There are few categories in the consumer electronics market as dynamic as the smart home market right now, and for good reason. Smart home products like connected, programmable thermostats, networked cameras, and Wi-Fi connected light bulbs allow users a level of control over the systems and appliances in their homes that most have never had before. The category is growing as well- according to The NPD Group’s new Smart Home point-of-sale tracking service, sales of home automation products, which include security and monitoring products, smart lighting, and system controllers, have grown 27 percent in the past year as the market size has approached $400 million. And for the most part, consumers have a good idea of what smart home products are. According to NPD’s recent Home Automation Study, 78 percent of consumers said they were familiar with smart home products.
The smart home market, however, is still in its very early stages. Sure, controlling your lights or your home’s locks with a smartphone provides a convenience to users and it’s pretty cool, but this use case only scratches the surface of what these products are capable of doing. Some new product announcements and feature enhancements from products like Google’s Nest and Belkin’s line of WeMo products, suggest that the real value of the smart home will not be in its ability to be controlled by the user via a mobile app, but in its control to be guided and augmented by data from other devices.
In his recent book, Digital Destiny, economist Shawn DuBravac describes this future of interconnectedness, citing a scenario where a refrigerator is connected and receiving data from a user’s activity tracker. Knowing the user’s recent level of fitness, the appliance then “warns you that the chocolate cake you’re about to remove won’t help you reach [your fitness goals]”. Who ever thought appliances could benefit from Jawbone or Fitbit data?
We are already seeing the interconnectedness DuBravac describes come to products on the market. The aforementioned Nest is probably the best example of this type of innovation. Through the “Works with Nest” program, Nest owners can connect their thermostat to an LG refrigerator, setting the fridge to standby energy saver mode whenever Nest notices the user is away. August smart lock owners can connect to Nest to automatically adjust the temperature whenever someone leaves the home. Beyond Nest, products like Amazon’s Echo- the voice-enabled smart wireless speaker, can now connect to the Philips Hue connected lighting system and allow the user to control their lighting via voice command. And, of course, a number of smart home products are compatible with IFTTT, allowing users to program their own connections and triggers between devices.
The ability to monitor and manage systems in my house remotely is a convenience, but to make them truly smart they should work without me telling them what to do. This is what will come to define the next generation of smart home devices - their ability to work proactively based on a user’s activities with other devices, not on an explicit command. If this type of automation comes to the smart home market, the dashboards and smartphone apps we use to control today’s connected products may become extinct. In the end, the smartness of one’s home may not depend on its connections to the cloud, but its connections to the devices we use daily that know us well.