Technologists often seem to live closer to the future than the rest of us. So it is not surprising that Franklin Tang’s conception of ideal smart living expands on a way of life that is only just starting to emerge with the gradual popularisation of voice-activated virtual assistants such as Apple’s Siri and Amazon’s Alexa.
“I believe a lot in the ability to activate functions by voice, because then technology will be able to transcend countries and cultures. When you have a smart home system that can understand any language, be it Cantonese or Hokkien, anyone will be able to use it. My 90-year-old grandmother doesn’t know how to use an app, but simply talking to a system like Alexa requires much less tech-savviness.”
We are in a show suite in Corals at Keppel Bay, which became the first development in Asia to have a fully integrated smart home management system in 2016 when developer Keppel Land worked with Franklin’s company Philip Tang & Sons to introduce Habitap. The app can help residents lock their doors remotely, turn the air conditioning on before they return home, book condominium facilities and access a myriad other functions. It is also connected to Amazon Echo, and as Franklin says “Alexa”, the smart speaker in the room recognises its “wake word” and lights up, ready to switch on the stereo, raise the blinds or whatever other programmed functions that can be triggered by voice commands.
It is all pretty cool, but smart homes of the future are likely to see voice-activated technology integrated even more seamlessly, Franklin believes. “There are a lot of efficiencies we can gain in design, in order to use voice activation more elegantly. You should be able to move throughout the house, and maybe strategically-located microphones will pick up your commands. To me, technology is something that shouldn’t be in your face. If you can point to something in a home and say, that’s a piece of technology, then it’s not a lifestyle.”
With voice and facial recognition capabilities developing at what he calls “a blazing speed”, the Habitap team is already starting to develop back-end platforms that are compliant with these technologies. “What we are building is seamless integration with your home. The means through which you access that today is a smartphone. But tomorrow, it could be through a watch, or your voice, or a chip in your wrist,” he muses. “The device doesn’t really matter, we are quite agnostic with regards to the type of technology. Habitap exists to create a lifestyle.”
That explains why lifestyle partners are a key feature of the app, which has now been introduced at 10 completed and pending condominiums in Singapore, including the upcoming Highline Residences in Tiong Bahru and The Clement Canopy in Clementi. It is customised for each development and each iteration typically features around 50 lifestyle brands housed within the app’s smart directory and online store, curated according to the preferences of the residents in question.
This year, the company has also expanded into commercial buildings for the first time, working with developer M+S to introduce a digital app for its Marina One and Duo developments. Four more commercial projects are in the pipeline in Singapore, and apps have been introduced for smart offices in Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam, and Yangon, Myanmar. Two mixed-use buildings in Jakarta, Indonesia are coming up next, and there have been inquiries from the US and Europe. “We want to build up our track record overseas, and create the same traction that we’ve seen in Singapore,” says Franklin.
In the long-term, he has his sights set on a smart living platform that can connect not just retail, office and residential buildings within mixed-use developments, but a whole town. “With the Smart Nation initiative, the Singapore government doesn’t want developers to build just one building, it wants them to plan and curate an experience across a precinct. Connecting buildings helps us learn what’s required when it comes to connecting a township. I dare say that in the future, residents of, let’s say, the Jurong Lake District, will be able to connect to the library, the hospital, the MRT, all with a single app.”
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