What the hell is “smart” anyway?

Intelligence will arrive in your home. One day mini computers will learn helpful ways to make an easier life for your family. It’s just going to take more time.

In the meantime the remote control home is here. In the course of the last three years we’ve seen a remote control version of several household appliances appear on the market, some to a big audience, some smaller. Thermostats have a strong energy and money saving story; cameras a wonderful security and awareness story; light switches have convenience and safety promises; door locks offer easier access control; and colored bulbs offer some mood influence. Our connected slow cooker did capture hearts and minds, but not yet the largest share of the connected market.

The voice controlled home has broader and larger appeal. It’s converted reluctant spouses into real believers in the power of little computers around the home. Voice control is easier, more singular, interface for most smart home products, and the power of speaking to something to turn it on has people hooked. The combination of voice and macros is especially powerful — with only one spoken command, multiple obedient products obey — making the show-off value higher than ever before. Even a five year old saying, “Alexa turn on my living room”, works at above 90 percent accuracy, making it especially impressive for families.

What’s also clear is the word “smart” is overused (I’m looking at you, Smart Bacon). “Smart” means many things to people and is no longer as useful as it once was. I admire that Coldwell Banker went to the lengths of defining it for home buyers.

While the technology is still in Gartner’s “Peak of inflated expectations” stage of evolution we could consider:

  • Smart homes, where intelligence is applied to data from multiple sources, and is used by a machine to make the life of a family safer or easier.
  • Connected products that solve problems for mass market consumers by virtue of their connected features. Sold at appropriate price points, not necessarily with much intelligence. Probably delivering things like reassurance, convenience and some basic increased safety.

Both of these has a proven market, they’re just aimed at different users. Some people are ready to take on configuring, wiring and setup, some are ready for machines to make decisions on their behalf, and some have sufficiently controlled home environments that intelligent scenarios have reasonable accuracy from just a single piece of hardware, just not enough yet.

The evolution of a truly smart home depends on increased accuracy which will probably arise from an increased number of devices in the home. In turn providing more sensing capabilities and increased context to automated scenarios.

Growing the market for connected products may be as simple as more targeted marketing to specific audiences. In the coming year, I hope we’ll start to see consumers, retailers and industry players all begin to sub segment by types of users, categories and degree of “smartness”. This would be a really positive development for the industry as it grows to become exciting for new consumers.

Take the automotive industry as an example. In the early days of the first Model T, there was this one type of mass produced ‘automobile’. Fast forward to today and that industry has evolved to include segments for other types of automobiles such as SUVs, wagons, sedans, convertibles, trucks, etc. Let’s learn and segment our “industry” so that consumers can more easily discover, learn about, buy and benefit from our technology.

Now we’re passed the early market, and stepping into the masses, which channel, price point, user type and sub categories are you betting on?

Just please don’t say Smart Bacon.

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