to be integrated with the form and function of the building, rather than as an afterthought.
Control systems need to consider the applications of a space, and provide user interfaces that provide an optimal user experience that is simple and intuitive. This however, is easier said than done, but can be achieved with the right process.
Be aware of digital-analogue user interfaces – they may not be very smart, and may not be required.