Innovation Hall is a new series presented by #AptChat established to inform readers on technological advancements impacting the multifamily industry today, tomorrow, and in the future.

Hot off the heels of NMHC this week and CES (the Consumer Electronics Show) last week, it seems the right time to sift through the latest news. There’s an avalanche of new information to digest. If you want to see it all, I recommend these roundups from either TechCrunch or The Verge. However, I’ll help cut through the noise below.

Here at 30 Lines, I work with apartment marketers every day to help them reach more renters. On top of that, I’m a renter myself. I love following the tech industry and seeing all the new gadgets and ideas made possible through technology. Indulge me as I dive down the rabbit hole and highlight the major themes I saw from CES this year.

“Alexa, Do All the Things”

The first major takeaway is the explosion of voice assistants. Both Amazon’s Alexa and Google Assistant will see support from all types of products. As The Verge noted, “While Alexa may be integrated in more things (roughly 4,000 products to Google’s 1,500 compatible devices), more people paid attention to Google Assistant this year than ever.” Speakers, headphones, TVs, and even refrigerators will see partnerships with voice assistants this year.

Photo: The Verge

A New Reality

Second — AR, VR, and AI. Although Apple has thrown down the gauntlet on augmented reality, other manufacturers are picking up steam on Virtual Reality. Oculus’s Rift platform has seen heavy discounts recently in an attempt to pick up adoption. Meanwhile, HTC has shown off beefy upgrades to their Vive system and their new Vive Pro. It brings all the requisites: faster performance, better resolution, better audio, and so forth. But the killer feature – wireless. Cutting the cord will easily make VR more accessible as the platform wars continue ramping up.

Photo: HTC – Vive Pro

Smart Homes Getting Smarter

Third (and nearest to my heart) — smart home technology. I’ll spend a little more time on smart home as there’s so much activity in this area right now.

Security and smart home home technology are two of the most requested topics in multifamily. Although not a new product, smart locks seem ripe for advancements and even some good old-fashioned disruption. To that end, lockmaker August announced last week the launch of an in-home delivery service. The company’s smart locks will leverage their Access platform and a partnership with a logistics company, Deliv.

Of course, this puts August in competition with retail giant Amazon and their Amazon Key service. Although Key seems to have a leg up right now due to reliance on their Cloud Cam (August has no camera offering), and of course the world’s largest marketplace, Access could provide an alternative to local-based or harder-to-find products.

I should note, though, Amazon Key also only supports deadbolt locks in single-family homes at the moment. Plus, I’d bet money that August is working on a home camera solution right now. (Competitor Latch already offers the built-in camera.) Watch this space — it’s only going to get more interesting.

Photo: August

The HVAC industry was among the first out of the gate for smart home products, but stayed somewhat quiet this year. Google’s Nest thermostat probably owns the crown for mindshare when residents think of a smart thermostat. And while other companies both new (Ecobee) and old (Honeywell) have introduced competitors in the past, we didn’t see too much action this year.

Johnson Controls (who debuted the first thermostat in 1883) introduced a new high-end smart thermostat that takes advantage of Microsoft’s Cortana assistant. Mainstays Carrier showed off a new WiFi air conditioner with smartphone control. Also, while Ecobee has made a name for itself measuring temperature differences across various rooms in your house, Carrier takes a step toward tackling the actual problem. This new unit has various smart sensors to detect changes in temperature, humidity, and even room occupancy to make climate decisions accordingly.

Photo: Carrier

What Else?

And the wildcard — appliances. Although at first glance an internet-connected refrigerator might seem silly. But once you add a layer of smarts on top of your appliances, the value starts to become clear. GE’s lovingly named GTW750CSLWS brings a laundry load of WiFi smarts.

Alexa integrations already let you know the status of your laundry. Imagine residents asking Alexa if there are any open machines in the laundry room. Or, take it even further — “Alexa, when does my pool open?,” or “Alexa, file a work order for my kitchen faucet,” or even “Alexa, reserve my resident lounge for this Saturday.” With simple-to-create Alexa skills, it’s easy to keep adding value to the resident experience.

Photo: CNET

Tying It Back to Apartments

So all this technology is great, but how does it relate to multifamily? Manufacturers are already heavily promoting this stuff to your residents, usually in the context of a 2,500 square-foot house – not to mention the attached garage. Even if they don’t own these amenities, your renters are interested in smart home tech – whether in their own apartment or elsewhere in their living space. That’s your opportunity to shine.

In 2018, it’s time to think about your property as a platform. It’s not 200 individual smart homes. What does a smart apartment community look like? What are your residents asking for? What are your residents installing?

It’s time to think like LG, Hisense, and Sony, building both Alexa and Google Assistant into their TVs. By embracing and understanding what their customers are already using and looking for, they’re finding new ways to add value to the customer experience. The idea of buying a TV hasn’t drastically changed for over a decade. For these companies, however, they’re now turning over parts of the experience to their customers, which adds tangible value. Don’t get scared off by a larger up-front cost; the investment pays dividends for years to come.

I won’t get into specific math here (you know your building’s finances better than I do), but think about that: embracing smart technology allows you to charge $33 more a month per door. Not to mention the added benefit of increased value to your residents, which we know will lead to easier renewals.

How do you see voice, VR, and smart home advancements impacting your apartment community in the next year?