The media loves to play up the ways technology complicates our lives: Nearly 10 billion data records have been stolen or lost due to breaches since 2013, and the average person spends almost two hours on social media each day. And while we’ve increased our efficiency, we haven’t actually gotten more time back — the majority of Americans work more than 40 hours per week.
But we can’t deny that technology has made things better in many ways. We no longer wash our clothes on washboards, we have access to communication devices at all times, and many of our workflows have been automated. Tech exists to enhance our efforts and allow us to shift our focus to the things only we can do — and many companies are working to bring us back to that view of technology.
One of the most frustrating tasks that remains, despite technology, is the need to coordinate different service providers for a big effort. For example, a company putting together an exhibition often has to work with not only its own staff, but also the event organizer, an AV vendor, a marketer with expertise in booth design, and a manufacturer/distributor for swag. After identifying good school districts and purchasing a new home, individuals moving from one house to another still have to coordinate with realtors, hire a moving company, pack, and set up utilities. Reading that list is enough to make anyone tired.
For that reason, tech-focused companies are developing apps that enable people to accomplish many things at once. Moved, for instance, aims to create easy, stress-free moving experiences by offering a concierge service, complete with a dedicated personal assistant to manage the multitude of tasks and a portal to add services, such as hiring painters or buying insurance.
Likewise, MobileSuites is creating a one-stop hotel shop by going beyond the straightforward booking experience to include room service, transportation, and checkout — even simple things like requesting extra towels. For those taking on massive projects such as home building or remodeling, Porch combines the expertise of builders, architects, interior designers, and other specialists like drywall installers to offer a hub with dozens of resources and tools in one spot.
These multivendor apps appeal to users because they take several (often simple, occasionally difficult) tasks and remove the time-consuming work required to tackle each individually. Not only are the apps’ users benefiting, but the apps are, too: In a three-year span, Porch captured data on 132 million projects and attained a $500 million valuation.
Smart Home Tech
Smart home technology is all the rage, with 45 percent of homeowners intending to incorporate smart devices in their homes during their next updates. That’s because these technologies take on duties homeowners had to carry out themselves or hire separate service providers for, from ensuring home security to making energy-efficient additions. These devices save homeowners money — for instance, LED bulbs (the kind used in connected lighting installations), use up to 80 percent less energy than incandescent bulbs — and they also help homeowners make money when it comes time to sell. The majority of homeowners would spend a minimum of $1,500 to make their homes smart if they knew doing so would help them sell their homes faster.
To meet the demand for self-monitoring homes, companies are developing tech that can take on traditional homeowner tasks. SkyBell, for example, has created a smart video doorbell that doubles as a security device, allowing homeowners to see who’s visiting their house — regardless of their own location at the time. Owners can speak to people on their doorstep through the device, which also records visitors and enables neighborhoods to gather information, such as footage of a suspicious person who’s visiting every home.
The Nest thermostat takes on old-school energy monitoring by allowing homeowners to control the temperature of their house through an app — and if they add a Nest Temperature Sensor, the house can identify the correct temperature without manual intervention. Meanwhile, the Amazon Echo promises to take multifaceted smart devices to the next level. With its assistant, Alexa, serving as a hub for other smart devices, users can change channels, set timers, or control their lights through Echo. Not surprisingly, Alexa is paying off for Amazon as much as its customers: The company has snagged up to a 76 percent share of the smart home market.
Everyday Problem Solvers
Technology is great, but it doesn’t prevent humans from, well, being human. We get frustrated because we can’t find our keys, leave the house on time, or find the location for the work happy hour — and we blame technology for not anticipating our needs or simply driving us where we need to go so we can give our brains a break.
While self-driving cars are on the way, there are several tech companies looking to solve everyday human problems today. Google Maps and its GPS brethren have all but eliminated paper maps, verbally giving directions to users in unfamiliar locations (or those who simply struggle with geography). Tile works to cut down the 60 hours per year people spend looking for their keys by pairing a Bluetooth tracking system with an app for easy searches. And services like Dropbox empower users by storing their data, photos, and files in the cloud, allowing them to quickly organize their content and keep working — no file cabinets needed. In fact, Dropbox has had so much success in helping people streamline their work that it went public earlier this year, achieving an expectations-beating valuation of more than $12 billion in its market debut.
While we constantly hear about how much harder things have become as technology has infiltrated our lives, that’s only part of the story — many of us are truly dependent upon technology for things we now take for granted. Tech companies are working to make our lives simpler, but we’ll only feel gratitude when we embrace the technology and figure out — ourselves — how we could better spend all that saved time.