A look back at Microsoft's 1999 smart home: What it got right and what it got wr...

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A look back at Microsoft's 1999 smart home: What it got right and what it got wrong

In the year 2023, most homes have "smart" devices of some sort, and smart home products are becoming more and more advanced all the time. However, back when the internet was just becoming a mainstream resource, Microsoft had some ideas about how a smart home might look and act in the "future".

You can take a glimpse at what Microsoft thought a smart home would be like with a 1999 video posted on YouTube. Let's take a look at what Microsoft got right (or at least within the ballpark) and what it got wrong with its smart home concept.

Home security

microsoft smart home

The beginning of the video shows "Robin" entering the home with an eye scanner. While there are certainly different ways of keyless entry into a house, the eye scanner method is definitely one not used by current homeowners. However, some people do open their front doors with a mobile phone app in 2023.

Microsoft smart home

Also, smart doorbells in 2023 do have cameras for security. In another section of the video, the family is having dinner while some salesperson is trying to visit. The TV does show the unexpected guest to the family, and that's certainly available with video doorbells as they can display what they see on current smart televisions.

In the Kitchen

Microsoft smart home

Robin is in the kitchen with a "kitchen PC". While most people likely don't have a full desktop computer on their kitchen countertop, smart displays like the Amazon Echo Show are available for things like calendars, watching videos for recipes, and much more, Smart displays, which can also include tablets on a kickstand, are being used more frequently in the kitchen.

microsoft smart home

Robin also scanned some food packages that are sent to a virtual shopping list on her kitchen PC. The "online grocer" will set up a delivery. In our real world, we do have online grocers who will deliver food to your house based on your list. Some smart refrigerators even have their own internet-connected features that will let you see what's inside the fridge while you are at the store so you can pick up food that you are running out of.

Indoor and outdoor notifications

Microsoft smart home

Robin sends a notice to her daughter Jessie who is walking outside to ask if she will be back for dinner. Jessie gets the notification from her "PocketPC" made by Casio and running on Windows CE. Ouch. This has not aged well at all. Of course, Robin could just text message Jessie on her iPhone or Android smartphone (oh, Windows Phone, this could have been you).

Microsoft smart home

When she arrives home, Jessie plays the piano which is connected to the home network and gets a notification when her favorite TV show comes on. Again, this didn't really come to pass as Jessie would likely have a smartphone to get notifications like this.

The "Web phone"

a web camera on microsoft smart home concep

This may be the biggest "swing and a miss" prediction in this video. The "web phone" that has a big display and is connected to the internet and the home network really didn't happen. Instead, we got smartphones that can do tons of things this "web phone" could never do.

Other observations

  • The 1999 Microsoft smart home has some touch panels to change the lighting in the house. In today's home, that would more likely be a touchscreen similar to a tablet or a smart display.
  • Voice commands are used from time to time in the video. While we have had voice assistants for a while now, they really have not caught on like Microsoft believed they would have in the video.
  • There are lots of big-screen TVs in the Microsoft smart home of 1999, which is certainly true today. The family uses WebTV to control what people can watch on each screen. In 2023, the streaming TV revolution is in full effect, so there's no real need for that kind of control.

What did you think of this glimpse into the future from 1999?

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