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Connected Home Global Summit 2012 day 2: From energy to entertainment

It has been a couple of weeks since the Connected Home Global Summit and it’s always nice to reflect on the events before jumping straight into writing about them. In this case it seems particularly important, as much of the talk is speculative and forward thinking, rather than headline news breaking.

This was my third visit to the event, which I always enjoy. While it isn’t massively attended, the quality of attendees is always first class and the discussions interesting (and as it’s at a DoubleTree Hilton the coffee is great too, which helps).

I only made it to Day 2 this year, but still felt I got a lot out of it. It’s hard to imagine listening to talks from British Gas, Yahoo, Strategy Analytics and Toon Goggles being on the same topic, but that’s the beauty of the connected home – it’s where everything is going to converge (or not).

For the uninitiated, the connected home is pretty much what it says on the tin: the appliances and other tech in your home connected to the outside world. This can be the kind of thing we commonly have now via broadband, such as television, PCs and laptops, but increasingly other things too: healthcare, power consumption, security – the list is as extensive as the imagination.

The one frustration I have with the Summit, having been a few times now, is the lack of progress in real terms that seems to be led by the attendees. There is always a lot of talk about technical standards in how to deliver these solutions and how people think things may progress, but these tend to repeat themselves – usually with a few new ‘standards’ being added to muddy the water, rather than any actual standards being reached. In terms of the average consumer though, there’s usually little to report beyond enthusiasm.

It’s understandable, if frustrating. Manufacturers are looking for an edge, trying to back a winner; while everyone from the broadband providers to utilities to app makers to the manufacturers themselves are trying to get their products in where they will have both the most control and the most profit. It’s not about us, unfortunately – as always in business, it’s more about the bottom line.

This year was a little different at least, but this was seemingly due to the situation being forced rather than anything else. In previous years, smart metering has been discussed (like everything else), but now it’s a reality – because the government has demanded it. It’s a shame, but it seems this kind of legislation is often the only way to make thinkers and manufacturers pull their finger out and stop quibbling over specifics.

British Gas seems pretty proud to be ahead of the curve on this, having already rolled out 500,000 smart meters to UK homes well ahead of the 2014-2019 schedule demanded. According to Gayle Terry, British Gas Head of Innovation Delivery, there will be 26 million smart enabled homes in the UK by 2020 – meaning the smart home will be a reality within 10 years. But what does that actually mean in real terms?

First, the new meters could end up bringing more control to consumers while saving them money – a combination anyone would welcome, as long as there is a simplicity and reliability to go with it. As Terry pointed out, our lifestyles have changed in recent years and as a nation we are much more tech aware. When you add to this the falling cost of technology, the results should be able to meet the hype.

The control and money saving ideas here are of course intertwined. We’re talking about information about how your home is spending your money heading back to your energy supplier every 30 minutes, building an itemised picture of expenditure and opening up ways to save – from simply turning down the heating (or remotely putting it off when you’ve not made it home) to actually buying/selling from the grid when prices are low/high. Interesting times.

Research presented by Bill Ablondi, a director at Strategy Analytics, seemed to concur with the idea that while we want to save and be more energy conscious, we’re not really happy with the idea of paying to do so. Most of us would be happy to spend up to £50 to improve our energy efficiency, but at higher cost levels there’s a big drop off.

At the other end of the connected home we have the multimedia experience; an area changing rapidly thanks to smartphones and tablets. It’s mad to think 30 years ago this November we were welcoming our fourth (whoa!) television channel into our homes; now, according to research from Yahoo, tablet owners are consuming media for almost 11 hours per day, with more than half of them multitasking while watching TV.

It was interesting to listen to Yahoo’s head of entertainment, Denise Parkinson, discussing this research. Some of the numbers are genuinely scary: in last year’s Superbowl, for example, there were two minutes of adverts for every five minutes of play… yet we still won’t entertain the idea of paying for websites to avoid such intrusions. Again, it seems we’re simply used to getting something for nothing – or what we now see as nothing: giving up our increasingly more valuable free time to ads for the promise of free entertainment.

And the future? Out of our hands, it would seem, and in those of our children – and they’re not going to step backwards now. As told by Stephen L. Hodge, Managing Director at children’s multimedia app Toon Goggles, there are 28 million two to 11 year-old internet users and the number is growing fast. Not only that, but they’re consuming on average 50 per cent more content. In ten years time when that connected home finally arrives, I think we’ll be in safe hands.