The phrase “bricks and mortar” is till used to conjure up images of buildings, residential or commercial. Usually, the phrase differentiates between something virtual or exists only in computers, say a website for a shop, and something that is physical, like an actual, real-world shop on the high street, for example.
But, along with everything else in the known world, bricks-and-mortar building are being computerised. Those that have already integrated some degree of computer technology are often called “smart homes”, if they are residential, and “intelligent buildings”, if they are commercial.
A lot of experts say that over the next decade or so, the vast majority of buildings – commercial and residential – will become computerised, or become “smarter”.
In the second of two interviews about the subject, we publish a Q&A with Tom Guy, product and commercial director, Hive, the smart home system from British Gas.
For the people out there who don’t know anything about Hive, can you give us a brief overview of the company and its products?
Tom Guy: Hive is an innovation from British Gas, which is about one simple thing: letting people control their home from their phone. Our best known product is Hive Active Heating, which combines a beautifully crafted thermostat, designed in collaboration with Yves Béhar, with our award-winning app to let you control your heating and hot water wherever you are in the world.
We’ve recently added the Hive Motion Sensor and Window or Door Sensor to our product portfolio, as well as Hive Active Plug, which means you can control a range of electrical items, all remotely from the Hive app. And that’s just the start.
How do you see our homes changing over the next 10 years?
We’re one of the early innovators in the connected home category. British Gas showed real foresight in setting up the Hive business and we’re truly proud of the progress we’ve made, with our hero product, Hive Active Heating, leading the way.
But the idea of the connected home, where multiple devices and a range of domestic functionality are all controllable by a beautiful, simple to use smartphone app, is still in its infancy. People who’ve used Hive become real evangelists for the concept but it’s not gone mainstream yet.
I think that the next 10 years will see this change dramatically. If we look around the home, there’s huge opportunity to control various aspects of it and understand how the home is running when you’re not there.
As more and more meaningful innovations hit the market – and as more people become not just comfortable with, but demanding of, the concept of connecting your home from your phone – we’ll see the British home become much more technologically enabled.
Can you tell us about any exciting innovations you’re currently working on?
We’ll be launching the Hive Active Light this year so customers can control their lights from wherever they are. We’ve also got an exciting series of announcements to make in the near future, though I’m afraid I’m sworn to secrecy by the product design team and so can’t give concrete details just yet.
But if you think about what other elements of your home you’d most like to be able to control from your phone, then you’ll probably not be far off.
How do you see smart thermostats, plugs and sensors making people’s lives easier?
It’s not really how we see it, but how our customers see it that matters. And they tell us, all the time in fact, that being connected to and in control of their home from their phone is game-changing. In 10 years, we would expect that consumers will be able to connect almost everything in the home together – and to the phone. We’re already seeing these innovations coming to market, just look at Amazon’s Alexa for instance.
In future, we believe consumers will be able to do more with their technology, they’ll be able to further personalise how they interact with technology and they’ll be able to secure a deeper understanding of the health of devices.
The ability to customise and fine tune something as vital as the temperature of your home, and control the energy usage and therefore the cost, is something you just don’t want to give up once you’ve experienced it. I think of it as like making the jump from fixed line phones to mobile phones twenty years or so ago.
Suddenly the idea of having to be in a fixed location – physically in your house, in your hallway, in front of the fixed thermostat on the wall – in order to access it and control it seems rather antiquated.
What’s stopping consumers from fully embracing smart home technology?
I don’t think there’s one single barrier. In fact, we’re seeing fantastic growth as more and more people use connected home technology and then evangelise about it to their friends and family.
I do think it still feels a little too “techy” for some people, though that is changing fast as people become much more familiar with services delivered over WiFi – think of music and video streaming, for example.
But I think that just makes it incumbent on us as designers to engineer our devices and app in such a way that it becomes beautiful, simple and pleasurable to use.
Which technological challenges are currently preventing rapid development of smart home technology?
I think near ubiquitous WiFi penetration means that the main barrier to deployment has been removed. For sure, there are some interesting conversations being had right now about the future of connected, or smart, home technology with regards to interoperability and compatibility. Those are discussions we’re obviously deeply engaged with, as you’d expect from the market leader.
Hive has an ambition to continue to solve real customer needs on a product by product basis – there isn’t any point in putting products on the market that don’t serve customers in this way. We want to make sure customers have better control of what they do in the home and activate energy when they really need it.
How big an issue is data security and privacy for the future of Smart technology? So, for example, the risk of having your home hacked or companies holding sensitive information about you.
We understand there are concerns around this topic and would like to reassure people that we do everything we can to ensure their data is safe and protected – the security of our customers’ data is of paramount importance to us.
Our Hive system is protected by the fact that every device connects to the internet over WiFi via the Hive hub – which acts as a very safe firewall. Our relationship with British Gas, as a trusted brand that employs around 8,000 engineers across the UK that install and explain how Hive works, has been a real strength for us in terms of overcoming any latent security concerns. You don’t have to be a British Gas customer to enjoy Hive products.