This is a post in the ReadWriteHome series, which explores the implications of living in connected homes.

The concept of the connected home is not easy to understand. At first blush, it seems simple: devices and tools connected to each other in an automated way to save labor and effort in the home. But in reality, the connected home remains an elusive ideal, with no clear breakout hit present in our lives or even clear on the horizon.

With the near-ubiquity of Internet access in the home and the onset of Internet-connected devices of all shapes and sizes, it seems a foregone conclusion that the connected home is right around the corner. Wire up a coffee maker and toaster to the Internet, and you've got breakfast ready in the morning with a touch of an app.

But that gastronomically satisfying vision of the future has not come about yet. Nor has another vision of the connected home: the automated home-entertainment system that has your music follow you from room to room. While this aspect of the connected home has been installed in various homes, the cost and complexity has kept it out of reach of all but the wealthiest and most determined audiophiles.

That's just one definition. Ask one connected-home advocate what the connected home is, and you might get an answer that a connected home aligns everything from computers, smartphones, TVs and set-top boxes to systems such as lighting, appliances and heating/air conditioning systems and makes them controllable through a single interface.

But a connected-home expert more interested in media systems might promote the idea of content over home automation, emphasizing an entertainment experience enhanced by data and social context available over the Internet.

Still another advocate of the idea will argue that it's automation that will drive the push for smart homes. The smart appliances that can suggest what to have for dinner and automatically scan the pantry and refrigerator for ingredients and schedule delivery of groceries is a foodie's dream. That, too, hasn't come to fruition.

What's The Hold-Up?

This broad diversity in all of the different ways a home can be connected is a big part of the reason why a holistic, connected-home system has yet to get a foothold in the marketplace.

Capitalism and competition are the root cause of this diversity. There is a very strong push right now for devices or vendors to be positioned as the so-called "hub" of the connected home. And with good reason: Any device that can market itself as the centralized coordinator for a connected home would stand to reap the benefits of many different alliances and partnerships that would surely bring shared revenue by the truckload.

Microsoft learned this pleasant lesson for itself when it gained its still-solid position as the default desktop PC operating system. In the rising days of the PC, if you wanted to gain traction in that marketplace, it was Microsoft with which you would have to deal. That's a lesson that many vendors in the connected-home space want very badly to emulate. (Or at least, they’d rather not be the Macintosh to someone else's Windows.)

The effect of all of this competition, right now, is that there is a distinct lack of a "superstar" connected-home strategy. There are, of course, holistic automated home systems, but they are still very expensive to purchase and install and well beyond the interest if not the reach of most consumers.

Still, there are some noteworthy efforts around the connected home that deserve to be highlighted. The sector as a whole is diverse and broad, but there are interesting devices and services out there that serve a multitude of functions now. In the future, perhaps they will all work together in cohesive harmony, as vendors begin to standardize on communication protocols and operating systems on which apps can be built.

We Invite You To ReadWriteHome

ReadWrite will be spending the months of November and December examining many different aspects of the connected home, showcasing a comprehensive picture of what is working now in the connected home and what could be working soon. Those aspects will include:

  • The Battle For The Hub. You wouldn't think thermostats, lights and TVs would have much in common, but they do: their manufacturers all want them to be the hub of the connected home.
  • That's Entertainment. One of the earliest promises of the connected home was universal access to entertainment content. We'll examine how that's working out.
  • Lock It Down. Home security systems are already "connected." But can they get better?
  • Glass Houses. With more connected devices, many consumers are concerned about their privacy in the one place they should feel the most secure.
  • Say Cheese. In order to more easily interact with humans, devices will probably resort to optical interfaces so they can see what those funny bipeds are doing. How cameras are progressing.
  • Reap More Of What You Sow. Connected devices aren't just inside the home. Gardening and landscaping can also get a huge boost from being online.

These are just a few of the many topics ReadWrite will explore in the weeks ahead. Rather than try to shoehorn all of the various elements of the connected home into one standard definition, we will be following the concept that any device that improves the standard of living in the home can be part of what's broadly known as the connected home.

The connected home is potentially a huge marketplace, and there's a lot of rooms to explore. From the garden to the kitchen, the living room to the kid's bedroom, an connected web of devices and services is slowly making its presence known, ready to be invited into your home.