News source: http://www.moneysedge.com/newsimage?id=793

At the Parks Associates’ Connections conference in Burlingame, CA this week, major leaders in Smart Home technological development are convening to discuss the state and future of their industry. Their insights are most illuminating.

Apparently, one of the biggest hurdles being faced by Smart Home developers is consumer education. The industry is seeking to appeal to more than just the few DIY techies that currently buy into their products. In order to attain mass adoption of Smart Home technology, these makers need to help the general public understand the benefits and features of their services such that consumers become willing to “open up their wallets” and pay for them.

According to research done by iControl Networks, “peace of mind” is the most compelling value proposition that leads customers to invest in Smart Home technology. Letha McLaren, of iControl, reported that 84% of those surveyed purchased their connected home for security and safety reasons. Amena Ali, of WeatherBug, added that their products are able to remove stress from people’s lives by providing additional comfort within a home. Daniel Wong, of Home8, also asserts that their Smart Care system can deliver greater peace of mind by tracking the activities and medication intake of elderly loved ones.

There are actually many features of the Smart Home, both on the market now and on the near horizon, which may be lesser known. For one thing, a Smart Home could actually save users money over time. For instance, an automatically regulating thermostat is often more energy efficient than a conventional one, and can thus lower a home’s utility bills. It can recognize where you are in the house and optimize climate for that area, or even regulate itself according to weather reports.

Curt Schacker, of EVRYTHNG, described the way a smart home can prevent damage to the home. He noted that water damage makes up the largest portion of claims filed in homeowner’s insurance, and most of it occurs slowly over time as the result of leaks. Ideally, a Smart Home could detect those leaks and prevent the damage from occurring. The system can even dispatch a plumber to you. For such reasons, insurance companies are now seizing a vested interest in home connectivity and may offer reduced premiums for homes which have such technology.

Jay Kenny, of Alarm.com, mentioned the benefits of a Smart Home in emergency situations. A homeowner is alerted remotely if a smoke alarm has been set off, the fire department can be automatically notified, and the homeowner can remotely unlock the front door for the firefighting team to gain entry. If a resident is having a medical emergency in the bedroom and is unable to get to the front door, he/she can remotely unlock the door when medics arrive. If there is a burglary in the night, the home can turn on lights automatically and possibly avert theft.

In addition to these dire situations, there is the possibility of added conveniences. Of course, voice-controlled features offer a “killer experience,” such as the Amazon Echo which interacts with Smart Home platforms to allow a user to turn lights on and off, lower blinds, etc. with simple voice commands. But even more futuristic capabilities are becoming available, such as an LG refrigerator which can notify you when you’re out of milk, orange juice, etc. and have those items delivered to you within a few hours by ordering them through Amazon Fresh. And some audio-recognition devices can serve as intelligent baby monitors, alerting you when a child is crying.

In fact, owners of video doorbells have found that their children often use the doorbell as a means of contacting parents, similar to having a cellphone. This has occurred so frequently that Vivint Smart Homehas designed its next generation camera with a button to be used expressly for children to video-call their parents.

One of the most influential companies represented at the Connections conference was Comcast. The SVP and General Manager of Xfinity Home, Daniel Herscovici, presented his point of view on the industry. He sees the field as evolving from offering home security to life safety, then peace of mind, cost-savings, and finally lifestyle improvements. He mentioned that terms such as “Smart Home” have become popular Google searches in just the past 6 months, indicating growing consumer interest. They expect the market for home security and automation to double in the next 12 months.

Herscovici also mentioned that as the number of devices per household increases, users may suffer from the snowballing complexity of operating numerous interfaces. To address the issue, the industry clearly needs unified platforms. He noted that 84% of American households currently have broadband and 84% of those have a wireless router. He claims that this router is a powerful device which can be turned into a platform device, and is Comcast’s advantage in penetrating mass markets with Smart Home technology while driving the adoption of the connected home for non-tech-savvy people.

Apparently, Comcast intends to introduce Smart Home features to their enormous customer base as simple upgrades to current services. They plan to make connectivity extremely user-friendly by creating a single user interface with a single login, professional installation, a single contact for dedicated tech support, certified services and curated devices. By curated devices, they mean that Comcast will have a list of Smart Home devices which they recommend and for which they will provide integration and ongoing support services.

It is abundantly clear that the connected home market is still highly fragmented among its players. Some currently popular solutions include Apple’s HomeKit, Nest, Google Home, Home8, Sage, and Amazon Echo. However, most of the presenters at Connections recommend buying an entire home system with support from one service provider instead of trying to piece something together from off-the-shelf products. However, choosing such a provider at this point in time may not be easy. Alarm.com, Xfinity Home, Home8, Vivint and iControl’s partners are already vying for your business.

In fact, at this nascent stage in the game, many would say that the truly smart home is actually still a thing of science fiction.

 

–          Brandi Gaudet Gallegos, Director of Research at Money’s Edge