People who can afford that probably don’t do their own shopping.Appliances such as fridges are also ones that households replace infrequently: that slows the take-up of new devices.The technology is not perfect yet, either.The smartphone, the link between the customer and smart-home device, has raised consumers’ expectations, explains Jamie Siminoff, the boss of Ring, a startup that makes a doorbell that can be answered remotely.Smartphones have trained users to expect a level of quality and seamless ease of use that smart-home devices struggle to replicate.And a lack of standardisation means that gadgets from different firms cannot communicate with each other.
There are exceptions. Devices that are easy to install and offer obvious benefits are gaining in popularity, such as motion sensors that send alerts when windows and doors are opened and cameras to monitor activity.Some devices, such as smart smoke detectors, are in homes because insurance companies offer financial incentives for using them.The smart-home sector is vibrant with startups and big firms betting that the hesitancy is temporary.But consumer apathy has forced firms to rethink how they might woo customers.Perhaps the biggest surprise is that Amazon, which failed miserably in its ambition to develop a smartphone, is showing the way.
Amazon Echo is a smart speaker that can recognise and respond to voice commands.It shares information about the weather and sports scores, plays music and turns lights on and off.The device, which costs around $180, is not yet a big seller.Amazon does not release sales figures, but Strategy Analytics estimates that fewer than 1m Echos have been sold since it was released in November 2014.Yet the Echo is the talk of Silicon Valley.An interface that relies on voice commands could overcome one of the drawbacks of the piecemeal approach to the smart home, by becoming the standard integrator of all the other bits of smart kit.
Echo is open to outside developers, who can come up with all manner of devices and services that hook up with it.Echo’s success may have come as a surprise, but competitors have cottoned on that it may be a crucial piece of equipment.Google has announced plans to build a stand-alone hub like Echo, called Google Home, which will also rely on voice commands.Apple is also expected to announce new smart-home capabilities: there are rumours it could launch a stand-alone hub in the Echo vein at its annual developers’ conference on June 13th.Its smart-home platform, called HomeKit, has been a failure so far.That Apple, despite its large base of affluent acolytes, has not yet cracked the smart home is a sign of its difficulty, points out Geoff Blaber at CCS Insight, which tracks mobile-industry trends.
Each tech giant has a different reason for trying to overcome the indifference of consumers, and to embed itself more deeply in the home.The Echo can help Amazon learn how people spend their time, and make it easier for them to spend money too by suggesting things they might buy.Google, whose main business is advertising, also wants to draw from a fresh well of data; by learning as much about users as possible, it can target them with appropriate ads.Apple, with a track record of simplifying and creating ecosystems where others before it could not, wants its devices to be the gateway through which people go to organise their lives.If the tech giants retain their ambition to sit at the centre of the smart home, uncertainty prevails over where the profits lie.“It remains unclear what the economic model for the smart home will be,” says Andy Hobsbawm of Evrythng, an internet-of-things platform.
Some firms will try to make enough profit just from hardware.Others will try to sell services, such as archiving security videos, as well as devices, and charge a fee.The products that fill houses are diverse, personal and durable.That should give plenty of companies a shot at lodging themselves in the home—but only when consumers decide to put out the welcome mat.