Insights from the 2019 Smart Home Summit
We recently had the opportunity to attend the Smart Home Summit, an intimate gathering of smart home leaders in San Francisco. Through two days of great presentations and networking, it was hard for us to decide whether we should be excited or depressed about the state of the smart home market.
Smart Home Market Continues to Grow
We began the summit with research presented by Bill Ablondi of Strategy Analytics, showing that consumer interest in the smart home is steadily growing, with 46% of broadband households in the US who own at least one smart device, predicted to grow to more than 60% by 2025. Consumers are seeing a lot of value in products like security systems, smart thermostats and video doorbells.
For the rest of the broadband households that haven’t bought a smart home device yet, many are held back by cost, or more concerning, the worry that someone could access them. Jeff Wilbur from the Online Trust Alliance cited a survey across six countries that found that 63% of consumers found connected devices were “creepy.” It’s also worth noting that smart home household decision makers are 61% male; if the smart home is really going to succeed, the industry needs to show more value for female buyers.
Roadblocks to Smart Home Adoption
Many of the later speakers focused on the roadblocks holding smart home back – and there are plenty. Security and privacy concerns, ease of use, and most of all, interoperability. Almost every speaker talked about problems with interoperability – most of these devices don’t work together well, and if they do, it is because they are all from the same vendor. This is not so bad if you have a few smart devices in your house, but the more products you buy, the more apps you have on your phone, and the more complex everything is to maintain.
Colin Billings from Orro Lighting cited McKinsey research that multi-system homes are inevitable and in fact are already the norm: 44 percent of users already have two or more smart home systems running in their house. And those users are looking for integrations, with 75 percent of users stating that working with other devices is either important or very important.
You could almost feel the collective dread in the room when we laughed about some of the silliness we put up with in our own smart homes – will the industry ever “cross the chasm” from early adopters or will the majority of folks not bother with with smart home at all?
Working on solutions
The good news is that these industry leaders recognize the issues and are working to address them. Two speakers came from companies specifically building platforms to make disparate platforms work together – Sevenhugs, that develops a remote designed to bring everything together, and Yonomi, that develops a free app and back-end tools to help device makers integrate more easily.
Carl Vogel from Google Nest acknowledged the challenge and later demonstrated how they collaborated with GE Lighting to build a better experience for their customers. Though they didn’t present, representatives from Amazon were in attendance, listening and participating in the discussions.
Standards and Emerging Technologies
Standards organizations and technology groups are another way for the industry to collaborate to ensure devices work together and representatives from several spoke at the conference.
Syed Zaeem Hosain from Aeris systems represented One M2M, a global standards initiative formed by eight leading standards development organizations. One M2M covers requirements, architecture, API specifications, security solutions and interoperability for machine-to-machine and IoT technologies. What does this mean to you? It means that companies who follow the recommendations will create devices that will communicate with each other more seamlessly and will be able to innovate faster to build services we want and need in our homes.
Grant Erickson, president of the Thread Group, gave an update on the Thread wireless mesh networking protocol. The Thread Group is not a standards body, rather a group of companies working together to promote the adoption of the technology. The Group includes major players like Google, Amazon Labs, Apple and Samsung, smart home consumer brands like Yale Locks, Lutron, and Ikea, as well as chipset and system providers to all these companies like Qualcomm, Intel and Silicon Labs.
As smart home consumers, it was a bit difficult to understand exactly how Thread works, but for us the biggest benefit is that devices using Thread can talk to each other directly using the Internet Protocol instead of needing a separate piece of hardware to connect them together, and to our Wi-Fi network so we can access them over the Internet. We have nearly a dozen hubs that connect individual or groups of devices, and we had to buy another switch for our router so we can connect them all. If Thread can fix that, we are definitely on board.
Li-Fi – Wireless Connectivity using Light Waves
Len Dauphinee, president of the HomeGrid Forum, introduced us to Li-Fi, a new high-speed wireless connectivity technology, that can solve a lot of communication and congestion issues with existing Wi-Fi. When we use Wi-Fi at home today, there are dozens of Wi-Fi networks in our neighborhoods, and perhaps hundreds if we are in an apartment or condominium. All of those signals overlap and compete with each other, causing our devices to slow down or get disconnected. With Li-Fi, you can control the network in your home by installing access points in the ceiling and connecting them together through your electrical wiring. This will give you excellent, high-speed coverage just where you need it without interference.
Li-Fi has been tested recently on an Air France flight – by using the overhead light, each passenger can get access to his or her own Li-Fi signal – making it easy to stream movies or play online games during an entire flight. Some vendors have already started launching compliant products and more are expected during 2020 as the standard and specifications are approved and published. Don’t get too excited about Li-Fi yet though, it will likely take years before it gets built into our devices and in the meantime, we will have to get add-on cards or dongles if we want to use it.
After two days of the Smart Home Summit, it seems we were all in agreement: building smart home products is hard and the industry is a long way off from making all these devices work together. Point products like smart doorbells and smart garage door openers are easy to install and use, but not everything talks to each other, at least not at the understanding of the average homeowner.
If you are a do-it-yourself smart home enthusiast like us, as you progress from a few devices to many more, you will start to encounter challenges getting products to work together, especially if they are from competing vendors like Google, Amazon and Apple. Even the custom installers who design high-end home automation systems likely are conflicted and spend a lot of time in training, resulting in a big expense to their customers.
But even with the issues, we remain optimistic about the future of smart home. Connectivity keeps improving, companies keep coming up with new innovations and we love the convenience and peace of mind we get from our smart home. With the big market potential and the commitment of the major players we saw at this conference, we are confident that the products will continue to improve and work better together.