Adding home automation elements during construction isn't new. What's changed in the last few years is that the prices have dropped dramatically (from tens of thousands to about $3,000) and the systems can be run from Apple's HomeKit or a voice assistant like Alexa instead of proprietary hardware. Now large homebuilding companies like KB Home, Brookfield Residential and Lennar are offering IoT options for new houses.
Providing homeowners turnkey solutions gives these companies an additional source of revenue. But, it also shows that the current wave of connected home devices and platforms is finally reaching a level of maturity that will convince people that home automation is actually useful.
Jacob Atalla, KB Home VP of sustainability, tells Engadget, "We are at stage beyond the (individual) widgets." He added now that different devices are working together thanks to the HomeKit platform, his company is able to deliver a real experience to homeowners.
You shouldn't expect to walk into one of these new houses and see a Nest on the wall or a WeMo controlling the lights. A home is a decades-long investment. Sure the startup world is exciting, but homebuilders are relying on established manufacturers like Whirlpool, GE and Honeywell. David Kaiserman, president of Lennar Ventures, tells Engadget, "When you buy a new home, it's a significant piece of machinery. We rely on and take a lot of stock in the manufacturing process and quality control of the large manufacturers."
The closest thing to a startup in these homes is Apple. All three homebuilders are working with the iPhone-maker to make sure the buildings are HomeKit-ready to simplify the transition to a smarter house. All the devices in the dwellings will be compliant with Apple's IoT solution. "What people want is an entire package that's simple and unified and easy to use. Consumers don't want one device over another, they want an entire solution," Kaiserman says.
But the executives all also noted that they are open to working with other platforms -- which should be welcome news to Android-using home buyers. Plus, it's a sign that the companies see this as a long-term trend. Brookfield Residential COO, Adrian Foley, believes once people see what a smart home can accomplish, they won't go back. He used the car as an analogy, noting that people don't want to return to a time before keyless entries and electric windows. "I think we'll get very used to the convenience of the smart home," he says.
In the meantime, house hunters have the opportunity to jump directly into a connected home without the headache of building it on their own. And while KB Home, Lennar and Brookfield Residential would like everyone to enjoy the benefits of IoT with a clean slate, the truth is that won't happen. But, what will happen is that people will visit their friends in their fancy new automated dwellings will realize that maybe IoT is something they want in their own home -- even if it still takes more effort than it should.