Where is Smart Home Technology Really Going?

smart home technology


Don’t laugh, but I’m still working from an iPhone 4. By today’s technology calendar, I’m light years away from being up to date. At a recent conference, a young colleague laughed and said he didn’t know anybody who still had one. A search on Apple’s website for anything iPhone 4 yields no results.

While it’s notably behind the technological curve compared to the four updates since, and casts an obvious personal social shadow, the phone has served my basic needs. But, it is time for a new one, and once retired, she’ll be sent to the boneyard.

Upgrading my SLR camera for the first time in 10 years over the weekend served a more pertinent lesson in the value of obsolete technology. A new Canon 80D is so much better, features great video and megapixels out of this hemisphere – all for a tidy $2,000.

The old Canon 30D, one that cost about that same price new and has been my running mate at professional venues since 2006, now is a relic. Like a used car, the trade-in value is peanuts.

But, the camera and phone beg the real question: Who would want something so obsolete?

Personal device upgrades, control challenge home systems

Such is a point that Richard Holtz hammered home recently discussing the adoption of smart home technology in multifamily and student housing. Holtz is the CEO of InfiniSys Electronic Architects, a Florida company that since 1990 has specialized in designing low-voltage technology solutions including wired and wireless Internet systems for student and market rate apartment communities.

Holtz says that one big problem that apartment owners face in embracing a full-scale smart home is that each time technology upgrades, other technology can become out of date. For example, a newer cellphone may no longer communicate with some smart devices it operates inside an apartment.

Compounding the problem is that property management isn’t going to upgrade smart devices, without, of course passing the cost along to residents who don’t expect to pay much more in rent for smart technology.

Further, property owners face a dilemma as residents move in and out of units while technology advances. An apartment equipped with smart features may satisfy the resident for the two or three years of occupancy, much like that iPhone 4 or camera. But when the unit becomes vacant and newer technology has entered the market, marketability may be compromised. If the apartment is not fully upgraded, leasing may be tougher.

“Phones are obsolete as soon as you sign up for them,” Holtz said. “So think about the rental property owner, same problem. That’s why I tell people your wi-fi system is only good for three years. Not that they’re bad, it’s because the phones have changed. That’s what causing the problem.”

smart home technology

Key is to figure out interoperability in apartment units

But the real obstacle lies within the ability for all devices to cost effectively communicate with each other and be easy for resident and management to use and maintain. The golden challenge, Holtz says, is for someone to economically figure out interoperability from unit to unit.

InfiniSys, which first began offering networked apartment solutions in 1990, has designed SmartApartment® and NetworkedApartment® infrastructure for more than 400,000 units across the country, including interoperable, manageable clubhouses. When it comes to unit-level control systems, the company typically works with owners and advises them what they can and can’t do.

“As owners you can put this technology in, but remember you have an intrinsic operating cost you’re going to have to cover,” Holtz said. “Who goes back and resets everything when the resident moves out? It’s not the guy who un-stuffs the toilet. When the resident has a technical problem, who do they call?”

Just keeping up with network needs for changing technology is enough in itself, especially in the student housing market. Holtz said networks have about a 75 percent effectiveness rate of keeping up “when kids come with their toys and technology” on campus. Add thermostats, door locks and other smart home components without a management layer – someone from the leasing who controls the system and has the ability to reset everything when a resident moves in and moves out – then things are going to get hairy.

With total system management, smart home technology will respond

The inability to connect the dots may seem hard to fathom in this day and age.

Smart home technology dates to the mid-1970s is most recognizable by Unity Systems, the origination home automation company founded by Tom Riley more than 30 years ago. Unity Systems championed touchscreen-based graphical interfaces for a home manager system that sold for $5,000-$15,000 in the late 1980s. The touchscreens enabled owners to permit access to various rooms in the home or business and activate or deactivate using a touch-tone phone.

Today, technology has vastly broadened the definition of home management to remote access for door locks, thermostats, window blinds, energy saver devices and more. Many components are available at electronics stores for a fraction of the cost three decades ago.

The technology now appears to be greater than what is needed to satisfy this tech-lustful generation. After all, we have car doors that open at the touch of the human hand.

Holtz cautioned that he’s not a pessimist; the practical symbioses of home technology is coming, maybe as soon as a couple of years. But he discounts the perception that it’s about to burst through the walls of multifamily. A lot of work between the developers and manufacturers need to be done to reach a compatible, affordable and manageable solution.

And as younger generations age, the grounds for further development gets richer.

“Today, it’s about bandwidth and the future ability to add these things once they become a lot easier, as they become more real and as we have a management layer,” he said. “Once a management layer exists where the property staff can manage it, then it makes sense to start doing it.”

Incidentally, Holtz just upgraded the InfiniSys office with iPhone 7s. Guess I’d better do the same to keep the ball rolling.


Contributing Editor, Property Management Insider
President, Ballpark Impressions, LLC

author photo two

Tim Blackwell is a long-time publishing and printing executive in the Dallas/Fort Worth area who writes about the multifamily housing and transportation industries. He has contributed numerous articles to Property Management Insider, and worked as a newspaper reporter in the D/FW area. Blackwell is president of Ballpark Impressions, and publishes the Cowcatcher Magazine. He is a member of the Fort Worth Chapter/Society of Professional Journalists.

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