When doing a hardware startup, it is straightforward to come up with a product vision for what I describe as the “obvious product”. After all, get five smart technology people together, discuss a problem, conceptualize solutions, brainstorm a few ideas to make it cool and unique, and the result is something that would be interesting, get some media attention and then, disappear after a product cycle or two.
Yes, it would disappear.
The “obvious product” would likely be gadget; lightly differentiated from other gadgets and focused on the “MVP” (minimally viable product) solution of solving the problem. In our “smart-lock” category, that essentially means finding the most direct path to solve the problem using a mobile phone to replace a key. The term “smart-lock” says it all, it’s a lock that becomes “smart” simply because it is connected to a mobile phone. We viewed the Obvious Product as a deadly trap, preventing us from building a great product.
A great product doesn’t solve a straight-forward problem. It creates a new experience.
The vision of the Connected Home — many devices, all communicating with each other and making your life easier has not been realized, as gadgets are not the foundation and the vision — centered around basic connectivity has been far too limiting. The focus was on solving the narrow problem rather than creating the new experience.
Only a few companies, those with the right teams and sufficient resources can avoid the gadget trap and build the products which will usher in the dream. Companies like Sonos, Nest, Google and, more recently, Amazon and some incumbents like Lutron, Hunter-Douglas and Honeywell take their product development seriously and are creating real products, not gadgets.
Creating a product for the home is different than a wearable or a device that is easily replaced. Connected Home products are often installed. That installation dictates that they are reliable, durable and follow many of the rules of the products they replace. In our case, that requires a digital lock to be durable and to have design, and design options, that support the diversity of homes. Homeowners, beyond the early adopters, aren’t willing to sacrifice design, security or performance — they demand it all.
I’ll refer to Connected Home products that meet this bar as “Digital Home” products. The Connected Home is far simpler — basic gadgets, obvious products with a primary value focus on connectivity. The Digital Home is the next wave of the Connected Home. Obvious products need not apply to the Digital Home, as they need to be very focused on the digital experience (connected, open, upgradeable) but also fit well into the home (designed as the home wants, not out of context design) and most importantly, be reliable, durable and classic as they are installed. With this understanding, Obvious Products are killers of Digital Home products. They simply don’t evolve into the Digital Home. If a company decides to build the Obvious Product, they will never deliver a Digital Home product.
At Otto, we’ve been entirely focused on a deep understanding of the Digital Home. The barrier to entry is incredibly high. Products require much more thought, much deeper engineering, significantly more capital & time to make and, most importantly, it requires a discipline to not release the Obvious Product.
The Digital Home didn’t come lightly. It took more than a decade for the right technologies to mature — for mobile phones to have enough capability and reliability, for Bluetooth and Wi-Fi to be rich & solid enough, for cloud technologies to be easy, scalable and speak a common language, and for homeowners to trust the technology. Our industry spent a decade implementing, experimenting and sorting through shocking complexity and fragility to understand how to design and build robust, trusted and reliable systems. We need more — better low power chipsets, homes with intelligent power capability (a new paradigm that understands installed products don’t want to be plugged into a wall socket), and devices that are constantly monitored and self-healing. But, the Digital Home is the mainstream long-term play and it’s clear that the industry is aligning to overcome the key obstacles.
Let’s welcome the Digital Home and recognize that the Connected Home, with its Obvious Products, served its purpose and has run its course. At Otto, we’re committed to the Digital Home and our product is an entirely new digital experience — a digital lock , with all its requirements and opportunity. We’re excited to be helping usher in the Digital Home.