A panel of experts discussed those challenges at the Northside Festival in Brooklyn on June 10. Their main conclusion: People are still wrapping the minds around the idea of connecting everything in their home to the Internet–and they’re going to do it one simple device at a time.
“What we ask is: How do we give someone the smallest entry point?” says Jon Troutman, co-founder and chief creative officer of home security startup Canary. “It’s about baby steps. If you give people technology that’s too complex too soon, then they get disillusioned by the idea of the smart home, and they step back from wanting to adopt new products.” Canary, a New York-based startup that has raised over $40 million in venture capital, makes a home security device that captures video and audio and sends alerts to its owner via an app.
At one end of the spectrum are $150,000 sound systems with invisible speakers in every room and subwoofers hidden behind the walls, says Matt Emmi, co-founder of smart home startup OneButton–which designs work and home environments for clients looking for these kinds of innovations.
But the core technology, Emmi says, is the same as that of a Sonos Play smart speaker, which can be had for $200–and is far less intimidating.
Only 26 percent of people with smart home devices have more than three of them, Troutman says. “There are barriers to entry, then barriers to continued use. If you can deliver that good first experience, you can get people on board with the idea of a connected home.”
This is why much of the innovation so far has been on this lower, more affordable end. Devices like the Nest thermostat, Amazon Echo, and the Sonos speakers give consumers some of the features of a smart home product with a low commitment factor. Products like these, the panel says, are the ones that will lead the charge into fully connected smart homes–and are the logical starting point for any startup looking to get into the industry.
Eventually, the panel predicts, smart home products will expand. Windows that shade themselves when the sun comes up and smartphone-controlled lighting systems will become the standard, and any new home will be expected to have them.
But don’t expect to see people adopting smart products simply because they exist. “There are lots of crazy things this industry is doing that consumers don’t really need yet,” Troutman says. Smart fridges and smart umbrellas might sound cool and futuristic, but consumers see them as things “built by geeks, for geeks.”
Also on that not-likely-to-be-adopted list: anything that’s showy or intrusive, or that creates a near-human presence within the house. “That’s where ‘The Jetsons’ had it all wrong,” Emmi says. “I don’t want a robot cleaning my home; I just want a clean home.”