Trends In Residential Design: Entering the Age of Calm Technology

Insights from CEDIA Expo 2023 and emerging trends in residential technology

September 22, 2023

CEDIA Expo 2023 is dedicated to the latest in residential technology. More than 20,000 home tech professionals attend the event to learn about upcoming home tech trends, secure relationships with suppliers and dealers, and better serve residential customers. Whipsaw has partnered with many residential product companies to design consumer tech products including security cameras and interfaces, AI enablement devices and speakers, smart thermostats, lighting, switches and control devices, networking, robotics, and appliances. We got to see many of our current and past customers at the CEDIA Expo and while we were there, we noted some interesting trends in residential technology. We see an emerging trend of building towards smarter, calmer environments. The companies making real headway in that space are the ones that bring research that considers how humans will live in the space (Sonos, Lutron), but also how the design can make them disappear and reappear at the right moments (Basalte, Josh.AI).

“Now we are in the personal computing era, person and machine staring uneasily at each other across the desktop. Next comes ubiquitous computing, or the age of calm technology, when technology recedes into the background of our lives.”

Mark Weiser, 1995

Smart Environments: Embedded Experiences

The Connected Home

Product companies are looking beyond a singular product to the overall experience the product creates for the user. It’s not enough to design a good product if it doesn’t integrate into their lives. The most masterful of these products blend design and function to form distinctive, well-branded, and seamless experiences that integrate into people’s homes and everyday lives.

Take for example Sonos speakers. It’s readily apparent that the speakers are a Sonos product. But the details go beyond the hardware and form, in conversations with their product team and researchers it is evident in the overall Sonos experience design — the way it integrates and interacts with other connected home devices— is meticulously planned.

These embedded experiences create an invisible mesh throughout the home, both in the figurative and literal sense. Another example is the Google Home products and the ease of setting up in-home integrations. Companies and products who combine quality industrial design with refined interaction design have an edge on mass market adoption because of the ease of use. They feel natural, regardless of the technical savvy of the user.

“The most profound technologies are those that disappear. They weave themselves into the fabric of everyday life until they are indistinguishable from it.” - Mark Weiser, 1995

Privacy and Security

Connected homes offer more opportunities to control security and privacy. CEDIA featured an array of security systems and smart access devices. Among the most notable is Ring. Their motion activated security cameras are easy to set up, widely adopted and can even be considered cost effective when compared with their competition. Notably, competitors to Ring focused on differentiation through finish and design elements.

In the security camera space, there are a lot of options in the market for external cameras and security feeds. One area that we see potential expansion is the overlay of AI to video feeds so that those monitoring security are given the right information at the right time, instead of the current state which prioritizes all information equally. We look towards this convergence of hardware and software that allows humans a more intelligent and seamless experience with security. We have seen this sort of innovation appear in commercial systems and anticipate that it will more prominently appear in consumer experiences in the near future.

“…doors open only to the right badge wearer, rooms greet people by name, telephone calls can be automatically forwarded to wherever the recipient may be, receptionists actually know where people are, computer terminals retrieve the preferences of whoever is sitting at them, and appointment diaries write themselves.” - Mark Weiser, 1995

Natural Interactions

Control Systems

An ecosystem of products does not need an ecosystem of control devices. The abilities of new residential smart technologies outmatch the capabilities of the tools to control them. We’ve all seen remotes with 50 buttons and no idea how to do the thing we want. At CEDIA, we saw tools that allow us to push past this barrier and customize control systems so that they feel more natural to us. These systems are going beyond buttons, screens, and mice, and instead integrate more natural experiences with touch and intelligent (voice) control systems.

Two prominent paths for device control focus on either touchscreen or voice control interfaces. Products like Josh AI capture the intuitiveness of voice control combined with large language models to create an experience that is already natural to a user: having a conversation. Touchscreen interfaces are also becoming more customizable and personalized, with an almost infinite array of options for presets, workflows, and interaction possibilities. Even with these advancements, few companies have embodied the potential of a fully controllable and customizable residential ecosystem of the future. A close parallel to such a system is Apple, who have placed intentional focus on the interoperability of their products. Features such as the Apple ID allow for integration across their suite of devices. This focus on cross platform, multi-device synchronization enables a seamless, personalized experience without direction from the user.

Imagine the possibilities of this level of interoperability for residential systems. For example, future control systems might utilize personal tokens or IDs that could be sensed by an entire residential system including lighting, temperature, and devices, to adjust the settings to a particular user’s needs as they enter or leave a space. Even more immersive experiences like simulators, AR/VR, and a variety of full-body interactive seating, like haptic gaming chairs, can take the consumer deeper into interactivity with their environment.

Parts of this future exist already with the introduction of more gaming controls into residential settings. Samsung showcased a canopy screen with a gaming controller that gave users control of a ceiling display. LG’s innovations around wireless smart TVs take this a step further into integrating television displays into the home. We saw television displays that seamlessly drop from the ceiling and return when no longer in use or automatically react to the ambient light in a room to adjust screen brightness. Companies like Leica and Hisense pair beautiful designs with high-quality projection systems that feel premium in your living room.

Subtle Technologies: Personalization

If a consumer has control of an ecosystem of products, the natural extension is full personalization. This is a rebellion against the ubiquity of identical options people find themselves forced towards in an era of mass production. As consumers seek to differentiate themselves based on preferences, brands are reflecting these changes in the personal environment. We saw this in the array of finishes and the degree of polish in those finishes, as well as the exponential amount of control settings and preferences. One of the top-tier window shade companies reported that consumers want more natural materials in their window dressings; and where buyers in past years focused on neutrals, this year consumers are incorporating more color and variety into their decor. Basalte, a Dutch-based smart home company, has created a line of controls that blend into walls and speakers to become works of art but can be customized to blend into the interior design of any home.The merging of technology with art pieces is a trend that we want to see more frequently; technical objects can be extremely beautiful. Another great example is the range of lighting capabilities presented by Lutron. Their Ketra line offers an almost infinite array of potential variations in lighting. “The key to Ketra’s Natural Light solution is the patented technology that allows us to shift in color temperature and intensity across a dynamic, near-infinite spectrum of correlated color temperatures. Your interior could bask in the blue glow of dawn—or simmer in the golden intensity of dusk.”

“Most importantly, ubiquitous computers will help overcome the problem of information overload. There is more information available at our fingertips during a walk in the woods than in any computer system, yet people find a walk among trees relaxing and computers frustrating. Machines that fit the human environment, instead of forcing humans to enter theirs, will make using a computer as refreshing as taking a walk in the woods.” - Mark Weiser, 1995

In Summary

The CEDIA Expo 2023 showcased a dynamic landscape in residential technology, characterized by a focus on creating smarter, more integrated, and calmer living environments. The event emphasized the importance of embedded experiences, where products seamlessly blend into the home, enhancing the overall customer experience. Privacy and security also took center stage, with innovations in AI-enhanced security systems promising more intelligent and efficient monitoring. Natural interactions and control systems are evolving, with voice control and personalized touch interfaces gaining prominence. The pursuit of subtle technologies and personalization reflects a consumer desire for uniqueness and individuality in their living spaces. As technology continues to advance, the industry is moving towards the vision of Mark Weiser’s “age of calm technology,” where machines harmoniously integrate into human environments, enhancing rather than disrupting our daily lives.

For more from Mark Weiser, see 21st Century Quotes

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