Skip to main content

Getty Images/iStockphoto

To Paul Indrigo, his high-tech doorbell is more than just a doorbell. "I use it as a security camera, and I'm able to conduct conversations with people when I'm on the road," he says. "We had roofers the other day and I was talking to them through it [while working across town]."

Since then, the Toronto-based sales representative for Century 21 Regal Realty has recommended similar 'smart' doorbells to several clients, and neighbours as well. "A lot of the people in my neighbourhood are jumping in," he says.

Though the home-automation market is still dominated by early adopters such as Indrigo, consumer hits like Nest's thermostat that adjusts to human habits are driving growth.

"Around 10 per cent of Canadians already own a form of home automation," says Manish Nargas, a research analyst at IDC Canada. Its polling of Canadians also found that the interest in buying into automated products for the home is about 30 percent.

The most popular devices are lightbulbs, smoke and carbon-monoxide detectors, door locks and doorbells that can be controlled by a few swipes on a cellphone, no matter the user's location.

The number-one reason consumers gave for buying home automation products last year was security.

For homeowner Maurice Cacho, security is "a huge issue."

The connected camera he uses to secure his property recently saved him some money after he came home from work one day to find a big oil stain on his shared driveway. He went through the footage and was able to figure out that a company doing his neighbour's renovations was responsible and demanded they fix it.

Despite the benefits of having an extra set of eyes on one's belongings, a common fear is the risk of being hacked through smart devices in the home. It was certainly a worry for Ian Lam's family.

The 37-year-old installed smart technology throughout his house, including light switches, a door lock, a thermostat and connected cameras. "My wife is not much of a techy person, but she's been able to [use it all]," he explains. Still, he says, "she's not a big fan of the camera. She's always afraid of someone hacking in."

Security companies like ADT Canada believe that a heightened concern about privacy gives them a competitive advantage.

"Home automation is a natural extension of home security," says ADT Canada president Andrea Martin. And since the company runs home monitoring and automation systems on secure private servers, rather than on a home's Wi-Fi, it significantly reduces the risk of being hacked.

The company also offers customers access to live-monitoring centres, which can be useful for time-sensitive problems such as flooding, fire or a carbon-monoxide leak.

"We had a customer in Halifax who had his whole family over from Iraq, and he had a C02 leak in his home. Our C02 detectors went off and alerted us, and we were able to call the fire department right away," she says. "It's great to have home automation, but if no one's monitoring that [report] on your phone, it doesn't help you."

Those home-security players also offer consumer-friendly options like installation.

"For a lot of consumers the difficulty is installation and setup, and they want to hire somebody to do it," says Jonathan Gaw, research manager at International Data Corporation, adding that sifting through all the available options is also daunting to some customers.

That's why, for most players in the market, keeping smart products simple, at least on the user's end, is top of mind.

In Apple's 2016 keynote announcement this fall, the tech giant unveiled an update to its HomeKit program that allows users to control multiple smart-home products from one app, and to engage multiple products simultaneously — turning the lights on and unlocking the door, for example.

Smart hubs like Apple's will matter more and more as consumers switch from having one or two smart products in their homes to a whole suite of them.

Take Cacho, who started with a Nest thermostat, then added a wireless video camera and smoke detectors. As Cacho's family grew to include a new baby, one of the cameras took on a second role as baby monitor, offering benefits that were as emotional as they were practical.

When he's on the road for work, he says, sometimes he'll log in late at night to take a look in the baby's room. "It's nice to be able to see her sleeping peacefully," he says. "It brings you closer."

This content was produced by The Globe and Mail's Globe Edge Content Studio, in consultation with an advertiser. The Globe's editorial department was not involved in its creation.