I’ve been thinking a lot lately about what exactly is driving the recent explosion of home automation applications and equipment. Over the past few years we have seen a great deal of change. The plethora of equipment includes (and this is a small sample, not an exhaustive list):
Do it yourself systems
- Iris from Lowe’s Cos
- SmartThings (owned now by Samsung Electronics )
- Wink from Wink, Inc.
- iSmartAlarm from iSmart Alarm, Inc.
- Piper from Icontrol Networks, Inc.
- XFINITY Home from Comcast
- IntelligentHome from Time Warner Cable
- ADT Pulse from ADT
- Digital Life from AT&T
- Home Life from Cox Communications
Point solutions (NOTE: many can be integrated into both types of systems)
- Plugs / Switches: Belkin International, Inc. WeMo; D-Link Corporation
- Lightbulbs: Philips hue; LiFi Labs, Inc. LIFX
- Thermostats: Nest Labs, Inc. Nest Learning Thermostat; Honeywell International Prestige
- Cameras: Nest Labs, Inc. Nest Cam; Withings, Inc. Home
- Locks: August Smart Lock; Kwikset Kevo; Goji Smart Lock
Not to mention the proliferation of consumer-facing standards in the home market: Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, ZigBee, Z-Wave, Thread, and HomeKit (and the further downstream like Works with Nest, Open Interconnect Consortium and Allseen Alliance). With all this going on, who can tell “Who’s on First?” (Abbot and Costello).
What I want to know is what is driving all this real and potential growth? I got a glimpse at some data that gave me a few clues last week, with the release of a report commissioned by Icontrol Networks, Inc., the 2015 State of the Smart Home Report. For those unfamiliar with Icontrol Networks, they are an intelligent smart home platform provider behind some of the major installer-based systems, including XFINITY, Pulse, IntelligentHome, and Home Life. In addition, they have two products in the consumer channel, peq and Piper.
The report is not focused on vendors but rather on what makes the Smart Home tick. Things that marketers think about–like what applications are driving growth, who is buying, what channels they use to make their purchases–are all discussed. A few of the insights I gleaned from the report include:
- Security is the main reason people start looking for home solutions
- The potential of cost savings in energy is starting to take hold
- Ease-of-use trumps technology
- The under-45 set prefers to shop at a security company, technology company, or repair store (note the missing cable or telco)
- Consumers want smart devices that automate themselves
That last item, “Consumers want smart devices that automate themselves” is the most interesting concept to me. With all this discussion of consumers wanting to interact with “things”, when asked what they really want, consumers most desire things that don’t require any interaction.
- Vacation or away modes Like my Nest Thermostat, where the device knows I am away and acts accordingly: turn up or down thermostat, sets lighting, alarms, motion detectors,etc.
- Set-it-and-forget-it items Turn on my outside lights at dusk and off at sunrise, water on a schedule except when it rains.
- Motion detection Turn on lights when I enter a room, unlock a door when I get close.
All these items require little to no interaction but can make a big difference in quality of life. They are associated with the main drivers of security and energy savings; in addition, all of these applications require data, applications, and sensors to work together to allow devices to work on their own.
I believe in these concepts and how they should affect decisions about what products and services home automation providers develop in the future. I don’t see change the color of my lights, spend lots of time fiddling with my stereo system, or watch my IP camera as drivers. What I do see is making home automation products and services simple and intuitive to setup and use.
Make it work on its own, and notify me if I need to do something. Set it, and forget it.