Why the smart home needs to get even smarter


Before the industry can grow up, smart home device vendors need to learn how to play nicely together

Smart home device shipments grew 55 percent in 2018 over 2017 to total 252 million units with more than 70 million homes worldwide now having one or more smart home device (according to ABI Research).

With such impressive market penetrations, you could be forgiven for thinking that the smart home is doing everything right. But I don’t think it is; rather I think vendors’ outdated business models and product complexity are compromising growth.

Traditionally, if a consumer wanted to install an alarm system in the home, they’d turn to a professional security company. In return, the consumer would receive expert installation and remote monitoring - but also a hefty, contractually binding monthly fee. If the consumer wanted to add, for example, CCTV they’d have to go back to the same vendor and pay them to install and configure an additional set of sensors and cameras. And that hefty monthly fee would get even heftier.

Today’s consumers are sending a clear message (through their investment in DIY security systems) that they don’t like being locked in to contracts and they don’t like being locked in to a single vendor and technology. It’s a message smart home suppliers would do well to heed, because they are in danger of continuing the outdated business model of yesterday’s security firms.

The second mistake the smart home device companies are making is ignoring the virtues of ease-of-use. Today it’s common for a consumer to buy a device that offers the basic functionality they need but then ignore advanced features because they are daunting to configure. It’s true that there are plenty of smart home installation firms to do the heavy lifting but that hardly makes life more convenient.

The good news is that smart home manufacturers are beginning to recognize their devices are too complex for consumers to configure and access all features. For example, GE has introduced some connected light bulbs that work directly with Google Home using ‘Actions on Google’ for pairing and communicating. Users don’t even have to pair the Bluetooth-based bulbs with the hub.

Any ease-of-use improvement is to be encouraged and will increase smart home device sales. But alone it won’t be enough to deliver on the promise of the smart home.

A smart home for all
The smart home is an innovative and expanding industry sector; but right now, it’s also a mess.

Consumers want smart home devices from a range of vendors that they can bring home and within minutes have up and running without recourse to an external installer.

Consumers also enjoy mixing, matching, and enhancing. This means the smart home industry needs to adopt a multiprotocol, common industry standard. One that enables devices from any vendor and using any protocol to work seamlessly together. When that’s going to happen is anyone’s guess. But the day it does will be the day the smart home grows up.

Smart home devices should be easier for consumers to configure and install

By Svein-Egil Nielsen