Solving the smart home conundrum: a lucrative category or inevitable flop?

As the Smart Home Summit kicks off in London, PCR asks: Can this really be a prosperous emerging category for UK PC retailers and resellers?

We’ll be reporting from the show tomorrow and interviewing Dave Ward, Dixons Carphone’s head of new technology, innovation and connected home, but we can’t help but feel the sector is still struggling to take off.

Back in July, PCR wrote an analysis piece, When will smart home automation products hit the mainstream?, following the launch of Apple’s HomeKit connected home framework for developers and product manufacturers. But now the real question now is surely: Will smart home products ever hit the mainstream at all?

Just two months down the line from that article, team PCR are still using our normal light switches – there’s no smart fridges in our homes or automatic internet-powered door locks.

Our Mystery Shopper only spotted a handful of smart home products in Argos and Maplin on their latest shopping trip last week. In short, we’re not yet convinced by this category – especially not for independent PC dealers.

Currently, NAS devices do a great job of making a home connected, by putting all of a homeowner’s media (music, images etc) in one box, with the ability to connect connected CCTV and smart lights to it. Do we really need another whole set of smart products to sell to customers, and are they even ready for them yet?

Target Components MD Paul Cubbage doesn’t think so. Talking to PCR at the distributor’s recent Open Day, he compared smart home products to the overblown hype and eventual failure of 3D TVs.

"You’ve got to be careful that you don’t do something just because you can do it," he told PCR. "In business you do something because there’s a demand for it, and a lot of things in technology aren’t led by necessity or by demand, they’re led by capability.

"Just because we can do 3DTVs, doesn’t mean everybody is going to want one. 

"So there are certain elements of the connected home we’ll look back on in the future and think: ‘What a stupid idea that was. How can anybody want a connected kettle?’

"Also, if no one has said ‘The Internet of Things’, we’d still have all kinds of new technology coming along, but it wouldn’t be under that umbrella. So will it really catch on? We’ll have more new technology adopted by people, and will some of it be used in the home? Absolutely. 

"But will the Internet of Things be a thing? No, it’s just normal. Will we be going for internet connecting kettles and fridges? Not really. But the security and NAS stuff is superb, you can understand the demand for that, that makes sense. But some of the other stuff doesn’t."

All is not well with some of the vendors, either.

Gadget-maker Quirky has filed for bankruptcy and is having to sell off Wink, the firm behind its smart home platform. This raises questions about care and maintenance for smart home products, as well as security issues for homeowners – if a company goes bust, who is going to update the firmware for their connected home device to ensure it remains secure?

That may not be such a risk with some of the bigger smart home vendors like Samsung, Panasonic, Amazon and Apple, but with so many vendors trying to come on board, is it a case of too many cooks?

GfK’s senior lead UX specialist Ryan Carney commented in a blog post: "Fragmentation of smart home devices and services has become a challenge for the industry. Many believe that this fragmentation is slowing adoption of in-home connected devices.

Carney also said that taking a DIY approach and changing the switches etc in a home is not for everyone, as it requires the latest knowledge of connected devices and can require an understanding of wiring, basic carpentry, and IT.

However, he goes on to say: "The arena of the smart home is ripe for an enterprising company to develop a solution for centralized control of many devices from a variety of manufacturers in a friendly, intuitive package. Already, companies like SmartThings are developing these kinds of solutions, allowing multiple devices to connect to a single app that is available on a variety of mobile devices.

"In the end, the success of the smart home is going to be decided by the users and their willingness to buy IoT products for their homes."

Smart Home Summit, the ball is now in your court. Convince us. 

Check back on PCR tomorrow for coverage from the event

Image source: Shutterstock

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