Get Smart: How To Help Smart Home Technology Make The Cut


Amazon Echo, Google Home, Siri, Nest, Hive, Canary, and a myriad of great – and not so great – ideas on crowdfunding websites; they’re all coming to you and want to control you and your home.

At the moment, the range of Smart Personal technology is roughly arranged like Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs:

  1. Technology offering soothing psychological needs like energy with devices like Hive and Nest.
  2. Our security needs being met with systems like Canary and Philips Hue.
  3. Our social, esteem, and more advanced egos are being looked after by Smart Assistants like Amazon Echo and Google Home.

Amongst this collection of solutions, Smart Home technology has formed itself to best fulfil needs at the bottom of the pyramid. 

Shortfalls

A major shortcoming of the current crop of Smart Home devices is that they just do what we can already do. My lights work when I switch them on without a Smart device. My heating systems already work without the need of being Bluetooth enabled and playing a CD (or even vinyl) isn’t that hard (and even a pleasure). Smart Home technology promises to make these tasks simpler and eventually remove the need for us to do them all together.

Very few homes have these devices fitted from new despite the number of new build homes each month. Interestingly, when I was in conversation with a major home builder, it seems that those in older age brackets are willing to specify Smart Home technology as an upgrade in new build homes whereas uptake in younger age groups is considerably lower.

Understanding your energy consumption is more important than understanding the contents of your fridge.

This raises a couple of important questions.

Is there a sweet spot that gives us the home infrastructure we need but also accounts for add-ons devices bringing branded utility with commerce? And on what terms will consumers like me welcome these devices en masse into their homes?

Slow Starter

Smart Home technology uptake is slow despite the potential utility it can provide at the relatively low cost they can be made available for. Adoption is going to take one of two paths – fast adoption through consumer awareness or a slow burn effectively relying on house builders and energy providers being forced into delivering change.

Furthermore, Smart Home technology can be roughly split into two categories. Devices that are part of house infrastructure that are installed and largely look after themselves, and things which are lifestyle add-ons. But, regardless of the device type, the market is fragmented with competing brands offering similar tech.

The Sweet Smell Of Success

Like any product, to succeed Smart Home technology needs to address and deliver on basic needs and be simple to use, understand, and be quickly integrated and adopted into our everyday lives.

But, Smart technology should not be forced on our lives just because it exists. It needs to have a purpose.

Internet connected fridges exist, and the technology to determine its contents by scanning and weighing products is available. In theory, the fridge that buys eggs and milk (and even orders butter based on when it thinks you *might* need it) is already here. But as we know, supermarkets are not devoid of shoppers.

As a consumer, how do I choose between Hive or Nest for my heating system? Too much choice and fragmentation of device, device network and standards can be confusing.

Market fragmentation works against our needs to find things that work in harmony with the rest of our world. It is possible with current technology (like IFTTT or Stringify) to make these work together, but while they are straightforward for technologists, they are not accessible to large swathes of people that might need access.

It’s clear they are fragmented and providing patchy coverage of what we might call a customer experience. Mastering that experience will be a tipping point for Smart Home technology.

A new player in the market that brings all these networks, standards and devices together in a non-proprietary open standard will bring Smart Homes closer for everyone.

Smart Energy Is Still A Great Place To Start

Smart technology looks a good fit for the energy conscious and provides basic needs in monitoring usage, but does little to allow consumers to make informed choices that make real impact on day-to-day bills. Therefore, a good feeling about saving day-to-day is lacking; tiny tiny savings made everyday do not have a huge psychological and feel-good impact. The vision of letting a machine pick and switch to the cheapest energy provider at any given time is a really attractive future.

High prices of Smart Home technology could be part of new home purchases – not exactly a hidden cost – but when compared to the total price of a new home, a very small proportion. Every new home should have Smart Home technology fitted as standard, not as an option.

Building On Firm Foundations

To succeed in the short term Smart Home technology needs to do three things.

Provide Actionable Energy And Security Advice

Smart Home technology needs to earn its right in our lives by starting to address our everyday shelter, energy and safety needs.

This needs to be done in an effortless way and provide actionable information. Telling me I’m using power to boil a kettle isn’t going to make me stop making coffee, but telling me an upstairs room is getting cold because I’ve left a door open is going to motivate me to keep drafts at bay.

Have Usable Interfaces And Be Standardised

It seems obvious, but Smart devices need to be usable. Really useable. We have years of digital interface design behind us now so designing the perfect interface should be simple. The design should also be intuitive and ubiquitous. Why should you be faced with learning a different system at home to your work and hotel?

Be Upgradable

Technology is moving super fast. Once installed, a device is already out of date.
Devices need some basis for upgradability to make them attractive to both consumers and also importantly – developers.

Key to upgradability is a common open data and connection system allowing new devices to be added to existing home networks and new home network devices to be individually added to an existing ecosystem.

Get these three things right and you’ll be buying a new home out of the proceeds…