Over the last few decades, the benefits of home control have been enjoyed primarily by those wealthy enough to afford the installation of expensive custom systems or by do-it-yourselfers with the patience to undertake complex technical projects. Now, however, numerous new vendors are entering the market, offering a wide range of products that are inexpensive and easy to install and use. Home automation and control are rapidly becoming a mainstream phenomenon.

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A recent report from ABI Research (Home Automation and Control: Ten Mass Market Applications for Emerging Wireless and Powerline Technologies, June 2006) argues that this trend is being driven by new technologies (such as INSTEON) and industry efforts to make these technologies interoperable. As a result, consumers can easily add new devices and new systems—from multiple vendors—to the network at any time, rather than having to invest in costly rewiring projects and complicated control technologies.

The home control market now has the potential to include virtually any consumer device—anything that can be embedded with a chip that enables it to “talk” to other devices—and analysts see this market as poised for exponential growth. West Technology Research, for example, predicts that 20 billion nodes will be embedded with home control technology by 2015.

Home control addresses everything from temperature control and security systems to appliances and irrigation. These applications support a variety of growing trends: increased cocooning, the demand for greater energy efficiency due to rising energy costs, and the need—especially on the part of women—to save time by automating common tasks. The factor that analysts view as most powerful, however, is the involvement of entertainment companies in promoting the digital home. Historically, the tipping point for the mass adoption of many consumer technologies has come with the availability of entertainment content and applications. The Internet, for example, has transitioned to a multimedia broadcast medium, and mobile phones have become converged mobile entertainment devices.

The entertainment industry is having a similar affect on the home control and automation market. Sam Lucero, senior analyst at ABI Research, says, “Home entertainment is the key application that will provide traction for the home automation market.” Home theater systems, for example, are becoming more and more common in middle-class homes, and the control technology for audio/video equipment naturally lends itself to the control of related elements such as lighting and automated window coverings. From there, the possibilities are endless.

Will the trend that created the smart phone lead to the mass acceptance of the smart home as well? It’s a smart bet.