Plotting the Future of the Smart Home

The smart home is gaining momentum across Europe, but there’s still much to do. That’s why the work of the Smart Homes & Buildings Association (SH&BA) is so important. We provide a place for business to showcase their systems, devices, products and services, and a much-needed forum for all smart home stakeholders to share their experiences and discuss ways to overcome the hurdles facing us.

At the heart of these challenges lies interoperability, which to an extent is still proving a stubborn barrier to the kind of integrated smart home experience we all want to see.

A unified experience
At our fourth bi-annual retail and manufacturer panel meeting recently, stakeholders from across the smart home landscape converged on the offices of Avensys, where we were shown around the IoT specialist’s impressive facilities. The firm’s several showrooms, open to all members of the public, really demonstrate the potential in the smart home to change the way we live. The largest space combines kitchen, living-room, bathroom, dining-room and second living-room, each showing off different technologies but giving a sense of a unified smart home.

We agreed that a model which works together efficiently holds most potential for the mass market, rather than the kind of plug-and-play mix of individual products which meet very specific needs but can fail to resonate overall.

However, the problem still remains that many products don’t talk to each other, making the unified smart home experience a pipe dream for most consumers.

Starting from scratch
One cause for optimism for the future comes from the new build space. Mark Swift, founder of Home Hub installations, told us his firm has gone from cabling two houses per month to 200, and is about to sign a deal for 14,000 houses in the next year. Many of these are integrating the open SmartThings platform, promising a unified experience for the buildings once completed.

Partnerships are of course key to driving this vision of the integrated smart home. On a bigger scale, Amazon’s recent tie-up with Lennar Homes, the second largest housebuilder in the US, also offers grounds for optimism. We also heard how the IET is currently producing guidance for electricians on smart home installation, which will help drive progress in this space.

Looking ahead
While interoperability is a big success factor for the smart home, there are others. Consumers also need to trust in the retailers and brands they’re investing in, and be assured that the tech they buy will last long into the future. As an industry, we also need to ensure that consumers are informed about the potential cyber-related risks associated with the smart home and how to manage them. SH&BA produced guidance around this in November 2015 and we’re looking to the industry to get proactive in this area.

Helping us to shape the future of the smart home going forward will be a new SH&BA initiative: the Smart Home Young Leaders’ Forum. This cross-industry group will seek to better understand the different ways that young professionals under 35 years of age who work in the smart home industry are engaging with technology in order to help companies transition from old to new smart home technologies. We’re looking forward to seeing what it can achieve, because the smart home will only succeed if we continue to build out these networks, partnerships and interconnections. The first meeting of the Young Leaders’ Forum will take place at IFA in Berlin on 3rd September at 4pm. All details can be found in the link to the event – To find out more click SH&BA YOUNG LEADERS’ FORUM @ IFA – REGISTRATION LINK

by AS

 

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Leading from the Front: Dubai Rapidly Transforming into a Smart City

Earlier this year the United Nations predicted that by 2050, 68% of the world’s population will be living in urban areas. That’s up from a figure of 55% today and means an additional 2.5 billion people will migrate towards cities. To cope with the strain of this additional load and improve sustainability, economic development and quality of life, local governments are increasingly turning to technology.

These smart city initiatives are springing up all over the globe, but perhaps nowhere catches the eye more than Dubai, which appears to have the cash and the vision to transform itself via a series of standout projects.

A global race
All over the world, the race is on to use cloud, IoT, AI, big data analytics and other technologies to make public services smarter, more efficient and cheaper to run. From Amsterdam, London and Barcelona in Western Europe to the multitude of Asian cities in China, India, Japan and beyond receiving investment, there’s a true sense of international competition in this area. The Middle East is an increasingly important geography too, with Dubai leading the way.

The battle for investment revolves around two major factors: availability of funds to build infrastructure and the type of use cases proposed. Dubai has an advantage on both fronts. The Emirate government has been a generous supporter of its smart city initiatives since 2000, when the Dubai eGovernment agency was launched. Since then it’s changed its name twice, and is now known as Smart Dubai Gov (SDG). It’s also been able to build a roll-call of interesting projects.

Dubai2

Taking strides
Some of the most noteworthy initiatives include:

HR and recruitment apps: these include the Fajwa project which is looking at how AI can help government departments enhance their HR functions. A smart employee application, meanwhile, allows government staff to carry a range of HR tasks such as holiday requests via their smartphone. The Dubai Careers Platform looks to digitise recruitment for the government and job seekers across the city.

Digital backbone, digital wealth, Dubai IoT: begun in 2014, the digital backbone project now offers 300 open data sets which can be used to develop innovative smart city applications. The Digital Wealth Initiative and the Dubai Internet of Things Strategy were launched together last October. The former aims to manage over 120 smart city projects launched over the year and award Dubai Digital Certificates for outstanding achievements. The latter has the ambitious aim of creating the world’s most advanced IoT ecosystem.

Dubai paperless: aims to completely eliminate paper from government by 2021.

Dubai is far from the only global city looking to transform itself through technology. But the pace and ambition of its projects stand out. SDG director general, Aisha Bint Butti Bin Bishr, claimed recently that the Emirate won 17 international and regional awards last year alone. At this rate, the next few years could be even bigger for the city-state.

by TD

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MagSafe Melancholy

Ask me why I am holding back from upgrading my 2012 15” MacBook Pro.
I need the power.
I need the capacity.
I want to lose the weight.
I really fancy the brighter, clearer screen.
I’m philosophical about losing my array of ports for a barrage of USB-C peepholes, but I can learn to live with that.
No, it’s because of MagSafe.

CONTEXTMagSafe

Yes I know this is a bit old hat, but watch Steve Jobs’ introduction of the new MacBook Pro at MacWorld in 2006. He strode across the stage, a smile all over his face, pausing dramatically and relishing each word as he spoke:

“Another cool, feature,” said Jobs. “We call it MagSafe. Now, how many of you have had your notebook go flying off its work surface when somebody caught your power adapter cable in their foot? Whether it’s your kid, your pet or your roommate, this is going to end that…. when the cord gets yanked, it pulls right off, it works beautifully.”

With MagSafe, Jobs summed up the Apple credo. Everything works. The user experience was king. So dropping MagSafe and reverting to allowing your notebook to “fly off its work surface” if your dog got tangled in the power cable is, frankly, confusing.

“For a company that preaches its focus on user-centred design, the removal of MagSafe was a curiously… courageous decision” wrote Ewan Spence in a June 2018 Forbes article describing how apparently Apple filed a 2016 patent that would have allowed MagSafe to be used with USB-C.

In the end I expect I will upgrade, but have to buy a wallet-full of adapters to remain compatible with my accessories investments. But it won’t be cool.
Steve, we miss you.

by JD

 

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The next 35 years

Throughout 2018 CONTEXT has been marking its 35th birthday – we have used this anniversary year to look back and celebrate the growth of a company from small beginnings to being a serious force in the IT industry. On the occasion of the latest GTDC EMEA Summit last week –where vendor and distributor leaders meet and debate the most current issues in the industry – Jeremy and Howard Davies, CEO’s and co-founders, took the occasion at a CONTEXT vendor dinner to look forward to the next 35 years. Continue reading

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Cloud and mobile drive growth prospects for Central and Eastern Europe

Much of the value CONTEXT offers its clients comes from the insight we distil from data collected at every point in the channel supply chain. One of the main sources of this sales and pricing data is the distributor. So we took time out to get some deeper analysis with Ilona Weiss, CEO of ABC Data.

ABC Data is a leading IT hardware and consumer electronics distributor for Central and Eastern Europe, covering markets including Poland, Romania, Hungary, the Czech Republic, Slovakia, Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia. The Warsaw-headquartered company sells thousands of products from over 400 suppliers, so it has great visibility into what’s going on.

Cloud drives growth
Smartphones and cloud services offer some of the biggest opportunities for 2018 and beyond, according to Weiss. in 2014, ABC Data bought Apple distributor iSource, which is a leading distributor of Apple devices in Poland. Moreover, ABC Data is extending its vendor portfolio all the time with new additions such as the Chinese giant Xiaomi. Being the first distributor of Xiaomi in Central and Eastern Europe, ABC Data was largely responsible for boosting the sales of this brand in the region. Recently, in close cooperation with the vendor, ABC Data has opened the first official Xiaomi store (called Mi Store) in the biggest shopping mall in Warsaw. The plan for upcoming months envisages extending the range of the Chinese company’s products in the distributor’s offer.

ABC Data’s cloud platform is a more recent investment, launched in 2017, but also seeks to tap a demand among business customers to drive innovation and growth through digitalisation. With ABC Data, cloud partners have access to a wide and diversified range of offerings, such as virtual servers, storage, tools for creating proprietary applications and solutions enabling data archiving and back-up. These are sourced from both global and local suppliers. Recently, ABC Data signed a contract for the distribution of Microsoft CSP (Cloud Solution Provider) products in the entire CEE region. As Ilona Weiss explains, cloud computing is the future of modern IT. It is gaining more and more recognition among companies and institutions in Poland, as well as from resellers and integrators associated with ABC Data, who are interested in selling cloud solutions provided to them by ABC Data.

This chimes with the findings of the CONTEXT ChannelWatch Survey from the end of 2017 that reported nearly half of global resellers are preparing to sell cloud services — especially back-up (53%), storage (47%) and business apps (35%). Like many of its counterparts, ABC Data is seeing a great deal of interest from the vendor community as business models become more cloud focused. With channel partners and vendors increasingly looking to offer combined solutions, Weiss sees an opportunity to grow by developing value-added distribution services in this space.

New investment areas
As for the rest of 2018, she claims that many businesses in the region will be investing in new desktops and particularly notebooks as part of the upgrade cycle. The trend will be particularly acute in the SMB space. Meanwhile, in the consumer market, the growth of digital entertainment is expected to lead to growth in the video gaming sector, which is very promising, she says.

Despite a turbulent past couple of years in the regional IT market, things are on the up and Weiss is optimistic about the future. The main cause for this is the room to grow in the above-mentioned areas of cloud and mobile, but also value added distribution and e-commerce.

Indeed, following the acquisition of the S4E company in mid-2016, ABC Data Group has significantly improved its position in the VAD area. In the coming months the group has plans to concentrate on further consolidating its position on the services market and adding value by, among other things, consistent development of its specialist products and services portfolio and by expanding its educational offer.

On the other hand, 2018 marks the 20th anniversary of the creation and first tests of the ABC Data’s sales platform – InterLink, today available in 9 language versions to thousands of B2B clients in the CEE region. It has played a key role in popularising e-commerce solutions and online shopping in Poland and in the region. ABC Data’s CEO believes that it is precisely the innovative, intuitive and trouble-free e-commerce platforms and m-commerce solutions that are the mainstay of this business.

This is why the company is constantly focused on the development of further functionalities of the InterLink sales platform. Recently, the feature of fast online payments was added. Currently, the company continues to develop the mobile version of the platform, m-InterLink, available to ABC Data’s partners in individual CEE countries. The m-InterLink application was launched last year and has gained a wide acclaim among the Polish customers.

The Company is also constantly increasing the scale of ABC Data’s operations in the CEE region. The result of these activities is the systematic improvement of sales. Only in the first quarter of 2018, ABC Data achieved a 41% increase in sales revenues in Slovakia, a 26% increase in Romania and a 16% increase in the Baltic countries. – This is why I’m not afraid for ABC Data’s future – says Weiss – We are the only company in the industry that operates directly in eight CEE countries, and we are still developing our business – she summarises.

by AS

 

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Dubai Leads the Way as Middle East 5G Adoption Plans Grow

Like many regions encumbered with limited fixed broadband infrastructure, the Middle East is increasingly using mobile connectivity to drive adoption of advanced internet-based services. Among the many wealthy Gulf states looking to take the next step with 5G, the UAE and Dubai in particular stand out. Local provider du recently announced its first 5G network will land as early as this year. Continue reading

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The smart home opportunity in Spain – reflections from the AECOC TCG Congress

“We prefer to stay outdoors.” Some cultural norms will never change, and locking up a Spaniard in his own high-tech smart home, the new digital castle for an Englishman, is not intrinsically attractive. “You have to understand that we like to go out, socialise, see our friends, and do not invest so much in our homes as you do in the UK.”

So is there a future for smart home in Spain? Continue reading

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