The battle of the smart home is beginning

Connected living is hot on the agenda, with an influx of new hardware and applications being launched. So why is it so confusing for consumers, and how can you decide what is right for your home?
amazon smart plug shown in use in a plug kitchen
Smart plugs are either pre-programmed or work on voice or sound activation. Image: Amazon

What is connected living?

Making your home work faster and more efficiently is the key in creating a smart home. However, there is a disparity between the technology available on the market, the integrations available between different hardware devices, and the intuitive interfaces that many users need to be able to operate their smart tech effectively.

The concept of smart living can include any number of systems; from a simple voice activated thermostat through to fully integrated whole home management systems.

With the UK government introducing legislation for energy companies to implement smart meters in all homes, it is an aspect of household management everybody is starting to become more accustomed to.

Who are the major players in the smart home world?

The biggest players currently are probably Amazon and Google, but these are not by any means the only options out there.

Amazon Echo – controlled by Alexa, the third generation Echo Dot smart speaker (RRP £49.99) plays music and controls compatible devices such as the Amazon Smart Plug (£24.99) and the Ring Video Doorbell (£179).

Google Home – works with the Google Assistant to manage your household devices. Hardware options include indoor and outdoor smart cams, such as the Nest Cam IQ (£299), the Nest Mini speakers, currently available to pre-order (£49), and the Nest Hub (£119).

Philips Hue offers a range of smart Filament bulbs, lamps, control kits and bundles which work with Amazon Alexa, Apple Homekit and Google Assistant powered by the Hue Bridge which allows you to programme your lighting by voice activation. Prices vary between products and starter kits, with the White Ambience Bulb at £24.99.

hue bridge smart home
Philips Hue Bridge system controls voice activated lighting. Image: Philips

ConnectSense Smart Outlet manages heating, lighting and fans through your Wifi and is compatible with Apple Homekit, Amazon Alexa and Google Assistant. The Smart Outlet 2 comes in at $59.95.

Samsung SmartThings range includes the SmartThings Hub (£79), motion sensors (£24), and water leak sensors (£24).

Tech Radar have published a buyers guide cherry picking the best devices across a number of categories.

How is the market growing?

A study carried out by McKinsey shows a ‘31% compound annual growth rate’ between 2015 and 2017. This study showed that, at the time, the biggest factor driving consumer choice was price, with abilities to interact with other devices and connect to a central hub being less important.

This is likely to have changed in the meantime, with smart home systems such as Google Nest and the Amazon Echo Dot significantly changing the way in which smart systems operate and the expectations we have of their uses.

sonos alexa enabled device sitting in a home
Whilst cross-brand integration remains a problem, there are a growing number of devices now compatible with Amazon Alexa. Photo: Sonos

Why is the smart home industry so fragmented?

One of the problems for consumers is understanding the range of options out there, and having enough knowledge about the functionality to make an informed decision.

The other big issue is compatibility; with different devices operated by different systems, and with a variety of brands producing competing products, it is crucial to make sure that you know any product you purchase can integrate seamlessly with any other hardware and systems you need it to run alongside.

This is not a new issue; IBM reported back in 2017 about the problem with the big tech companies wanting to monopolise the market, and the impact this has on consumer experience. Forcing customers to purchase one proprietary ecosystem and having to purchase exclusively from that brand is not a way to encourage customer loyalty.

Smart home gadgets also remain really expensive for a lot of household budgets although as with any new technology this is likely to become more affordable as manufacturing processes and market saturation increases.

Is there a solution in sight?

Perhaps the frustration with lack of cross brand connectivity will finally start to filter through, and the brands will see that being more open to enabling multi-product integrations is essential.

Niggles with the operating functions are sure to be ironed out as the technology matures, and functionality becomes more streamlined.

Making systems more accessible to consumers is the only viable option to ensure that the customer experience is a great one – after all, it is user satisfaction which is the cornerstone of a successful product and, of course, the customer is always right!

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