Established in the early 1980 as an accounting software developer, Philip Tang & Sons is a Singapore-headquartered company with a regional presence. Having moved on to web, e-commerce sites and mobile apps development since, Philip Tang & Sons has grown rapidly over the last decade. Armed with Habitap, its latest mobile app for smart home & living, the solution also fronts as a flagship innovation.

Introduced at Keppel Land’s luxury waterfront development, Corals at Keppel Bay, Habitap is a fully integrated smart home management system that is conceptualised and developed by Philip Tang & Sons. Launched at a VIP showcase in July, the system seamlessly combines smart home features, smart condominium management as well as lifestyle offerings to provide solutions for holistic smart living.

To learn more about the homegrown technology firm and its involvement in the smart home project, we recently caught up with Franklin Tang, Chief Executive Officer of Philip Tang & Sons. Here are the excerpts:

SI Asia: We understand that Philip Tang & Sons was traditionally a software business, very much IT – but does the introduction of Habitap means that you guys will be venturing into hardware control in the long run?

FRANKLIN: Yes, we have invested heavily in terms of time and resources into this for the past 18 months. Having done all that, I think we are very serious about being a strong player in this market, especially in terms of systems integration, hardware control and lighting automatic etc. That’s something we really want to get into and I think one of the strengths that we have is software expertise. As you know, a lot of things today are highly dependant on software where everything is programmable. Once you have the necessary hardware, you are able to do it, and because of that I think we should be able to perform fairly well in this area.

SI Asia: What is Philip Tang & Sons’ presence in the region and how is the market response for Habitap so far…?

FRANKLIN: Besides Singapore, we also have offices in Myanmar and Indonesia doing similar work. So far, we have got queries for Habitap from Southeast Asia and the Pacific. I think Habitap has open up a lot of market opportunities for us because most of the property developers are either regional or global players, so once they have accepted your solution, you scale very quickly. I think that’s the dynamics of this industry.

SI Asia: What was the key Smart Home concept requested by the client for Corals at Keppel Bay?

FRANKLIN: One of the key briefs was that the client wanted to be one of the first in Asia, if not, the world, to have a truly smart living experience. They very much wanted the lifestyle element as well so it’s not just about remote controls but also the integration with different partners to bring the lifestyle element into the project. We also integrate community living, which is the facility booking and invitation service. So with Habitap, all the services with your home, community and lifestyle are just a tab away.

SI Asia: What are some of the key smart technologies implemented?

FRANKLIN: An interesting aspect is that all the AC units are fully controllable via the Habitap app. It’s one of those that requires a lot of integration because you need to talk to the machine. The other one will be the lockset. Typically, locks have to be secured physically but having the option of being able to control them remotely is something that we have spend a lot time on integrating as well.

Other things that can be controlled by the Habitap app include lighting and sound systems. We are currently working with Bose and Sonos, but as long as the sound system gives you an API we can work with it, so any wireless speakers would be just fine too.

UPDATE 26/9: Philip Tang & Sons added that Habitap can fully control Loewe TVs as well.

SI Asia: The biggest challenge in this project would be…

FRANKLIN: Our understanding of construction! We learned that things are different when you are doing one or two homes compared to doing 366 homes at one go. Given the short time span, it’s a large-scale deployment and a new playing ground for us. There is culture shock as the construction industry is very different from the tech industry. There are many policies, procedures, norms to follow etc – it’s a big challenge and a steep learning curve for us.

The other challenge we had was the lack of understanding of smart homes. This gives rise to a lot of people viewing us as a disruptor. The vibe we are getting from the ground was something like, “I’m doing my work here, and now you are bringing me this new technology which I know nothing about and I am very adverse to, but I have to deal with you yet I have to do my work” – it’s that kind of resistance that we sensed. That was very challenging, but I think we managed well to deliver the project.

SI Asia: What’s your take on smart technologies & future of smart homes?

FRANKLIN: I think some people have the misconception that having a smart home is like having a Ironman’s home, with all the bells and whistles, things flying around etc, but honestly, for many of us, that’s not going to be the case.

A smart home is a self-managed home. A smart home is a home that you don’t have to lift your finger to manage. That, to me, is a smart home and it’s not going to come in bells and whistles. It’s not going to manifest itself that way so we have to take that cinema-movie expectations away and think what is truly a smart home – one that is liveable and helps me with chores.

SI Asia: In your opinion, what is the relationship between smart home and smart city?

FRANKLIN: Smart city is an infrastructure project, while smart home is a personal project. Without a smart city, you have no smart home. You can do your smart home but it will not be very smart – so that’s the relationship. But where there is smart city, smart home is possible. Looking at how our government has laid infrastructure such as fibre broadband in place way beforehand, it was a sound strategy. Now, private sectors can just come in and build smart homes on the grid.