Is the smart home predestined for a mass-market win?

Even as smart home IoT technology represents a lucrative market for manufacturers – a leading IT analyst firm predicts that by 2022 a typical family home will contain more than 500 smart home devices – there are multiple headwinds the industry faces in becoming a truly sustainable, potent force.

As the consumer audience moves from early adopters to mass-market buyers, manufacturers will become less and less likely to thrive on being ‘cool’ and ‘new,’ and will instead need to focus intently on building long-term viability and trust in the minds of consumers.

To do this effectively, product designers will be challenged to prioritise matters of interoperability, security and privacy, each of which carries its own level of complication against the ubiquitous pressure to deploy quickly.

>See also: How will smart security and the IoT transform our homes?

The first is fairly straightforward: To succeed in-market, products must be simple to connect and operate. Homeowners want to be able to hit the ‘ON’ button and have the device ‘just work.’

No matter how innovative a product is, manufacturers are constantly summoned to find ways to limit, and even remove, complexity from the setup and connect process. For the average homeowner, the decision to buy a smart home gadget will be contingent on a product’s ability to add significant value to the experience, and anything that detracts from a better experience – such as difficult installation processes – puts marketability at risk.

Conventional in-home objects — coffee-makers, door locks, thermostats, lighting, etc. — aren’t necessarily awful or inconvenient, so smart home manufacturers must work harder to justify ‘smart’ upgrade investments as they move deeper into the consumer mass market.

We’re starting to see just how much influence ease-of-use and interoperability can have on market uptake. In response to higher-than-normal return rates for connected home products, key manufacturers have initiated many programs to their in-home services to provide consumers with a new level of support for installing and setting up smart home devices.

>See also: Going mainstream in the home: 4 things the IoT needs to be

If consumers can get over the installation hump, the logic follows, smart home products will deliver the quality-of-life measures they were designed to impart.

Even with innovations at the point of purchase, manufacturers still shoulder the largest role in fostering ease-of-use. To avoid design oversights that may inhibit product success, it is vital to test devices in conditions that emulate all varieties of consumer environment, to quickly expose and correct setup issues the device may encounter. The goal is to ensure a simple, quick functionality for the lowest common denominator of tech-savvy buyer.

Security by design

Looking at wider trends in home automation, particularly in architecture and interior design, the question begs to be asked: Are designers and solution experts trained to focus as intently on security and privacy as they are in making the home connected?

Once a home’s ‘infrastructure’ is exposed to the internet or becomes wireless-enabled, it becomes susceptible to cyberattacks locally, and globally. For example, it’s not out of the realm of possibility that a criminal could access a smart home’s data, or even open garage doors, locks and other devices without ever physically touching the property.

The design phase is where smart home products receive their security DNA, so it’s important not only to ensure devices are able to defend against known security vulnerabilities, but also easily accommodate future over-the-air fixes.

>See also: Smart home technology at a tipping point in the UK 

One known process is to test against as many threats as possible through testing and re-testing. In a way, smart home products need to reflect the Hippocratic oath taken by medical professionals: “First, do no harm.”

Privacy, on the other hand, is an even more volatile issue. This is a battlefield where consumer trust in– and therefore market viability for – smart home products will ultimately be won or lost. In response to devices that now store and process a large volume of highly sensitive personal data, the European Union General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) sets forth legal parameters for designing data protection safeguards directly into connected home products and services.

Manufacturers must demonstrate their devices are designed to keep personal data private and protected, and that data can be deleted upon command. As of May 2018, failure to do so can result in a financial penalty equaling the higher of €20 million or 4 percent of a company’s worldwide annual revenue.

US-based smart home IoT manufacturers wishing to do business in EU member states already must comply with GDPR’s tight safeguards for data protection and privacy and, on US soil, regulators have shown they take privacy seriously. Since 2015, the FTC has settled more than 20 charges and doled out more than $100 Million in fines.

Device manufacturers in the smart home era find themselves in a bit of a Catch-22. They have to balance security and privacy with maximum interoperability and extensibility – factors that often find themselves at odds. The more open and interoperable a device is, the more accessible it is, by default.

>See also: Smart home 2017 predictions 

What is clear is that product manufacturers must work harder to turn concepts such as “Right to access,” “Right to be forgotten,” and “Privacy by design” into standard practices.

Indeed, if the industry does not go all out in its efforts around these challenges, the bullish projections for high-growth smart home market could be at risk.

Put another way, the manufacturer who can best prove it holds data protection as a top priority may come to be the most desirable in the eyes of buyers, irrespective of a product’s capabilities.


Sourced by Sarb Shelopal, TÜV Rheinland

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Nick Ismail

Nick Ismail is a former editor for Information Age (from 2018 to 2022) before moving on to become Global Head of Brand Journalism at HCLTech. He has a particular interest in smart technologies, AI and...

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