WE Communications 29 Jan 2018 // 3:15PM GMT
We’ve been home from Vegas a while now, and all anybody can talk about is smart home. The gadgets were cool (sleep sensors! smart lighting panels! IoT-enabled toilet seats!), but what really had me excited was the promise of what’s to come. This CES felt like a tipping point for the smart home category. As brands weave AI, IoT and automation deeper into the fabric of their technology, they’re breaking boundaries and opening up whole new opportunities. This category is becoming less about the smart home and more about the smart life.
Google, Amazon and Samsung are leading this paradigm shift from a market where devices are discrete and fragmented to one where everything is connected to everything and compatible with everything, from tech that solves a single problem to products that work together to help you live your best life, just like Oprah would want.
Integration: the key to smart life
The most obvious activation of this idea is the voice assistant, and Google owned the awareness factor at CES. They were literally everywhere: Google leadership on every panel, banners at every third-party booth assuring viewers that their products partner with Google Home, and of course the giant gumball machines around the show and the three-story playground parked in front of the convention center, all focused on showing people how easy and fun it is to use Google Assistant.
And with their Google Home products, the tech giant is building an ecosystem to rival the arguable leader in the space, Amazon Alexa. Google is integrating with more third-party apps and connecting to more third-party products, too, and they’re doing much of it through voice.
“Voice is so powerful because it makes things so much easier to use and reduces friction,” said Chris Turkstra, Director of Product Management for the Google Assistant, during the “Homes of the Future: Tech Smart” panel. “Half of the queries we get on Google Assistant are around media — play Rihanna, play this podcast. It takes an average of seven taps to do this without voice; we're taking that away with [Google] Assistant.”
But smart life is about more than just yelling “Alexa, play ‘Umbrella,’” into your empty apartment. Not only do consumers expect to hear the song they want to hear when they want to hear it, they also expect that their smart devices anticipate what they’re doing and play songs accordingly — we don’t even want to have to tell our devices what to do, we just want it to happen. As more traditional home brands jump into the smart life, we’re getting a step closer to a world where I wake up in the morning, walk up to my Kohler smart mirror and my Morning Rise playlist automatically starts because my mirror is connected to my Google Home. Oh, and then my Whirlpool oven preheats so I can make my morning frittata. And then the heated seats in my Ford kick in so my car is nice and toasty when I’m ready to drive to work. That’s the kind of morning I want to experience one day.
So what are the keys to make my ideal morning a reality? Simplicity and connection. Companies that were once competitors are turning into collaborators in the ongoing attempt to not only solve real problems together, but do it in an automated way. This requires devices running on wildly different platforms to communicate with one another. Smart home brands have an interesting challenge in front of them: build technology that’s incredibly complex in order to achieve outcomes for consumers that are incredibly simple. One audience segment in particular is driving how brands think about features, benefits and marketing: women.
In WE Communications’ Brands in Motion survey, we found that women are consistently more excited about smart home technologies than men, see smart home devices as more innovative, and are more likely to purchase one in the next year. The dream of a fully automated morning routine that saves me time is a powerful thing. But that study also found that the very same group of women wouldn’t miss smart home brands if they were to disappear today. That’s a huge gap companies have to bridge — women are excited for the smart life and they’re sold on vision, but they don’t see a need for these devices right now.
How can brands keep consumers from dumping them? Integrating AI and machine learning and designing for compatibility — even when that compatibility is across brand lines — are crucial steps, but as companies continue to develop this technology, they also must double down on the end benefits right now. Show me how this is going to make my life easier right now! Kara Alexander, Senior Global Product Manager at WeMo, put it really well during the Smart Home Tech and the Fully Integrated Life panel (in which yours truly also participated):
“If you look at the landscape right now, we are in a very ‘do’ state — we are giving commands to devices to do something, and that’s really the extent of the solution we’re providing to the end consumer. Future smart home [products] can predict, can assess, can learn with you, and can help you make some of these choices, help take off some of the load that we all have as women.”
We’re going to see a seismic shift in the smart home category over the next few years. Having a smart product that doesn’t integrate isn’t going to cut it. Consumers will expect everything — from treadmills to toothbrushes to voice assistants to cars — to communicate seamlessly with each other and work hard so we don’t have to. Because if technology doesn’t help us live our best life, what’s the point?
By Marisa Lalli, Vice President, Consumer Sector, WE Communications