My 3.5 year old son, while having breakfast this morning, ordered Alexa to play a ‘Bob The Builder’ song. That’s his world now; voice activated need satisfaction…
The voice controlled product that is Amazon’s Echo has, hands down, been the most successful of the connected home devices released in the last few years. Apart from the Echo, it’s no secret that the average consumer segment of connected home devices hasn’t taken off. The Nest thermostat, at $299, was not a product for the average consumer and can be considered the next most successful or recognizable product in this space (and continue to sell well). My prediction for 2017 is that more products will succeed. But they’ll need one key ingredient…
Connected Home Segments
The graph above shows product sales data (for August 2016), with the focus being on security products, the highest selling segment for connected home devices. It raises the question, why hasn’t there been a mass market connected home product? Before I dive into my reasoning for why some products will succeed, at the level of the Echo, there are 3 basic use cases that most connected home products fall into
1. Security: products like the August Lock that brings some connectivity to securing your home through access/control from your phone.
2. Convenience: the Amazon Echo would fall into this category in that it eases experiences that might have otherwise been onerous e.g. Controlling your SmartThings hub which controls every other one of your smart devices.
3. Comfort: this is where the Nest thermostat would fall. This tends to be where the utility products that manage energy, water temperature etc fall under.
Failure happens when products are frivolous, don’t provide a great user experience and don’t fall squarely into any of the three buckets above. A perfect example of this is the Netflix socks that let’s your TV know when you’ve fallen asleep before finishing a show. Truth be told, no movie or tv show plot reveal is that critical.
But products keep being released into the market every single day. With this flood comes an increasing need to rise above the noise. The way to do that is through empathetic technology; technology that truly caters to consumers deep and daily needs.
The products that will make 2017 a breakout year for the connected home are products that will address emergent societal problems at a cost that the mass market can afford. It’s exciting to see the work already going on in this space. I share some concepts below, highlighting the theme of emergent societal problems.
- Water as a resource and a right. How will we measure the quality of water at a home level to ensure situations like Flint Michigan do not continue to happen in a society where our infrastructure is decaying? How do we do this at a cost that does not disenfranchise some citizens? Well, with products like a water quality and softener device, that retrofits on any current home water filter, with sensors that measure for quality and also provides softening with little to no intervention by the home dweller. Notifications only come when certain thresholds are reached. A simple and cheap device serving an ever more pressing societal need.
- Increasing medical expenses and waste: While we are not sure what will happen to health insurance in 2017, we know the pressing need for quality healthcare isn’t going anywhere. Another pressing need is the cost (human and financial) associated with medical non-adherence. In the United States, the estimated direct and indirect costs of nonadherence totaled $337 billion in 2013. Procrastination and forgetfulness are the main causes. With connected dispensers controlled and programmed by the pharmacist, who currently have no visibility into how non-adherent a patient is once they walk out of the pharmacy, the costs can be significantly reduced. The design below called a ReScript by Axis Design is a prescription dispenser that does the above and also reduces waste (from empty plastic bottles) with a display that allows the pharmacist to refill and ReScript for the next prescription. Again, empathy and technology converge in a simple connected device.
Another example of a connected home product, developed with empathy, solves the not-so-trivial issue of messy kids. Like my 3.5yr old who goes limp when it’s time to clean up :). Kids who desire to get on with watching TV/dinner/texting without hanging up their school stuff, which they drop at the door as they walk into the house.
As the price of sensors continues to drop (above) one can envision a time when, until the kid’s coat (embedded with a tiny sensor) or bag is detected on the clothes rack, the connected TV does not switch itself on. Or the home wifi system is only activated when the shoes are on the shoe rack. I can hear every parent screaming Amen to this!
These ideas are indicative of when empathy is embedded in products and the product development is steeped in an understanding of societal needs hidden in plain sight.
I’m sure you agree that empathy is much needed in the (technology) world these days. It’s what will save the connected home market from the decline that seems inevitable at this point. It’s the missing ingredient.
I’m looking forward to an empathetic connected home technology market in 2017!
#BigIdeas2017 Seyi Fabode, his team and maybe some bots provide Compelling content as a Service (CCaaS) at HarperJacobs.com (reach out) and utility industry consulting at Asha Labs (definitely reach out). He is also the author of 40 Semi-Obvious (Startup) Lessons and an Operating Partner at VestedWorld.
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