In this series of articles, PSFK's Piers Fawkes will explore scenarios and signals that suggest the ways in which we will live by the end of this new decade. We’ll look at six key future trends, listen to expert opinions and examine fringe ideas that may be mainstream by 2030. This is the last post in the Future of Home+Living series.
Typically, the idea of a smart city is connected with the themes of streets with ambient traffic lights, driverless deliveries and utility optimizations—but in Russia, Moscow’s leaders are thinking way beyond the prescribed narrative around the future of urban environments. Rather than focusing on infrastructure, utilities and transport, Mayor Sergei Sobyanin is developing a Smart City program to create a “convenient, accessible and personalized virtual environment for city residents.”
“Apart from government services, the city is run by its residents,” Sobyanin said in a statement. “Technologies are changing, and we need to elevate online services and the digital city concept to a new level. Today, we can talk about creating the comprehensive Smart City Program that would encompass all areas of our life, rather than separate services.”
While the idea might be ambitious, he believes a central hub would allow consumers and businesses to request and respond to one another in real time. “This is an entirely new resource,” says Moscow Government Minister and Head of the Department of Information Technology Artyom Yermolayev. “Just imagine 10 million offers from small and medium-sized businesses dealing with various services for the city and its agencies. This creates new levels in terms of competition, prices and quality.”
This portal would likely be mobile and allow requests across many aspects of a citizen’s life, including healthcare, education and security, all able to be reached quickly and easily. TechRadar reports that 60% of all doctors in the city are connected through the Moscow AI program, and 95% of prescriptions are now issued in electronic form.
Describing the new ways municipalities are planning smart cities today, David Sim, author of Soft Cities, argues, “the starting point is not a big, architectural urban idea—it’s about being a little human being, and how can you connect that human being to as many experiences as possible.”
I’m unsure if we’re ready for a single, government-controlled access to a city’s commercial, educational, health and government services, but I do believe that the Moscow strategy does provide a clue to the way we will live by the end of this next decade.
Picture this scenario: Chores that once took people out into public, onto main streets and into commercial spaces will can now be managed from their homes. A multitude of personal services will provide the basics, like medical nurses and dry-cleaning pick up, and the practical, like dog walkers and home-appliance managers—also the more aspirational, like flower arrangers and home stylists.
These services will no longer be accessible just to the wealthy, and by 2030 workers will come around to anyone’s home and either conduct a chore in residence or take the project to a central location and micro-task it with a team or workers. Because of the ability of the home to recognize the service personnel, the resident wouldn’t have to even let them in—and could even prepare or program the home for them.
These services will likely analyze calendars and IoT data to book tables, cars and other entertainment options. Sometimes this will be system-to-system and sometimes it will require the ability to speak like a human to an operator on the other end.
Residents would subscribe to most of these services so the chores would be conducted on a regular schedule. At times—because of the analysis of the data gathered through the home’s IoT devices—these services could decide when to proactively turn up to refresh wilting flowers, or reconfigure living areas before a party, or just restock the fridge with throwback favorites before the in-laws visit.
Food delivery and restaurants will transform. While residents will select menus from different restaurant brands, the meals will tend to be prepared in ghost kitchens that are situated close to or even under massive urban centers. A similar situation will happen when people dine out; they’d enter different restaurants located next to each other that all share the same kitchen. Only a few, high-end, high priced restaurants will continue to make the economics work with their own kitchens.
Local services will also help residents enjoy life beyond the home. Brands would help residents find likeminded people to go hang out with in a bowling alley or even meet for a business date. Algorithms could solve the problem of loneliness and begin to create communities that find their start online.
Evamaria Rönnegård is an expert leading the Better Living effort at IKEA, and she predicts the adoption of services like these. “We believe in services that ease up, spice up, prolong and enrich people’s lives,” she says. Users and workers could “take care of a lot themselves by sharing services, or getting help by posting a task on a task runner app.”
Rönnegård predicts that healthcare, childcare, laundry, cleaning, cooking, groceries, home repairs, mobility and coworking are just some of the services that will be transformed by this shift. We have already witnessed the food delivery boom of the last few years, and a plethora of start-ups are now exploring other local services that don't stop at the front door.
Floral subscription service Flowerbx provides its customers an option that allows workers to enter homes and arrange flowers even if the owner is somewhere else. Amazon now offers deliveries right to the trunks of users' cars. Even Walmart has entered the in-home market, providing a service that fully stocks refrigerators with groceries bought online—fully removing any friction its customers might encounter.
Elsewhere, Dish Network recently launched a service called OnTech, which dispatches experts to set up smart homes and educate residents on brands like Google Nest, Ring and Roku. Nordstrom offers visiting stylists who edit shoppers' closets. Hemster has partnered with brands like Outdoor Voices to launch on-demand, in-home tailoring. And Rowan employs nurses who do in-home ear piercing, and can even help with events like parties.
One of the pioneers of in-home concierge services was HelloAlfred. Founder Marcela Sapone has been a trailblazer in the space and launched the company to help busy urbanites book services delivered to and provided within the home. The service has become so popular that some landlords are even offering the service to each of their tenants.
“As an early leader offering tech-enabled services in your home, we raised eyebrows—as Uber or Airbnb did in the early days—but now our members are championing us as a life-changing service that gives them precious time back,” Sapone tells me. “We've now pushed the model even closer to mainstream with companies like Walmart and others piloting offerings like ours. With five years under our belts, we've optimized for trust in a way that sets us apart.”
Other real estate companies are also looking to attract tenants through plug and play suites of services. Spaceflow, for example, offers landlords a platform to program tenant experience and community engagement. The system provides a mobile site with links to services, amenities, perks, events and more.
In a newsletter from early September, the team at TrendWatching gave a word of warning about the impact of these services. “Connective technologies, on-demand lifestyles—which mean you can buy almost anything without leaving the house—and rampant urbanization are all helping to disrupt social bonds and atomize societies around the world.”
A 2018 study by Cigna found that 46% of Americans say they always or sometimes feel alone. Put another way, that means that nearly half of Americans feel isolated. It's a growing problem, one that could be made worse by technology's mission to remove any trace of unwanted human contact.
There are, however, a growing number of services that allow folks meet others with similar interests. Panion helps its users search for friends with similar interests and join group activities, and GoFriendly and Hey! VINA are female-only platforms that match users with like-minded people in their area. Bumble even offers a friend-matching feature called BFF, which applies the dating app interface to the process of finding companions.
Tech giants are already exploring ways to help consumers access services through a single portal—like Moscow on a much larger scale. Google's proposed “Duplex on the Web” would put a human-like voice AI on the other end of the phone to assist users with booking appointments, landing reservations and more. Amazon is also reportedly partnering with a number of companies, like Atom Tickets, Uber and OpenTable, to allow Alexa to offer single-point services through verbal commands.
As people's concerns about the notion of strangers entering their residences subsides, the popularity for in-home services is destined to grow. The question is whether we will access each service directly or if we will use a single platform to these services, like HelloAlfred, which sometimes works with workers outside of the company.
“Consumers want to reduce the friction of having to toggle between a number of apps in order to get what they need; our goal is to be the single point of contact for them,” Sapone says. “From our partners to our consumers, we're focused on maintaining a platform where everyone wins.”
Today, our search for information typically starts on Google. Our product hunts most often take place on Amazon. Our social media most likely comes from a Facebook-owned business. One day, our access to services for our home will start from one location, too.
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