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Session Name: Designing a Smarter Home
Please welcome your MC Chris Albrecht back to the stage.
Chris Albrecht 01:29
Welcome back everybody. Delicious lunch today, I had to say. Good work from our caterers. Whoever they are, thank you so much. We’re just going to roll right through because you guys know the deal. You’ve been here for a day and a half now, I don’t need to go through the housekeeping kinds of things. I’m just going to bring out to the stage my colleague, Stacy Higginbotham. She’s Senior Writer for GigaOM. She’s going to be talking with Mark Rolston, the Chief Creative Officer for frog and Tony Uttley, the VP and GM, ECC Home Americas Region for Honeywell about designing a smarter home. Please welcome Stacy and the panel out to the stage.
Stacy Higginbotham 02:12
This is my first time on this stage. I’m really excited. Hi y’all. How are you all doing? I am super excited about this because I am like the smart home geek. I write about this all the time. I’ve got like 40 connected devices. I’m constantly playing around with sensors. I was super excited to be able to do this. If you haven’t looked at it yet, make sure you stop by and talk to the Honeywell thermostat. Its conversation isn’t scintillating, but it’s very functional.
Anthony Uttley 02:42
It’s fun to have it speak back.
Stacy Higginbotham 02:43
It is. You can’t hear it as well. We’ll talk about that. First of all, I just wanted to get you guys to talk about your vision for the connected home. I’ll let you go first because your vision is what I want now. Now after hearing it.
Mark Rolston 02:59
It’s maybe a little further out than what Tony’s working on. I look at it this way, as a design organization, we get asked to solve a lot of computing related problems. For years, it’s been very, very device-centric. What we’re starting to see of course is the problems we’re being asked to solve are smaller and smaller gaps. Basically small bits of people’s lives that a computer can help with, but the overhead that a device entails is just not necessarily a practical solution for a lot of these new opportunities. You start to realize that the environment you’re in is a great stage for solving these problems. To me, the vision that we’ve been pursuing recently – and we started to see some beachheads in – is using the home, for example. It’s one of the environments that we tend to be in often – the office being the other – as the framework for computing instead of device being the framework. You end up with lots of beautiful opportunities. What I’d say is my very personal passion is to see the beauty and the opportunity of computing. You might see the super powers that it entails, but without having the device, I need to babysit all the time delivering that. Instead I want just the environment to help me out. Like I said, there’s beachheads. Microsoft Xbox One comes out and this thing is on all the time and able to do a few things. It’s a beachhead. It’s one place in the house, it will do a few things, but it can grow. These guys have a thermostat that you can talk to. It’s still a device, but hopefully your mind shifts to just thinking of it as part of the room and you can talk to the room. Maybe one day instead of just saying turn up the temperature, I can do something like order pizza, or ask it a trivia question. I can do other general things to it.
Stacy Higginbotham 04:58
What are these small gaps, before we go further? I think that will help.
Mark Rolston 05:02
There’s a lot of them. Unlocking doors, changing the temperature, identifying a person, identifying where people are. Think of all the things that you do today with a phone, or you might imagine doing, that you could do effectively without the screen. Siri, for example, I think is kind of stuck in a box, and all the other voice recognition. Imagine how useful, or how interesting, how much Siri might be able to solve if it wasn’t bound by the device, but simply you just imagined it was around you. I don’t mean this as crazy Star Trek stuff, I mean it as a microphone on the wall. Basically, my smartphone essentially glued to the wall, ready to respond when I need it. To me that’s a huge design opportunity, and you do actually see it practically happening with things like the thermostat that they’ve got on display. It’s a start.
Stacy Higginbotham 05:59
Which is not a smartphone glued to the wall.
Stacy Higginbotham 06:02
Tony, what do you see happening? Maybe you’re going to be a little more realistic.
Anthony Uttley 06:09
Because I have to go make it?
Mark Rolston 06:10
Yes. Thank God.
Anthony Uttley 06:13
It comes a little bit from how we think about the connected home to begin with. I think as we’ve put a lot of thought into it over the last couple of years, connecting a home just by itself doesn’t necessarily mean a whole lot. It’s the connection of the people inside that house that really matter – The family inside that house. You can imagine a situation where it starts to know you. It starts to know you as a family, it starts to know you as an individual. When you come home, your home welcomes you. It’s like a dog owner that comes home and the dog is wagging it’s tail. The future of a connected home is your house is sitting there wagging it’s tail, ready for you to come home. It’s not just about is the temperature set right for me, it is the things that feel like it knows you enough to light up when you come home. To get some of the things in the house ready for you. That’s really the future of the connected home.
Stacy Higginbotham 07:18
How do we make that easy? In my home, I can actually program – it’s programming for dummies, like me. It’s a GUI interface that I tell it what to do – I can actually have my lights and my thermostat all set, and I can turn on my music. All of that can happen. I don’t leave my home because I work there, but theoretically this could happen. But it’s a lot of work. I don’t see a lot of normal people being really excited about like, I can set my playlist on my Sonos and now when I open the door, the lights come on and this happens. How do I get that?
Mark Rolston 07:55
I just think they’re castoffs of a lot of technology that used to be just focused on workstation level computing. You think of what’s inside of a Nest today used to be the hot end of a laptop you might buy for thousands of dollars. That is driving the trend, and that’s opening the door for design opportunities to solve for what our trivial gaps – in the greater scheme of life – with a lot of computing horsepower to solve it in elegant ways. It’s simply instead of brute force solving it, like you’ve done in your house – She is the alpha geek of smart homes – you can begin to do it in elegant ways to where people in Tulsa, Oklahoma find it satisfying and easy enough to do.
Anthony Uttley 08:48
That’s the threshold. We used to have that in smartphones. Before the iPhone there were things like Nokia smartphone. Only a few people would invest the energy and time to make that a workstation.
Mark Rolston 08:58
It becomes how intuitive can it be. You do it likely because you’re not just connecting things together, you have some solution you are trying to create. I’m tying these things together because I expect that if I come home, it’s going to turn on music because I love to come home to a house that has music on. You’re creating a solution that you want to be solved. Thinking about it from that standpoint, not saying I’m going to create a device that’s connected or another device that’s connected, but I’m going to create a solution to a need that is out there. What are my kids doing when I’m gone? Did they make it home safe from school? That need is that you trace it all the way back.That you can start to solve now with a connected home environment.
Stacy Higginbotham 09:47
What I liked when I talked to your guys about the thermostat, I actually commanded it the wrong way. I told it, “Make it 68 degrees in here and–
Anthony Uttley 09:58
Did it correct you?
Stacy Higginbotham 10:00
It just blew up. It was like, I don’t know what that means. They told me that actually you guys are crowdsourcing, so my incorrect command– maybe in a couple of weeks, it will now be able to respond to make it 68 degrees. How will your home learn and how do you start thinking about that when you’re designing these systems? No one wants to have some weird vocabulary for their home like, Make the set point 73 degrees. That’s just as weird as me doing my little GUI interface to make it happen.
Anthony Uttley 10:39
That’s why you can’t do that. It’s part of the beauty of the connection. What is the connection for? Often times, the connection is because I want to remote control something. That’s what a lot of people do with that remote connection. It also allows me to make the experience richer. We’ve done that. You can make the experience richer when you can tap into this knowledge base that exists out there that you wouldn’t ever be able to put into that device. Is the 99.9% use case for a thermostat is that you’re turning the temperature up and down? Yes, it is. But, what else might people say to it? What might you want it to go do? That’s the kind of things that when you are listening to what homeowners want, what homeowners are saying, now you can actually build that into the vocabulary. I actually have a way now to talk to you in your own home.
Mark Rolston 11:29
I think there’s this iceberg analogy to what’s making products more interesting today. What’s above the surface is what we can see and touch. The thermostat, you see the knob and it’s beautiful. But really what’s making the smart home interesting now is there is enough horsepower to do things like employ data in mass – behavioral data – employ algorithm, employ policy to make stronger decisions, and reduce the chance of error. The other side is innovations in the interface. Instead of just filling the house with more knobs – which is kind of the threat that the smart home posed to a buyer only a few years ago – we can make it ideally invisible. No evident devices at all. Bring to bear things like computer sight – I make a gesture – and computer voice – voice recognition – and maybe projection to show displays when and where I need it, but then go away. I don’t want a black box on the wall.
Anthony Uttley 12:33
Use them together. It’s not only employing these new interface techniques, but using them in concert to do things like– I showed you the prototype in Austin where, to control the lights, you feel kind of dorky like Jean-Luc Picard trying to say, “Turn on light number one.” And the gestures, to do that by itself is also too gross. Like do this or something. But together,”Turn that on” is reasonable for a computer to understand and differentiate from the otherwise crazy hand waving that might be going on, and do something for you. You’re willing to do that in a crowd of people and not feel like an idiot.
Stacy Higginbotham 13:15
I wave my hands like a crazy person all the time, so I would be okay.
Anthony Uttley 13:20
This is happening and I think it is this combination of techniques. Like I said, the castoffs of what once was workstation grade technology is coming down to the point where you can employ those things.
Stacy Higginbotham 13:32
Basically, he just said that we’re not going to have any devices on my wall. As a company that makes a device that’s on my wall, how do you feel about that? What is the future of a company if everything’s just data and this invisible database? Where does that leave Honeywell?
Mark Rolston 13:49
It’s funny, we do get those calls quite often. At the end of the day, something has to actuate something else somewhere along the line. It’s like I can have a great concept, but unless you have somebody walk in and actually go do it, it doesn’t get implemented. There is going to be the days where there’s just a sensor. Everything else that exists can exist maybe in your smart tablet or your smartphone, but to actuate some of the things that are going on to make this happen… We don’t think of ourselves as making thermostats. We think of ourselves as home comfort. We think of ourselves as making a healthy home. When you do humidification, when you do air purification, when you do zoning within a house to be able to make sure that this room can be comfortable compared to that room. That’s creating that environment, and to do that takes actuation still today. I think it’s coming, and it will come in pieces, and we want it to come. It’s part of the beauty of having a connected environment.
Anthony Uttley 14:59
Again, if you think of yourself as being the thing that’s connected, not the home, then it can know me. I can get it to my vehicle and my vehicle can know me as I drive to work. Then when I get to work, work can know me. It becomes the individual, the family, the entity that becomes connected. There’s going to be little pieces that go and do all that.
Mark Rolston 15:20
We’re going to participate in both of it. We’re going to have the devices but we’re also going to have the experience that’s been designed around it.
Anthony Uttley 15:26
There’s a twist to this invisibility story. It’s not simply that everything goes away, but it goes from the point where I have to have the thing on the wall to get the value it brings, to where I choose to put it on the wall as part of the overall story of the house. It’s like putting photos on the wall. A lot of the thermostats that are being made today, as an example, they’re beautiful. It’s a fashion statement, it’s a statement I’ve invested in this platform. The truth is, you could solve the problem without anything being very evident and use your smartphone. Most of the interaction with these things is through the smartphone, but we choose to also put a beautiful object up there. It moves from being a necessary affordance, to being symbolic. It means choice in terms of what shape, how much it’s evident. Some people choose total invisibility, want a traditional looking home. Some people choose a very technologically evident visual experience. It becomes a fashion statement at that point. It’s a beautiful window.
Mark Rolston 16:28
In the past, technology came with an expectation of more and more information visible. That added complexity, so you just had more and more complex things show up. I think one of the things that’s come with connectivity is I can return to having simplicity on the wall. I can make it the thing that it needs to do, and I can have it look beautiful, and I can have it even bring a little joy. The complexity can go somewhere else. If you’ve done it in a really good way, it can just be intuitive. Now it can now what I want it to go do.
Stacy Higginbotham 17:06
I’m excited by the idea of actually having more sensors. If you can embed humidity sensors, even air quality throughout the home, that’s actually far more valuable. I’m going to give you a twist here because this is what I’m really excited about, i want to be able to buy either Honeywell or somebody else’s – I won’t name your competitors here on stage – Honeywell, just Honeywell. I want them to work for example with my blinds. I would love for my thermostat – which is smart – to be like, I bet if she lowered her blinds at 2:00 instead of at 3:00 when it started to bug her, she could actually save an extra $2 a month on her air conditioning. How do you build a system that talks to other systems? Or ids that just total pipe dream on my part?
Mark Rolston 18:01
That is absolutely the future.
Anthony Uttley 18:03
It comes from scale. If you think about how these things ended up getting into your home in the first place, there’s a small percentage where somebody made that choice and they went and they did it themselves. The vast majority of these got put into the house by some professional. Whether it was your air purification, or your humidity, or your thermostat they got put in there. Having a network that does that can get scaled pretty quickly. Having other companies that you interact with, that share like mine and say, What if when you design that connected home, that full connected home, often times the way people think of it today is more like a universal remote. I have to have something that has every single button that does every single thing on somewhere else.
Stacy Higginbotham 18:53
I have that app on my phone. It’s heinous.
Anthony Uttley 18:56
It’s terrible. You want somebody to have thought from the beginning on how about if I have multiple things happen at the same time. I know that the next thing you’re going to do after you do this is that. The next thing you’re going to go do after that is this. If I can have all that happen at once, if I have like minded companies who also can get to scale very quickly, now I can build something that’s very compelling.
Mark Rolston 19:21
I think we’re going to have a real market fist fight over the home fairly soon. Right now, there’s not enough clear winners. It’s a big prize. I look forward to it.
Stacy Higginbotham 19:35
I know that people talk to me about a home OS. I’ve got like literally five different sensor hubs running in my house. My vision is to have– I’ve got a thermostat by another company on one level. My other level I’ve left open but I’m thinking, Bring in another thermostat. I have this vision that they’ll all talk together and I believe in world peace. If I’m thinking about that, is that real? What controls all of those? Who’s going to own that control point?
Mark Rolston 20:10
I think we’re learning that the world will be seamful. Quite seamful.
Stacy Higginbotham 20:17
There is world peace.
Anthony Uttley 20:17
Seamless sounds good but practically it would be quite seamful. There will be in between players that can help bridge those seams. Whether within those sub universes they consider themselves whole, there are parties that will help sit on top of that and bring it together. Think about something like Twitter, it’s a beautiful social tool but it is in a technical sense a sort of common thread. You can send a signal and you can read the signal. You can imagine using literally that or a version of it meant for the home. Of course there’s several start-ups hoping to be that. Those kinds of things I think will emerge and draw the bridges between the Honeywell universes and the Nest universes. those guys created a great product and it’s a real incentive to compete at this point.
Mark Rolston 21:10
It also depends on where you set your boundaries. We think about it as a puzzle that when you first start working on the puzzle, you look for the corner, and you look for the edges, and you draw those boundaries. Every piece inside can be big or small, it depends on how you want to grow it. When you’re participating in someone else’s environment, I have to have very sharp edges. I have to have something, some device that’s out there. Even in API, you can imagine, I have to have it very sharp because it’s going to need to fit into somebody else’s thing. That happens, and it happens today. Typically what happens is you take the 90% of use case, or maybe even the 80% use case, and those are the things that work. But you lose the nuance of why this offering does what it does. There are going to be those companies that start at the foundation level. We have done something like that where you think about the boundary layers, and then use a design language more than just what does it look like, but the interaction design language that allows you to have not square shapes, but really fluid things that tie pieces together. You can say things like, ‘I’m going to bed.’ It will do all of the pieces in your house that you want it to. Close your blinds, turn off your lights, arm your security system. It can do that.
Stacy Higginbotham 22:34
I like this idea that except as a consumer– What you’re describing is kind of the Apple ideal in a lot of ways. They have built this beautiful ecosystem where everything works, but it doesn’t work well with other things. Then you’ve got Android over here and
they’re trying. Lots of things work, but it is kind of a pain as a bunch of people have said already to develop for. As a user, if I’m buying a refrigerator, or I’m calling someone to replace my heat– Right now I don’t even demand. I’m not going to be like, I’m into Honeywell, it’s awesome. Tomorrow, that’s what I’m going to do.
Stacy Higginbotham 23:09
It sounds like a nice idea, but it doesn’t sound real for how consumers buy things today. Do you go after the service providers and sell them this vision, and the home builders?
Anthony Uttley 23:24
You do both.
Mark Rolston 23:25
There are going to be vertically integrated products that don’t work well with others. If they do enough of it, then we can choose them. Apple’s had a long road to proving that out. There were years when they took a lot of shit for being vertically integrated but very incomplete. They almost died for that in a lot of ways. Now, they’ve built such a beautiful system, they are the pinnacle expression of that idea. Then there will be horizontal versions where there are bit players, playing within a common standard and you can kind of put the pieces together.
Anthony Uttley 24:01
The level of service needed to do that, or the level of can-do on your own part will likely be higher. I don’t think that changes when we’re talking about this topic any more than it changes when you’re talking about cellphones or home media systems or anything like that.
Stacy Higginbotham 24:17
What is the next vertically integrated product from you guys? What is after this? Is this starting with the voice controlled Wi-Fi thermostat?
Mark Rolston 24:32
Voice becomes one of the interaction modes that is absolutely the future of the way we’re going to go. Just like any kind of natural interaction that happens. We have another offering that’s coming out that has thought about going across multiple different domains within the house. Think about security, think about home comfort, think about your indoor air quality, think about lighting, and all the things. It’s not just us. This is a broader ecosystem. You’re still going to be able to have choice. You’re still going to be able to have the products that fit into other people’s things and something that would be designed from the ground up.
Stacy Higginbotham 25:10
I cannot wait to meet that something All right, well thank you guys very much.
Mark Rolston 25:14
Anthony Uttley 25:14