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Breaking down the barriers to Smart Tech in the home

Rod Slater, head of Smart Tech & IoT at Exertis, has some advice about how the channel can take advantage of the wave of smart technology targeted at the home

Technology is part of everyday life. At work we use technology to be more efficient and productive, so it’s hardly surprising if we want the same benefits in the home. Of the 25bn IoT-enabled devices* that are predicted to be around by 2020, millions of these are earmarked to help consumers automate their home. Already, in retail outlets as diverse as John Lewis, Argos, Screwfix and Maplin, consumers are faced with a huge range of products that can add security to a home, control heating/lighting and potentially reduce energy costs, provide entertainment, and make everyday tasks more convenient.

Security, energy, entertainment and convenience are the key categories that are driving interest in this area. Not surprisingly, home security has been one of the most influential drivers in this market and has been top of the list for many households. The ability to obtain instant monitoring with high quality video direct to a mobile device from a small and convenient smart camera has clear benefits. Similarly, energy saving is also a high priority with the potential to reduce costs by installing energy-efficient devices and monitoring systems. For instance Nest who make one of the most popular smart thermostats estimate a saving between 12 and 15 % on average. Lastly, home entertainment and appliances also feature well with consumer electronics giants like Sonos and Samsung being particularly influential as trusted and well-known brands. Indeed Samsung has announced that 90% of the products it manufactures will be able to connect to the internet by 2017.

However, herein lies one of the barriers. Consumers are faced with a huge array of different products from a variety of different brands across a number of different categories and the initial step into this market is often to make a single purchase in one of the categories. There is an expectation that a future purchase will still enable connectivity i.e. my lighting will work with my security system. Because there has been no standard protocol, interoperability has become a barrier with several eco-systems developing such as Nest, Apple HomeKit, Samsung SmartThings and Amazon Echo with products that don’t talk with another. To truly become mass-market, consumers need to be aware at the point of purchase or from a professional installer which products and brands work with one another. Exertis has been instrumental in helping retailers and professional installers with a “works with” message and providing a multi-brand product matrix that shows compatibility within each of the major eco-systems.

Whilst a mobile device will have an app to control the smart home features of your appliances, this is probably acceptable when you have one or two Smart Tech brands in the home. When each product has its own app, it starts to get complicated and time consuming to control the Smart Tech in the home from APPS. The ability to voice activate smart devices by simple commands, without the need to reach for your smartphone or tablet, has many advantages. The launch of Amazon Echo in the UK and its voice assistant Alexa along with Apple’s Homekit with SIRI is certain to be positive for this market. Alexa can work with leading brands like Nest, Hive, Yale, Philips Hue and Honeywell giving instant voice control over your heating, lighting and security as well as the other features in-built into the product.

Consumers will also want to be confident that the products they purchase will work with other products they own and that their privacy is maintained. By its very nature IoT can gather and analyse data from the variety of sensors in the products and this can be used by other products to make the home more thoughtful, convenient and personalised. Certainly presentation of data that informs the consumer about their cost savings simply by reducing their thermostat by a couple of degrees or ensuring lights are switched off during the day, will encourage investment. In terms of privacy, any connected device is vulnerable but this needs to be put into perspective and calculated on a risk versus reward basis. Choosing a well-known and trusted brand is good advice and taking care of basic security such as changing default passwords and applying updates is just sensible practice. Professional installers can play an important role here.

Whilst you don’t need a new home to take advantage of smart home technology, there is every reason to expect that a new home should be designed and built with much of this automation already installed. A growing number of property developers are now including smart home technology, networking and entertainment as part of their offering with reportedly a high percentage of customers taking advantage of this. After all, it is expected that new homes should have all the right utilities. A new home should be a smart home and that requires developers, architects, builders, installers to be aware of the opportunities that exist and plan for them accordingly. In addition, insurers can also play a role by reducing premiums for those homes that have additional security features, or smart appliances that for example detect leaks.  

Globally, this market is expected to be worth $43billion by 2020**, triple its value in 2014 and the UK is one of the leading countries adopting the technology. Retailers and installers need a distribution partner that understands the market, has access to the leading brands and can keep pace with the opportunity.

* Gartner research

** Statista

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