We know it’s being taken very seriously, says Ranj Dale – projections estimate that by 2019 the industry will be worth $40 to $200bn. We also know some of the factors driving its adoption: a growing concern about sustainability and environmental issues, and an increasing interest in how the home can be designed to assist an aging population to live independently.
However, as with any new technology, there are significant barriers slowing its widespread adoption. The smarthome market is incredibly fragmented, with little coherence around what opportunities the smarthome could offer in the future. There has also been a proliferation in the number of ‘smart devices’ that can be used in the home, alongside excessive amounts of information. Further questions are raised about inter-operability of the devices- will my stereo from Brand A be compatible with my lighting from Brand B? Which organization is setting smarthome standards? As it stands, the smarthome is an unstructured concept and fails to appeal to the mass market.
So how can we change this? When will consumers be ready? What killer use cases can we communicate to the mass market? Which brands and retailers will consumers trust to be in their home?
What we already know
GfK has recently undertaken research into the smarthome in the UK – fieldwork is also now underway in a further seven key markets to gauge global knowledge and interest. Our first finding was that UK consumers really recognize the smarthome as a concept. Two-thirds claim they have some knowledge of what the smarthome is – but only 10% say they know a lot about it. The smarthome is also seen as the concept that will have the greatest impact on life in the next few years, and was ranked above other major technology trends such as mobile payments, The Cloud and wearables. The buzz created by smarthome brands is cutting through, and consumers have high expectations of what it can offer them.
But what functions appeal to consumers the most, and who do they trust to supply these devices? The three most appealing functions of the smarthome to consumers are security and control, entertainment and connectivity and energy/lighting. Health functions and appliances have slightly less appeal. A mix of organisations are trusted to deliver smarthome devices, although utility companies are especially trusted to deliver energy and lighting. Some consumers are keen to keep a mix of brands in the home. Many are simply unwilling to entrust their whole house to a single brand. Yet, the story changes for those under 30 – they are keen to keep a single provider in the home, and willing to entrust a greater proportion of their life to just one brand.
Our data shows that the obstacles to mass-market smarthome adoption are those typical of new technologies. In fact, the same fears were expressed when smartphones were first developed. There is a perceived high cost of the devices and a lack of understanding of how the smarthome actually works. Secondary issues relate to security and data privacy concerns. But many consumers have no fears about the smarthome – so how can they be encouraged to invest?
Keep it simple!
Also key to the smarthome is the interface, a vital concept in technological design. Digital interfaces should not be the default – sometimes it is better to keep it simple! The Hue lightbulb from Phillips originally needed a smartphone but now only uses a simple, tangible switch. Invisible interfaces may also be suitable – such as smoke alarms that turn off when users wave at them. The tangible and invisible interfaces can be superior to digital interfaces as they are simple and intuitive to use –and simplicity should be at the heart of the smarthome.
Debating the creation of the smarthome left us with three key learnings:
1) Smarthome design should focus on emotions rather than functions – we need smart devices that ignite happy emotions.
2) Future-proofing the smarthome is essential. Brands and devices must be collaborative to achieve this – Brands need friends too!
3) Tangible and invisible interfaces reflect simplicity – and the smarthome should be simple and intuitive!
So where does the future of the smarthome lie? The next phase in smarthome design is beyond the appliance - ‘smart materials’ will be a future focus. Lights that can kill bacteria, carbon fibre materials in beds that can keep two sides different temperatures are potential innovations in this area. But first we need to convince consumers why they need a smarthome – and keeping it simple can achieve this.