What’s holding back mass adoption of smart home technologies?

Smart home technologies have been around for a while — they can be traced right back to GE’s concept showrooms of the 1950s – however, only in recent times, thanks to significant technological advancements, have they become a real force to be reckoned with.  With hopes of driving competitive advantage and generating revenue, industries such as energy, utilities and telcos have hopped onboard the smart home bandwagon; while McKinsey’s estimates that IoT applications in the home could have an economic impact of $200bn to $350bn per year by 2025.

Despite this high level of buzz and the technological innovations pouring out of startups, consumer electronics producers, as well as companies with no prior experience in devices and sensors, the industry as a whole is failing to meet expectations. Smart home initiatives appear to be stuck in project mode, and consumer adoption is slow.

According to analysts from The Dock, Accenture’s flagship R&D and Global Innovation Centre, who recently carried out comprehensive research on this very issue, this emergence of consumer reticence comes from a tendency for companies to take a product-focused approach instead of a human-centric one, as well as failure to grasp a comprehensive understanding of people’s needs in the home.

For the research, Putting the Human First in the Future Home, The Dock combined detailed global qualitative research (in which they directly observed 40 people in their homes) with quantitative research (involving 6,050 individuals across 13 geographies) to look at consumers’ behaviours and routines and how the influence of emerging technology impacts their identity and motivations—and crucially, the tensions that arise.

By focusing on people’s underlying psychology, personal traits, their relationship with technology and its impact on life at home, analysts discovered a number of behavioural mindsets which go deeper than traditional segmentation, focusing on goals, needs, pain-points, behaviours, feelings, and beliefs that relate to the home. Based on this work, analysts from The Dock reached three main conclusions:

1. The future home is an attitude, not a technology

The Dock found that people are spending more time at home than ever before; this is why it’s essential to understand better their behaviour and the opportunities it presents.

“There’s a lack of thinking around the nature of how we spend our time at home and how people want to adapt their lifestyles around it,” said Claire Carroll, portfolio director at The Dock. “Smart home technology has typically aimed at making life more efficient, but really it needs to think about making people more comfortable.”

However, while respondents universally described their home as a place of comfort, safety and being in control, these words held very different meanings to people. For example, some respondents feel safer in their home thanks to technology, while others don’t identify tech with being safe at all. Product developers will need to take this on board.

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The Dock also found that product developers may be thinking about the routines of consumers all wrong. Rachel Earley, interaction and service design lead at the Dock, explained: “Originally we assumed that as people brought technologies into their homes, their routines would change. However, we found that this is not the case; people still get up in the morning, have breakfast, brush their teeth and go to work, it’s just the tools they use that are changing.”

This is an important insight because it suggests that people don’t want their routines to be altered. Earley added: “What firms need to be doing is rethinking their product design strategy as to adapt to people’s routines and make their lives more comfortable and in line with their needs.”

2. With emerging tech comes emerging tensions

While the market has long been aware that people feel both more connected and more isolated thanks to smart home technologies. The Docks research revealed how firmly rooted these and other tensions are and draws fresh, surprising conclusions about what they mean for the smart-home market.

For example, while many of our respondents appreciate that technology makes their life easier, some worry that it will also make them lazier.

One of the most widely discussed tensions for technology users is that smart devices make us feel more connected but also more isolated.

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“I think companies that are developing these products and offerings really need to understand that it’s not just about finding a need or a value for someone, it’s about being able to rationalise the changes they bring and understand what the trade-offs are for people,” added Earley.

3. Typical customer archetypes are wrong

According to Carrol, from the research, it’s apparent that in a world of hyper-personalisation, there is no such thing as an archetypal future home customer — for example, an 18-year-old could have the same mindset or attitude towards a piece of technology as a 65-year-old. “The more and more marketing continues to use traditional demographic constructs the longer they’ll be counterproductive,” she said.

For example, despite being amongst the most tech-savvy consumers out there, millennials are more nervous than any other age group about using smart home technology. Furthermore, two in five millennials surveyed said they are fearful that smart devices in their homes know too much about them, compared to just 29% of 35-44 year-olds and 36% of 45-64 year-olds. While, on the other hand, the over 65s surveyed are most likely to trust their information is being collected and stored securely (46%), and that their concerns around the isolating effects of technology are lower than any other age group (51%).

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“This research shows that brand understanding of this group’s anxieties around technology is limited,” said Carrol. “Rationalising the fears of millennials around dependency, intrusiveness, and isolation will be vital to the product design strategy of the future. Those aged 65 and over emerge as an avenue for opportunity.”

She added: “There is no single technological solution to the future home – but to design smart home products that will have longevity, companies need to better understand what’s happening in the black box of their customers’ behaviour in the home. This means understanding customer attitudes throughout their various life stages, what the idea of home actually means to them and getting a better appreciation of their surprising behaviour behind the front door.”

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Andrew Ross

As a reporter with Information Age, Andrew Ross writes articles for technology leaders; helping them manage business critical issues both for today and in the future