Smarthomes: The Big Challenges

Smarthomes: The Big Challenges
The smarthome market, meaning the home where your fridge, stove, microwave, lights, furnace and perhaps soon your toilet, are all connected via WiFi and managed through your smartphone, is set to reach $137 Billion by 2023. This according to research firm MarketsandMarkets. The first major entrant into this space was thermostat company, Nest. Google bought Nest a few years ago. The smarthome market is part of what is termed the Internet-of-Things (IoT), which includes just about anything you can stuff a sensor and WiFi connection into. This market is growing, there is little doubt. Yet it is facing some tough problems. In order for the smarthome market to truly take off however, these problems will need solving.
A major issue is getting these various devices, such as thermostats, smoke detectors, light controls, TV’s and sound systems, to all play nicely together.  It doesn’t help when you have to access several apps to do different things. Consumers are lazy, so IoT devices need to think from the perspective of laziness. Most don’t. There are some “home hubs” on the market that can do this, sort of, most of the time. Amazon’s Alexia is going down this path and of course, Apple has HomeKit and their new speaker called HomeHub coming this fall. Which brings us to the next issue; complexity.
The Nest and Phillips HUE are fairly easy to set up as are others. While most may be easy to set up on their own, having several of them brings complexity to the whole thing. This is a huge barrier to adoption for consumers, even more so than interoperability. This usually results in the geek of the house setting them up and managing them. Then other family members have to download the apps and get everything working. Another barrier.
Uptime and Downtime
All of these devices rely on consistent WiFi in the home. While it’s getting better, even broadband can be spotty at the best of times. Not very helpful on a cold evening when you want to turn the heat up as you pick up groceries on the way home. A secondary issue is demand placed on the router and data collisions as devices compete for bandwidth. Too many devices can wreak havoc on a WiFi router.
This is the 800 Lb gorilla in the room. And it’s a nasty one. There have been a number of issues with smarthome devices being hacked, either within the home or the company’s data centre. IoT device makers have been notoriously lax in their security, mostly in rush to get products to market and make them easy to use.
Value Proposition
Then there’s the value proposition. People adopt technologies that reduce or eliminate work or improve their lifestyle in some other unique way. The most successful of the smarthome devices to date have been thermostats. Light bulbs that change colour are cool, but a luxury at best.
These are the major issues smarthome devices face today and will have to address in the near future. It is likely that companies such as Amazon, Apple, Google and Microsoft will create the “hubs” that make interoperability work. To a large degree this makes sense. But no doubt the likes of Amazon and Apple will find a way to make it a pay-to-play deal for device makers.
What issues do you see? If you have a smarthome device, how has your experience been?

The Smarthome: The Golden Market Being Missed?

The Smarthome: The Golden Market Being Missed?

The race to bring IoT or Internet-of-Things devices to consumer homes is a few years old now. Right now, it’s a plodding sort of race. Most people are familiar with the Nest home thermostat, then their smoke detector that has had its share of issues. There’s the rather fun but nowhere near essential Phillips Hue lightbulbs that you can change colours with from your smartphone. It is very early days for these connected devices. Yet adoption remains small market scale.

The Real Opportunity for IoT Devices In The Home

Where the real opportunity to build a beachhead market rests is with the 60+ market. And the competition is beginning to heat up for this market. There are several key factors why smarthome device markers would do well to target this market;

  1. Higher disposable income (on average) than “Millennials” (which are not really a logical market segment anyway.)
  2. They’re adopting smartphones and tablets quite happily and at scale.
  3. Smarthome devices can offer family connection security

Those aged 35 and under often don’t have significant disposable income, so smarthome devices remain a luxury more than a need. Products that fill needs always do better than those that fill a want. It’s a basic marketing principle that remains valid even in a digital age. Research by the PEW Centre shows how those 55+ are adopting smartphones and tablets as the image from The Economist shows below;

Smarthome devices that will likely underperform in the 60+ market are those with always-on cameras. An older generation finds cameras invasive and they take their privacy very seriously. Smarthome products that will likely succeed are those that use sound and spacial monitoring. One such device is HomeExcept, a very clever device that uses thermal sensing to monitor a home for patterns. If there’s one constant as we age it’s that we like our patterns, or daily routines if you will. The HomeExcept provides a mobile dashboard via a smartphone app that kids or care takers can monitor. It’s subtle and hangs out in the background and relies on the cellular network rather than potentially spotty WiFi. Clever. Such invisible devices are more likely to succeed with senior citizens.

Devices like the Amazon Echo could have applications built on them that leverage sound monitoring for similar patterns. The added benefit is that they can also be used for ordering need products like milk or detergent.

Positioned properly, smarthome devices for seniors stand to be an excellent entrance market for IoT device creators. Eventually we will see smart toilets that have built-in sensors to monitor blood sugars, hydration and perhaps other health conditions. If smartphone apps are tied to these devices it will force makers to develop very good UX or they will fail. Designing for seniors forces simplicity, which will translate well into other, younger market segments.

Smarthome creators would do well to look harder at the 60+ market, perhaps pivoting to this market for initial entry. There’s more money available than younger markets in both disposable income and healthcare for the 60+ market such as care homes. The population in the developed world is ageing. Done right, smarthome devices can solve a lot of problems. But developing the marketing message and positioning must be as carefully thought out as the UX and underlying technologies.

What do you think?

IoT Technologies Need to Become Invisible

IoT Technologies Need to Become Invisible
We’ve seen what happened when Google launched Google Glass; anyone wearing them became a social pariah and was called a “glasshole”. Snap has been clever to make their version very visible and over-the-top. But the market is niche, just like Google Glasses. Then there’s all the devices you can connect in your home; thermostats, smoke detectors, carbon monoxide detectors, lightbulbs, door locks, cameras and so on…it’s a lot of “things” and it’s all very much in the way.
Technologies That Become Invisible Are Interesting
The telephone is what you might call invisible. We carry them with us on our portable computers (smartphone.) We know instinctively how to use them from a very early age. A fridge and a stove are invisible. The printing press is not something we think about, but almost every day we come into contact with a book, magazine, brochure, newspaper.
Are There Too Many Things Right Now?
I’m a big fan of IoT devices myself, but then my work and passion is studying the intersection of people with technology. So I have a Nest, a couple of Phillip’s Hue lightbulbs and some sort of Sonos magic. But they are all highly visible, not in the visual sense, but in that they need paying attention to. Individually, via my iPhone or iPad or manually. And this is the thing…the things need a fair degree of intervention.
It Takes Time to Integrate Technology In Our Home
The first radios and TV’s were quite large. We needed to change lifestyles and routines to figure where they would go. Then along came the PC, they were quite large and furniture makers did quite well making new desks and chairs. Families had to sort out where to put a PC. Now we have smartphones and tablets and laptops/netbooks. These devices are becoming invisible and no longer require a specific place and that is important to what’s coming next.
An interesting new product is from a startup called Lightform, that can turn your entire room into a screen with a device that doesn’t even look like a computer. You can interact with other connected devices in the home. Microsoft is doing some work in this area as well.
When these devices connect easier and can disappear into the background, they’ll be adopted much faster. One challenge for now is that it’s incredibly easy and low cost to make an IoT device.
What are your thoughts?

Are VR & AR Margin Technologies?

Are VR & AR Margin Technologies?

Virtual Reality launched into the stratosphere of hype in late 2015 through early 2016. Sony made much fanfare as did Facebook with its investments into the world of VR, although no one can seem to point out exactly why. Now VR is suffering some dizziness as people get ill after extended use. Augmented Reality sort of sparked and popped a few years ago…and sputtered along in the fringe of tech as a marketing wow tool. Google Glass didn’t do AR any favours either. Then along came Pokemon Go and AR had its biggest boost in years, except no one really talked about the AR that made it al possible. These two technologies have been percolating in the tech world for a few years now with occasional bursts of pundit-driven hype.

Why Does Augmented Reality Struggle?
It’s not an easy question to answer. The first push of AR technology into the real-world was Google Glass. Its adherents were promptly labelled “Glassholes” and shortly thereafter, Google Glass became marginalized. Other companies tried to jump on the AR bandwagon with glasses, all remain in that delicate life and death balance on the thin rim of bleeding edge technology. Based on my 25+ years on the front lines of technology, AR just isn’t seen by the consumer market as a “need” or really even a “want” as it doesn’t have a strong value proposition.

Is There a Market for AR?
Yes, very much so. In fact, there is some very real, very profitable opportunities for the use of AR. Most of these rest within the manufacturing, healthcare, law enforcement and similar industries. Police could use AR glasses to collect evidence and show information. Mechanics can use AR glasses to overlay instructions for machinery when working on repairs. AR is very useful, but probably not in the consumer market for sometime. It needs social acceptability which isn’t there yet.

Why Does Virtual Reality Struggle?
No one wants to walk down the high street with a massive object on their face. That’s obvious. For the most part, these devices are large, clunky and uncomfortable over long periods of time. Then there’s the whole spatial sickness thing (although that problem is being solved.) VR struggles because consumers perceive it to be only useful for video games. Because that’s who’s largely using it.

Is There a Market for VR?
Just like AR, there is some great market potential for VR. Training for police and military, surgery, emergency responders, nurses…VR can be an excellent training product. It may help in explorations as well. But broader consumer adoption that sees lower price points and massive volumes is, I think, a few years away yet.

Both AR and VR are excellent, nascent technologies. But they will remain niche applications for sometime. Consumers are only just beginning to realize the power and potential of SmartPhones and right now, that is the dominant tool to most consumers and professionals. Yes, VR can be adapted to use with SmartPhones, but it’s clunky at best. AR is inherently available through SmartPhones as well and that may be how they slowly gain acceptance.

What are your thoughts?

The Internet of Animals

The Internet of Animals
It may sound udderly ridiculous, but far from it. There’s already a sensor that dairy farmers can put in their cows’ bellies. It monitors acidity levels among other factors and can notify a farmer if there are potential issues such as infection. Then there’s the SmartBell for cows, it tracks movement in the fields to assist with yield management.
The Connected Farm
Farmers already use drones, GPS data and other tools to monitor crops and conditions. Then there are all the software companies dashing about to make farm management software tools that bring all this together. Farms will be moving much of their data to the cloud. This will mean Big Data for agriculture and it’s already underway. One cool technology is Planet Labs which makes tiny satellite cubes just a few centimetres across with powerful cameras to monitor agricultural areas.
The Sensorfication of Farm Animals
It’s not just cows. This type of sensor implanted into farm animals can be pigs, chickens, turkeys, sheep, you name it. Sensors are becoming cheaper than ever and communications tools such as RFID make reading the signals much easier. Expect to see more innovations in this area.
Big Farms, Big Data, Big Money
We may well benefit in a number of ways from the Internet of Animals. Understanding breeding habits, water and feed consumption we can reduce waste and improve diets. Water stress is a growing issue, we need ways to better manage water resources.
While all this may not make for cute farm animal videos on YouTube and Facebook, it’s a quickly growing sector of the agricultural industry. It’s also an example of an old sector seeing new forms of job creation bringing added economic value to the agricultural sector.
Just don’t freak when you fund a sensor embedded in that BBQ steak this summer.
What do you think?