For a couple of years now, the smart home segment has been surprising the crystal ball gazers. While there has been significant progress in platform metrics, i.e. devices, capabilities, interfaces and the like, in the end, the segment has been slow to gain traction. I may get some pushback on this but, I am convinced that the devices are still too complex for the average consumer, in more ways than just technologically.
There are still significant incompatibility issues among devices and platforms. Many are still proprietary and interoperability issues still exist across platforms and brands. Complexity in installation and interconnect are some other issues.
Not too long ago I penned a missive that addressed the more obvious reasons and what the segment should be doing. I do not claim to be a fortune teller, nor a mind reader, but in the end, I am also a consumer. Yes, I can muddle through complex deployment and configuration issues, but there are just some areas where I want the same, simple, plug and play configuration as do non-tech neophytes. I just want to plug it in and have it do all the configuring so the next thing I know it works with Alexa, Siri, all my smartphones, tablets, computers, even my Harley (OK, so that may be asking a bit much).
My point is that just because I can, does not always mean I want to. I am not alone in that. I know plenty of socially awkward, uber-geeks who feel the same way. They may want to rewrite the algorithms for their favorite social media apps, but they do not always want to play with connecting a smart lamp, thermostat, or lock, for example.
I recently saw a report from 451 addressing this conundrum. Their take was that smart home adoptions are happening but it is a rather slow ramp up as opposed to a “wow” take up on new technology. I tend to agree with that assertion.
One chronic issue that is plaguing the unlicensed markets is security and privacy. It seems like, pretty regularly, we hear about some sort of privacy breach, particularly with unlicensed devices, social media platforms and AI platforms. Recall that, recently, Amazon changed its Alexa so it was easier for the user to delete data. However, that reinforces the point that such devices have been too complex and difficult to manage.
However, all that aside, the main reason consumers are not buying such devices is two-fold. First, many are just not interested in smart light switches, locks or thermostats. Security cameras and doorbell cameras fare a bit better, but the rest of the devices remain somewhat stagnant. Second, there are no compelling use cases. Many of these smart devices are being promoted as “ushering in a new era of greater comfort by giving consumers the ability to control every aspect of their homes, right from the palms of their hands.”
However, somehow that is not engaging the consumer. The single most important reason consumers are reticent is simply the lack of interest in a smart home. They just do not see them as being very useful. Between the security issues and lack of compelling use cases, 65 percent of those polled, fall into those two categories.
This places smart home vendors in a bit of a quandary. They now have the job of convincing the consumer of what smart devices can do to improve their quality of life. However, the question begs; what do consumers want? There are a slew of devices out there. I have seen smart home demos that have all kinds of benefits. However, this level of interconnect is not cheap. To make the most of this requires more than just smart speakers and locks. It requires smart appliances, smart fixtures andsmart devices. That is a compelling use case, but a very expensive one at this stage of the game.
Writing from a consumer perspective rather than a techno geek, I can see the consumer’s point. Remote control light switches and sockets, and some specialized devices have been around for decades. Some were actually quite sophisticated for their day (remember the old X10 systems?). The theory was sound but the implementation left a lot to be desired. Still, it had a lot of potential, yet never really caught on. There were others over the years, as well.
When I talk to people that represent the typical user that might be interested in smart homes (this spans several generations) the answer I get most often is, that the current situation is not that objectionable. They just do not feel the need to replace comfortable, reliable, and understandable devices with next generation ones, and deal with a learning curve (and the fact that when power is lost, so is the functionality, even with battery backup if the outage lasts too long).
In the end, the smart home market is growing and will continue to grow. The general consensus is that adoption will be steady and with a low linear slope – at least for the next few years. One key parameter that could accelerate this is, as the market matures and the replacement cycle of older appliances with new, smart, interconnected ones become the norm, adoption rates of all smart devices will accelerate. However, that may take another five to 10 years to gain some traction since many high-ticket items last up to 20 years, even longer.
Finally, the success of the smart home depends upon easy interconnect and control. If a device, such as Alexa, becomes a natural interface with smart devices, that might be just the ticket to get the industry mainstreamed.