The smart home movement is upon us and has been for some time, but when, and how, will it become the norm for every household? With an increasing number of manufacturers now embracing the Internet of Things (IoT) and the smart home, the technology is developing at a rapid rate making it now possible to ‘connect’ nearly all aspects of home life. The concept is a great one – equipping all objects with technology that can interact with each other and be controlled remotely resulting in a drastic transformation of the way we go about our daily lives. Over the past 2-3 years this has led to incredibly high forecasts for growth in the sector, but is a different approach now needed from manufacturers to enable the IoT industry to match these lofty forecasts?
Interest in IoT grows
In late 2013, Google bought smart thermostat manufacturer Nest for over $3.2 billion causing a shockwave in the IoT industry with many anticipating a surge in public interest and mass market sales. Recent reports reveal that interest really is high amongst the general public, with over two thirds stating that they will purchase at least one connected home device within the next 5 years. However, the increase in acquisition has been much slower than expected and the surge in interest appears to be more a surge in intrigue.
Two and a half years on from the acquisition by Google and 2016 reports show Nest Technologies, which now includes connected home security webcam manufacturer Dropcam, to be a company in trouble. There are many in the IoT industry now scratching their heads; with public interest at its highest and very few technical challenges remaining for manufactures of smart home products, there is clearly a big opportunity to open up the sector to the mass market rather than just a niche group of early adopters. But what is the best way to take advantage of this?
Smart home companies must first concentrate on areas that the public truly cares about. A recent Icontrol study has revealed that 90 per cent of current smart home product owners listed ‘Security’ as the main reason for their smart home purchase. Products such as connected kettles and fridges may be easy for the general public to understand and operate, however these products provide very limited benefit to their everyday lives. The aim for manufacturers should therefore be to generate the same level of public understanding, in terms of operation and installation, in products with much more significant day to day benefits like connected security and home automation systems.
Smart security is an example of what can be one of the simpler smart home technologies that instils peace of mind and has real, tangible benefits – deterring theft, remote access and convenience to name just a few. With users having the ability to adapt their smart security system to suit them with simple additions, such as having the outside light switch on when someone walks near the front door, it’s possible that these small starting points can serve as a gradual introduction to a fully connected home. Although particularly relevant to the smart home security, this stepping stone approach could work across the whole smart home and IoT industry.
A stepping stone approach
Offering users the opportunity to start with just one product, rather than a whole connected home system naturally makes the entry price point into smart home much lower and is more suited to those that live in smaller homes, both of which make it more attractive to a younger audience. Also, by starting with a product that solves a direct problem for the user, such as a small indoor camera for easy monitoring of a pet or small child on a smart phone, manufacturers can quell the fear that the technology is ‘too smart’ and show it is accessible and approachable, further closing the gap between availability and accessibility. This modular approach to smart home will also reassure potential customers that their smart home system is future proof as they can add to or upgrade the system when new products are launched, as their needs change - if they get a pet, expand the family, or if they move to a larger home.
As this stepping stone approach is designed so that consumers can add new products as and when they need to, the installation process must be straightforward and noninvasive to the home. If someone was to buy a complete home security or automation system that is difficult to install then a one-off professional installation, although expensive, won’t be too intrusive or time consuming. However, if the products in a modular system were to require the same professional or technical installation, it would be incredibly off-putting for the consumer.
For this stepping stone approach to truly take off in the mass market, it must be possible for products from one manufacturer to ‘talk’ to those from another manufacturer. This way, users won’t feel pressured or tied into one manufacturer, making the initial purchase of a smart home product much easier. An open platform such as this, and the use of open source protocols such as ZigBee, will benefit the industry as whole, with users able to benefit from connecting products from specialist manufacturers together in one system.
The benefits of the IoT and the smart home are huge and developments in the sector are shifting the way users interact with their surroundings. However for mass adoption to occur, a scalable, stepping-stone approach is needed from manufacturers in the industry to ensure that the products and services that they offer are the most accessible that they can be.
Jeremy Stewart, Vice President, Global Marketing at Swann Communications
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