Courtesy CES

Alexa, lower the 30-year mortgage interest rate to 2017 levels, and keep them there.

Hey, Google, bring down my land costs, and increase my internal rates of return.

Siri, get me good framers for $20 an hour, on demand.

Wouldn't it be wonderful?

Should we be careful what we wish for?

As another annual tech-a-palooza concludes in Las Vegas, it leaves, in no uncertain terms, its profound mark of affirmation that technology's exponentially accelerating transformation of people, the planet, and the companies, products, and services that do business here on this earth is--contextually speaking--yet in its early phases.

For builders, developers, land investors, and even architects and products manufacturers--whose financial stakes pitch far-forward, two, three, five years into the future, with the mass of their investments, technology's trajectory--the way it's transforming people, and the way people, via network effects, are tranforming technology--is a harrowing affair altogether.

Why? Well, because a basic assumption around making value in residential real estate development and construction has to do with what never changes--a timeless value: People always need a place to live.

But virtual assistants, interoperable systems, environmental and bio data, and now 5G power and networkability--the impact of Moore's Law pivot from microprocessing to radio frequency sensors, and more--have begun to infiltrate and scramble some of the most fundamental features and properties of what we mean by "a place to live."

Shelter, dating back, created a kind of micro-climate within nature's local weather system, and it created walls--a touchy word these days--of protection from some--animal and human--forms of peril.

Evolving with technologies and needs over time--yet, still timelessly hitched to the notion that a home is a place where a human household could prosper--houses progressed in purpose along a continuum roughly associated with safety, comfort, and a sense of well-being, now widely referred to as "sanctuary."

Well, the convergence of technology and this all-too-subjective notion of sanctuary is at a fascinating crossroads, and 2019's CES in Las Vegas brought this to light in dramatic fasion.

While many builders' focus--thanks to human nature--tends to zero in on the "shiny toys" of gadgetry we see in gaudy display, and devices that do things we never may have imagined and solve for countless problems and needs, this year's take-away, should not be on a specific new Internet of Things solution.

For the builder-designer-engineer-investment complex, the message is far more urgent, and far more existentially meaningful in 2019, going on a decade of seachange as we've never known it.

Here are three--albeit "off the show floor"--observations we believe home builders and their design, investment, engineering, and manufacturer partners need to keenly, progressively, and constructively address sooner than later.

  • Get past "smart homes": CES, according to many yearly attendants and exhibitors, already has, as is evidenced by the amount of exhibit space allocated specifically for "smart home technology" players. Now, the issue here is this. This doesn't mean technology will not need to solve more and more domestic needs, desires, and preferences. It will. What it means is that the sense of the term that we've come to know as "smart home" doesn't map to how people want to live in their homes. It's they who want to feel smart--safe, comfortable, entertained, healthy, at-ease, secure in their privacy, etc.--rather than to buy a suite of technology capabilities that may be confusing, temperamental, incompatible, obsolescent, and potentially a risk to their privacy. Home builders and technologists must work together to make residents in homes and apartments feel like the smart ones, rather than to claim the home is smart.
  • Another reason to get past "smart homes," is that while "smart" may trigger a "wow," its challenge from the start has been its strong tendency toward "nice to have" solutions rather than must-have problem solvers. This year, a lean-in toward health and well-being, by capital investors, strategic tech players--Google, Apple, Amazon, Microsoft, etc--is moving the environmental systems' sensors, monitors, regulators, and responders to human-centric, even biodata measures. Our BUILDER Concept partner this year, KB Home and its #wheretomorrowlives ProjeKt, features 250 IoT devices, mapped more than ever to essential health and well-being factors in the home's routines, including sleep, air purity and comfort, water purity, diet and nutrition, etc. People will feel "smart" in their homes when they can achieve comfort, save money--and even live "off-the-grid" if necessary--on energy and water, and impact their medical care financial prospects thanks to a cohesive portfolio of embedded and plug-in technologies. Emergency health, preventative health, and sustaining fitness monitoring and programming are the kinds of value propositions new home builders can--and must--establish as a huge differentiator between new and existing homes.
  • Finally, this idea that firms can "go it alone" in pursuit of what human beings want from technology in their homes is silliness. Being part of an ecosystem of value builders that makes for a clear and cohesive, simple, privacy-secure, elegant, and up-date-able package--where, heaven forbid, someone knows what she's getting, what she's paying for, and how it will impact her life and change over time so that she can make an intelligent purchase decision and not feel like a fool later on--is now table-stakes. You have to do it.

In the past, AirPlay and iTunes videos were mostly tied to Apple-made hardware like the Apple TV set-top box. Their expansion to third parties underlines Apple’s ambition to expand the revenue it generates from its internet content and services. That’s especially important now that sales of Apple’s cash cow, the iPhone, are slowing. This month, the company reduced its revenue expectations for the first time in 16 years.

The move is also notable because it illustrates an unusual willingness by Apple to open its technology to other companies, including competitors like Samsung.

Forget smart homes, and focus relentlessly and double-down on making your buyer--months and months before the new-home purchase, and years after it--feel like she, he, they are the smart ones.

Forget smart home technology, and think of systems and services that add to your customers' empowerment to improve their lives--health, well-being, ability to prosper--in your homes and communities.

Forget competition as you've known it. Open systems, strange bedfellows, human-centric solutions are the winners of tomorrow, not single-solutions providers whose technology in isolation may be wonderful but whose installment, requirements, and connection within a holistic whole-house framework may make it a non-starter.