Smart-living amid Covid-19

By Charlene Chin
/ EdgeProp Singapore |
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SINGAPORE (EDGEPROP) - As the Covid-19 pandemic ravages on, keeping away from one another has become the new way to live. Digital tools have been crucial in keeping tabs with loved ones. If anything, the viral outbreak has accelerated the trend of digital connectivity — forcing businesses and consumers to shift physical activities to digital platforms. More than ever, smart-living solutions are helping residents meld their online and offline lives into one.
In Singapore’s competitive private housing market, developers have been riding on the smart-home wave to differentiate their properties. More than 90% of new projects launched in 2019 have incorporated some form of smart-home tech, according to JLL Research. Developers have recognised the need to stay in tune with demands of the market, which are partly fuelled by younger home buyers who are increasingly interested in home automation.
Even before the onslaught of Covid-19, the outlook for the smart-home market has been bullish. In Singapore, the industry is expected to rake in US$183 million ($260 million) this year, according to market and consumer data provider Statista. And by 2024, market volume is expected to hit US$299 million.
Another forecast by consulting firm A T Kearney predicts that the smart-home market in Asia will grow to US$26 billion by 2022 and US$115 billion by 2030, accounting for more than 30% of the global market. China and Japan are key to Asia’s growth, with economies like Singapore, South Korea and Taiwan also contributing substantially.

Social distancing the smart way

In a pandemic, smart-living can help property managers coordinate repair works or delivery and tele-medicine services, without needing human contact. Wilson Teo, founder of Singapore-based smart-living start-up iPlusLiving, shares that the firm has witnessed a “higher demand for our platform in Singapore, such as grocery and food delivery services from our e-commerce partners, from both residents and properties”.
Technology can also alleviate the inefficiences from manpower shortage. This is a result of the “circuit breaker” by the Singapore government that started on April 7, which mandates non-essential businesses to work from home, and essential services to keep its staff count lean. More stringent measure have since been rolled out: an extension of the circuit breaker till June 1, further streamlining of essential services that are allowed to operate and stricter measures to enter supermarkets and wet markets.
iPlusLiving has seen its platform used by property management to streamline and automate their facilities management procedures. Property managers can track and manage visitors digitally. The system also feeds back into a remote security centre, which can track visitors and automatically update guest logs — a plus should the need for contact tracing arise.
As at December 2019, iPlusLiving is used in 115 condominiums in Singapore, across 65,000 households — 140,000 residents log 200,000 sessions per month, the start-up says.

Developers ramp up offerings

Demand for smart-homes has undoubtedly forced developers to up their game. “It’s important for us to understand our residents’ lifestyle needs,” says CB Chng, executive director at Logan Property Singapore. He recognises that adopting smart-living platforms is now “vital for our residents to enjoy a high standard of living”.
Chng: We must be conscious of possible digital intrusions and data theft by malicious third parties (Credit: Samuel Isaac Chua/ The Edge Singapore)
Chng: We must be conscious of possible digital intrusions and data theft by malicious third parties (Credit: Samuel Isaac Chua/ The Edge Singapore)
The Hong Kong-listed mainland developer has two mega projects in Singapore — the 1,259-unit Stirling Residences in Queenstown, and The Florence Residences comprising 1,410 units in Hougang. By 2023, both projects will be completed, and residents will have access to a full suite of in-app lifestyle and smart-home features using iPlusLiving’s offerings. This includes booking onsite facilities like barbecue pits and pavilions, paying maintenance fees via digital platforms, and receiving e-commerce deals from smart-home and lifestyle merchant partners.
Qingjian Realty’s launch of The Visionaire back in 2016 paved the way for more developers to incorporate smart-home features on a larger scale. The 632-unit project in Sembawang was the first executive condominium (EC) — a hybrid of public and private housing — offering smart-home features to be put on the market, with up to 10 smart-home appliances from Samsung such as washing machines and air-conditioners.
In 2018, Qingjian partnered Singtel and smart-home solutions provider hiLife Interactive to roll out smart features for another EC project, Inz Residences in Choa Chu Kang. Residents at the 497-unit project, which was completed in August 2019, can enjoy smart-safety and energy-efficiency features, reaping the benefits of its smart-living facilities.

Nationwide, government push

The movement for smart-living has, in fact, been a top-down push from the government. Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong first announced the city-state’s Smart Nation initiative in 2014. In 2017, it set aside $2.4 billion to invest in tech such as data analytics and Internet of Things (IoT) sensors, and shifted to support start-ups by doing business directly with them to fuel private-sector innovation.
Even public housing has not been exempt from the vision. The country’s first smart estate will come to fruition in Punggol Northshore Residences, slated to be completed in 2Q2020. Research for this dated back to 2016, when 3,200 homes in Yuhua were trialled.
All 1,400 homes in the Punggol estate will come equipped with smart infrastructure. This means that just about any appliance connected to a power source — lamps, air-conditioners, fans — can be controlled through a mobile app. Homeowners would not need to purchase their own smart power plugs and smart gateways, which could easily cost a few hundred dollars.
Peter Seow (left), CEO, and Wilson Teo, founder, of Singapore-based smart-living start-up iPlusLiving (Credit: iPlusLiving)
Peter Seow (left), CEO, and Wilson Teo, founder, of Singapore-based smart-living start-up iPlusLiving (Credit: iPlusLiving)
Globally, over a thousand smart-city pilots have been launched. China is home to half of these cities, where residents enjoy AI-directed traffic, smart parking and mobile payments on train rides. The Chinese government has also rolled out policies that encourage property developers to include smart-home features into their properties.
In Japan, the government has rolled out Society 5.0, an initiative that centres around smart-living to improve the quality of life for an ageing population. Japanese smart-home product makers have also been creating innovative solutions that could create a safe and secure living environment, especially for the elderly.

Potential pitfalls

A three-bedroom show unit at Stirling Residences, where residents will have access to a full suite of in-app lifestyle and smart-home features (Credit: Samuel Isaac Chua/ The Edge Singapore)
A three-bedroom show unit at Stirling Residences, where residents will have access to a full suite of in-app lifestyle and smart-home features (Credit: Samuel Isaac Chua/ The Edge Singapore)
There are, however, potential pitfalls to smart-living. Digital security is one such issue. As more home devices get connected, there is a rising threat that cybercriminals can exploit loopholes, hack into such systems and steal personal data. “[As a developer,] we must be conscious of possible digital intrusions and data theft by malicious third parties. Resident confidence is paramount, and all it takes is just one incident to affect their belief in our brand and in what we do,” says Chng of Logan Property Singapore.
The interoperability of smart devices is also key. Without this, residents will not be able to use different brands of smart appliances seamlessly. Already, efforts to standardise common industry standards are increasing rapidly in the smart-home ecosystem, fuelled by the advancement of APIs and industry alliances.
In January, the Open Connectivity Foundation (OCF), dedicated to driving standards within the smart-home industry, announced that some smart products from firms like Haier, LG Electronics, and Samsung Electronics have met its certification standards. This provides an assurance that robust and secure connectivity within these devices have been achieved.
A third challenge would be educating end-users. If done right, this can “relieve apprehension and mistrust among citizens”, especially in the elderly, who may not be well-versed in using tech, says Teo. Chng agrees that this is paramount for residents to better understand the full benefits of smart-living, and has planned for onboarding and education of smart-living features in both The Stirling Residences and The Florence Residences, once the projects are completed.
In the near term, would smart-living be adopted by the masses? Teo is positive. “Smart-living might be viewed as a luxurious feature in the past, with their primary purpose to serve as a showpiece for a homeowner,” he says, but the confluence of socio-economic factors, and the advancement of tech — IoT and AI — could propel the industry to mass adoption.
The day when it becomes a norm to turn on your house’s air-conditioning and brew yourself a cup of joe while on the way home — all before stepping into the house — is no longer too far into the future.
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