I saw many smart home and home Internet of Things (IoT) products at the 2017 Consumer Electronic Show (CES). All were interesting. All solved the wrong problems. And all missed the mark with real world buyers.
Today’s connected homes solve “first world” problems
Today’s smart home solutions do simple things. They turn lights on and off. Some time the closing of blinds with turning on the entertainment system. They automate tasks based on pre-defined user profiles, scenes (user scenarios), and events. They do these tasks automatically, or when you tell them to.
While today’s smart home products do useful things, they solve “first world” problems of convenience that are useful to a small group of people. I recently came across an article, titled “The Emperor’s New Clothes: How Smart Homes are becoming rather stupid” that shares this same view. The author, Dmitry Bagrov, argues that today’s smart home technologies answer the question of “how can I be really lazy?”
Rethink the smart home to solve “real world” problems
The smart home has to solve people problems. The inconvenience of taking a day off work to wait for the plumber is a costly people problem. The inconvenience of walking to the other side of the room to turn off a light switch is not.
People problems happen at home, but affect you at work. Or it happens at work or elsewhere, but affect you at home. These real world problems occur every day and have a measurable impact on our lives at home or elsewhere.
The smart home must integrate with people, processes, and technology at a very deep level. It “re-imagines” how it engages with its homeowners, guests, and service providers. It is proactive and adaptive in providing new value in ways not possible before while enhancing your lifestyle, not disrupting it.
So think of your smart home as a smart home assistant (like Jarvis in Iron Man). Homes don’t solve people problems. Assistants do.
Real people, real situations, real solutions.
The following are small examples of how a smart home assistant solves people problems:
Service Call. Your home assistant detects that the kitchen sink is draining slower than usual. It connects to your plumber’s online appointment system to set up same day service. It sees your work schedule and knows you can’t be home, so it issues a one-time front door access code that deactivates your security system and lets the plumber in at the appointed time.
Commute Planning. Your alarm clock wakes you up 15 minutes earlier than usual. The home assistant has detected a major accident on your commute route, and wakes you up earlier to give you extra time on the road so you will arrive to work on time. It also plots a new route for your car’s navigation system.
Call Routing. While you are at work, your daughter’s school calls your home. The home assistant recognizes that this is an important call and routes it. It reviews your calendar and sees you are in a meeting, but because your spouse is not, the call is routed to your spouse.
Senior Safety. Your elderly father lives alone. The home assistant notices that he has been in the kitchen for too long, and is not in the family room like his usual pattern. Because it detected no motion for fifteen minutes, it dials 911 and alerts you through text message. It also unlocks the front door for emergency responders.
Key takeaways for smart home designers and home IoT vendors
People want home assistants. Smart homes don’t solve people’s real world problems, but assistants do. When you think of the smart home assistant, you are creating higher value for existing and new users.
Find the biggest disruptions. Follow your users for a week. Find the things that cause the biggest disruptions to their daily routine or lifestyle. It may be unplanned (something breaks), or “necessary evils” (grocery shopping). How can a smart home assistant help?
Prevent, detect and repair. A good assistant prevents, detects and repairs disruptions. Prevention includes monitoring, tune-ups and maintenance. Detection includes assessment and reporting after something happens. Repair resolves the issue and includes diagnostics, coordination and fix.
Build real world use cases. The value provided is different for singles/married no children, family, multi-generation families, and empty nesters. Build use cases around home infrastructure management and maintenance, home appliance/technology operation and management, health and safety, assisted living, and activity scheduling for these groups.
Connect the dots across the “solution” chain. Problems need a combination of people, processes, technology or tools to solve. Often these resources and services are outside of the home. The more you integrate and automate these outside services and resources, the more value you provide to the user. For example, integrating with the user’s work calendar, or the plumber’s appointment system will simplify the scheduling of the repair.
Think outside the home. Smart home problems are about people, not the home. They may start at home, but be completed outside the home. Or they may occur outside the home, but continue at home. Think in terms of activities, and how you can tie the experiences inside and outside the home.
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