Promise of a Smarter Future: Why the Smart Home is Catching Consumer Notice
Many of us in the tech industry have spent decades anticipating the promise of smart home technology integration into our residences. X10 home control technology was introduced in the mid-1970s and, the term smart home was coined by the National Association of Home Builders in 1984.
The Consumer Technology Association’s (CTA)™ latest semi-annual industry report, U.S. Consumer Technology Sales and Forecasts, projects sales of connected home technologies including smart thermostats, smart locks and Wi-Fi cameras to reach 8.9 million units – a 21 percent increase from 2015 – generating $1.2 billion in revenue. Household penetration of smart home devices is projected to reach 13 percent by the end of 2016. In my opinion, there’s still plenty of opportunity for growth in 2016 and beyond.
Smart Home at CES 2016
As an accessories distributor, it’s truly exciting to see the vast number of new products being introduced in this category. The Smart Home Marketplace at CES 2016 included over 130 exhibitors, ranging from complex systems that require an experienced installation professional to simple DIY setups that can be connected in minutes. There are connected surveillance and security systems; lighting control systems with switches, dimmers and outlets; Internet-connected smoke and CO2 detectors; climate control devices such as smart thermostats and air vents; and even Internet-controlled sprinkler systems for your lawn.
The difference between the current crop of smart home accessories and earlier versions is the ubiquitous smartphone and apps that can control and monitor the new wave of smart home devices. Some use proprietary protocols, while others connect to Wi-Fi networks and may be controlled using one of many third party apps.
Consumers must decide which products to purchase that will work together now and will be compatible with accessories they may want to add in the future. The largest tech companies on the planet are competing to be the standard. Apple’s HomeKit based on Apple’s iOS competes with Google’s Android-based Brillo. There is also a separate Works With Nest ecosystem that includes Nest thermostats, the Nest Camera and Nest Protect devices, as well as a growing list of third-party products, including appliances, ceiling fans and keyless door locks which are compatible across various software platforms.
A group of tech titans – including Microsoft, Qualcomm, LG, Philips, Sharp and Sony – have formed the AllSeen Alliance. The non-profit organization promotes Alljoyn, an open-source software framework that allows devices to discover and communicate with each other. Another group in this space, the Open Interconnect Consortium – whose members include Intel, Cisco and Samsung – uses an open-source software framework called IoTivity. Product designers and engineers from startups to well-established brands are picking sides, and some are hedging their bets—developing products for both platforms.
A simple way for consumers to navigate the smart home aisle is to stay inside their comfort zone. For example, consumers with an iPhone or other Apple products can choose from dozens of iOS HomeKit-compatible devices. On the other hand—or handset—Galaxy S users can choose from within the Android smart home ecosystem of connected home devices.
Another way to think about this emerging product category is to consider specific customer scenarios, and how connected devices can make consumers’ lives easier. For example, when someone is ready to call it a day, how can technology simplify their nighttime routine with one easy command? Voice control technology – such as Apple’s Siri, Google Voice and Amazon Echo – will be a big part of the equation. With one command, interior lights turn off, exterior lights turn on, doors lock, the alarm sets, the thermostat adjusts, and nothing is left but sweet dreams.
As more consumers adopt these products, awareness will grow, more innovative new products will be introduced, and the promise of smart homes will truly be realized. Now is the time for savvy retailers to begin adding more smart home products to their merchandise mix with a display that makes it easy for customers to see and understand the benefits of a more connected lifestyle. Train your staff to give great demonstrations of the products using the scenarios you imagined. After all, the focus should be on how these great products can make your customer’s life better, not just parlor tricks with technology.
As we move closer to realizing the promise of smarter and smarter homes, your customers will rely on you for answers. Start educating yourself now. There was substantial CES press coverage of this category that can be found online, and each of the competing standards mentioned above have resources that will help you understand the differences between systems and products.
If you’ve read all the way to the end of this article, you’ve already taken the first step. We may have only scratched the surface here, but you’re smart – and you can help make more homes even smarter.
This article was originally published in the March 2016 issue of Dealerscope magazine.