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Microsoft said Wednesday it plans to invest $5 billion in the complicated-but-exciting world of Internet of Things over the next four years.
In a blog post, Corporate Vice President of Azure Julia White didn’t go into detail about how the $5 billion will be spent or the kinds of products that could come out of it. She wrote that Microsoft’s IoT platform today spans its cloud, OS and devices areas, and this investment will allow businesses of all sizes and levels of technical expertise to build connected devices and programs.
“Our goal is to give every customer the ability to transform their businesses, and the world at large, with connected solutions,” White writes.
The idea of the Internet of Things has been around for years, but advances in cloud computing have helped make the technology more of a reality. Microsoft has embedded its technology into several Internet of Things devices in recent years, most recently a smart thermostat from Johnson Controls powered by the digital assistant Cortana.
The company surveyed more than 1,000 residents and reached some surprising conclusions as to the adoption of smart home tech by renters. The survey revealed that the most important smart home services to renters are security cameras, including doorbell cameras and ceiling-mounted surveillance cameras, keyless entry with special codes for guests, smart thermostats, and a security system. The other strong desire that emerged from the study found that one of residents’ top amenities would be an electronic payment system, rendering the need to write the monthly rent check irrelevant.
Interestingly, the survey found that residents aren’t bound by smart home brand loyalty. Unlike more established devices like cellphones or laptops, smart home brands haven’t yet established themselves as the gold standard in the rental market. 33 percent of respondents registered “no preference” when it comes to smart home devices; 16 percent are happy with Google Home, 12 percent to Amazon Echo, and just 11 percent to Apple’s troubled new HomePod.
“It’s really about the different technologies and the platform all being able to talk to each other,” said Alan Missen of property management company FirstService Residential recently of the branding challenges. “One of the challenges in the industry is that there are not a lot of standards. New technology comes out and there’s seven ways of doing it.”
“While pools and other creative community features have often been seen as the draw for prospective residents, the survey shows that what residents really value upon move-in, and are willing to pay for, are technology add-ons and amenities.” said Chase Harrington, president and chief operating officer of Entrata. “Shifting the focus of development, marketing, and training efforts to these technologies is going to be key for apartments as residents begin to demand living in a smart, connected environment.”
According to the National Multifamily Housing Council, 35 percent of the U.S. population of 112 million individuals rent versus buying a home. Historically, these people tend to live in urban areas and the demographics trend younger in age, making them the sweet spot for marketing smart home tech.
The top smart home features residents said they would pay a premium for include a basic technology package including high-speed Internet, online rent payments, secure access, smart home features such as keyless entry, and an automated maintenance request system. More than half of residents (57 percent) indicated they are willing to increase their rent payment by at least $20 per month to get the high-tech apartment they desire, and about one in four were willing to chip more than $30 per month.
Competing services include Vivint’s Smart Properties, which lets property managers design their own smart home systems, and Castle Lanterra Properties’ System Galaxy, which lets property managers remotely limit access to buildings and amenities, 24/7. PointCentral, a subsidiary of , also provides residential property managers with a smart home platform help increase property awareness and reduce energy costs.