Smart Home thought leaders discuss challenges and opportunities at 2017 International Home + Housewares Show
What’s working in the world of smart home products, where are we going and what is needed to get there? These are just some of the questions addressed today at a lunchtime panel discussion entitled “How the Smart Home is Disrupting Housewares (and What to Do About It)” at the 2017 International Home + Housewares Show.
Owned and operated by the International Housewares Association, the Show is being held March 18-21 at McCormick Place and features more than 2,200 exhibitors and over 62,000 total attendees from 125 countries.
The panel was moderated by Mike Wolf, creator of the Smart Kitchen Summit, host of the Smart Kitchen Show podcast and founder of NextMarket Insights, a research and advisory firm focused on the connected home. He was joined by Chris Young, CEO and co-founder of ChefSteps, a food and technology company that developed Joule Sous Vide; Carley Knobloch, technology and digital lifestyle expert and host of HGTV’s Smart Home; and Nathan Smith, founder and chief technology officer of Wink, maker of a smart home technology platform that allows you to use multiple apps in one place.
The smart home trend is moving from the early market to a state of greater maturation, said Wolf, and “connected products so far have experienced varying degrees of success.” The focus now is on creating sustainable business models, eliminating fragmentation around technology and platforms and creating compelling user experiences that provide real solutions and answer specific pain points.
The panel agreed one of the most important issues going forward is creating products that solve problems, not just using technology because it might seem like what people want. “I don’t think anyone wakes up in the morning and says ‘Oh, I want to get a smart home.’ The terminology itself is somewhat scary,” said Smith. “(If you’re a connected product manufacturer), just saying something is smart doesn’t cut it. But saying ‘Hey, did you know you could do this with this product?…Did you know you never have to come home to a dark house again?….Now that’s something.”
I’m looking for a compelling solution to a problem,” said Knobloch, wearing both her consumer hat and that of a digital lifestyle expert. “I’m looking for a company that has empathy for me. I don’t want connectivity for connectivity’s sake.”
Paying attention to consumers’ pain points is important, as is helping alleviate any concerns about usability and security, said Knobloch. “Security is a major pain point, and energy efficiency is right up there.”
Panelists agreed that story-telling is key when communicating the value of a connected product over a traditional product, or when the product represents a brand-new concept.
The advice I always give to companies (who are looking to produce a connected product) is they have to become a content company first,” said Wolf. “They can’t just put a product in a box and say, ‘Here it is.”
There are significant opportunities for retail stores to tell the story of how a connected product can help solve consumers’ problems, but not many are doing so yet. “Retail is always a challenge with any new technology,” said Smith, who later added, “The retail brands that are going to survive are going to create partnerships (to market and sell).”
According to Wolf, the number one issue in the smart home category is fragmentation…that is, when different products have different apps or platforms that don’t interact and make it difficult for the user to manage. Even though the Joule Sous Vide currently operates via an app, “Apps today in many ways are like VCR and TV remotes of the 1980s,” said Young. “They had lots of features but we didn’t always know what they did. Lots of clutter and lots of heft can be very intimidating.”
On the plus side, technology costs for connected products have decreased significantly just in the last few years, according to Smith. The ability to build a community and improve the product in real time also adds to the investment. “Back in the day, when a product walked out of your store, that was it,” said Smith. Added Young: “We get feedback in the form of data all the time as to how people are using the product – what’s working and what isn’t.” That allows them to make improvements like adjusting how directions are given, or adding new content that people are searching for (as was the case recently when they realized many people were trying to find out how to cook bacon sous vide).
So what does the future hold? The group agreed that systems with voice recognition such as Amazon’s Echo may be the wave of the future. “I don’t think even Amazon predicted the success of Alexa and Echo,” said Wolf. Added Knobloch: “There’s a delight that comes with using it,” who compared the system to the home automation product Nest and the Apple brand in general. “The design has an intangible pull to it, and we’ve been liberated from our phones. It feels like a little less of a burden.”
Smith also feels facial recognition technology shows some possibilities. As for robots who literally do the work for people, the group was less optimistic due to cost and consumer acceptance.
At the end of the day, “It’s a wonderful thing when technology can improve our lives,” said Knobloch. “But that also can be challenging to actually do.”