The world’s biggest mobile technology event was upon us again this week. Over 100,000 tecchies descended on Barcelona this week to showcase the latest and greatest smart devices and network technologies that is Mobile World Congress (MWC). Despite reports of an overall global decline in sales at the end of last year, just one look at the show this year will tell you that consumers’ love affair with their smartphones is far from over. However, MWC is increasingly also about showcasing other kinds of connected devices and technology platforms. Continue reading
Category Archives: Home automation
Was the panel I was on a fix?
- Tripling smart home revenues from John Lewis partners, according to Katrina Mills, Audio & Connected Home buyer, and the continued investment in dedicated smart home areas, growing to 5 stores by the end of October
- Doubling revenues at Lightwave, with acceleration driven by the introduction of voice control in the Echo, and with the latest range of Homekit-enabled products, announced by Andrew Pearson, CEO, about to be launched in Apple stores from 3rd October
- 500,000 Hive thermostats forecast to be sold in 2017, doubling the installed base to one million in the course of this year, and a new range of innovative customer focused solutions announced by Jo Cox, Commercial Director of Centrica
- O2 steadily growing its pilot stores, with plans to sell smart home in all stores, as presented by Richard Porter, head of smart home products
CES and MWC may attract the bigger crowds early in the year, but for many, the original and best consumer electronics show remains IFA. The Internationale Funkausstellung Berlin – to give it its full name – has been around for nearly a century, but it can barely have witnessed technological change on quite this scale before. This year VR headsets vied for attention with the usual smartphones, gaming devices, and laptops.
But perhaps the biggest buzz could be found around the smart home, in the proliferation of connected appliances and voice assistant technology, as well as a new agreement behind the scenes designed to drive forward a global market said to be worth over $14bn.
As usual, all the major consumer brands were represented this year, from Samsung and Huawei to Sony, Asus, Acer, Panasonic and many more. Smartphone fans were treated to a first look at LG’s high-end V30 device, while Sony unveiled three new models: the Xperia X71, X71 Compact and XA1 Plus. As far as laptops, the Asus 2-in- 1 ZenBook Flip 14, Lenovo’s Yoga 920 ultra-thin notebook, and Acer’s “slimmest ever all-in- on desktop” the Aspire S24 all caught the eye.
VR fans were treated to a major announcement: the introduction of Microsoft’s Windows Mixed Reality headsets, with partners Acer, Asus, Dell, Lenovo and others all showing off their wares. Elsewhere there were new smart watches from Samsung, plenty to keep gaming fans interested, and even new 360-degree digital cameras from Acer.
But it was in the smart home that arguably the most eye-catching kit could be found, as the battle for consumer hearts and minds really begins to heat up. There were plenty of connected appliances on show, from a new Nest thermostat and Hive smart security camera to the Miele Dialog Oven and even a smart floor cleaner from Neato Botvac.
But notably it was in the virtual assistant space that vendors really vied for consumers’ attention, which isn’t surprising given that these platforms will increasingly sit at the centre of the smart home.
That’s why we saw Amazon’s Alexa, Microsoft’s Cortana, Google’s Voice Assistant and Samsung’s Bixby, built into an increasingly wide range of products on show at IFA. Lenovo’s Alexa-powered Home Assistant for the Tab 4 offers an Echo Show experience for a much smaller price tag, for example. There’s also been signs that some players are prepared to work together: Amazon and Microsoft announced that their voice assistants would integrate to allow users to access Windows and Office through Alexa and Amazon sites via Cortana.
Driving smart home success
Behind the scenes was perhaps where the most significant event at IFA 2017 took place, with the signing of a major agreement between three smart home associations in the UK, Germany and France.
The UK’s Smart Homes & Buildings Association (SH&BA), Germany’s SmartHome Initiative Deutschland e.V. (SHD) and the Fédération Française de Domotique (FFD) represent over 600 OEMs, retailers, distributors, ISVs, integrators, telcos, and energy suppliers. Under the terms of the new agreement, they’ll form a European committee to better coordinate joint activities.
As Global MD for CONTEXT and Chair of the SH&BA, I believe the deal will help the organisations share key knowledge, develop common standards and drive sales. As smart home technologies become increasingly important to us all, that’s great news for the industry, and ultimately consumers.
For growth in the tech industry it’s all about Internet of Things and of course the Internet of Playthings – this year’s IFA will be an exciting place to witness this. The pre-show announcements point to make or break smart watches from Fitbit, new wearables from Samsung, a new connected toothbrush from Philips, a “behemoth” gaming machine from Acer, and new mixed-reality headsets from Microsoft.
The agenda of the various conference programmes, shows that IFA, just like its sister shows CES and MWC, give most airtime to the new, and hardly any to how technology companies can optimise the vast but legacy categories such as PC’s, printers and displays. So, for example, the keynotes will focus on digital health (Philips & Fitbit), “building the possible” (Microsoft – could this be related to their mixed reality offering?) and an intriguing topic of mobile and AI from Huawei – are they launching their own Siri/Cortana competitive offering? The IFA+ summit is focused on IOT, wearables, integrating tech in smart home, and the latest on immersive computing. It’s all about the next level – nothing stands still, although there is a timeless element about the IFA show, with its long history stretching back to 1925.
As you wander around the 155,000 square metres of space, and get to meet the 1,805 exhibitors, do not forget to put the innovation areas on your itinerary.
Here are two of them: in hall 6.2 there are 78 companies presenting smart home offerings – covering security, lighting, home automation, cloud platforms and gateways. Look especially for the advances in voice control and the linking of smart home solutions to this technology, which is less than one year old in Europe and has already made an enormous difference to the smart home market. Then, not far away, there is hall 26 – this is the innovation pavilion where IFA Next is housed (it used to be known as IFA Tec Watch). Here you will find start-ups and all those next generation products, the ones to watch.
In pavilion 26, there is also another smart home area, with another 10 vendors, and associations, which is also not to be missed. And especially at 4pm on 4th September, when three smart home associations – the Smart Homes & Buildings Association (UK), Fédération Française de Domotique (France), and Smart Home Initiative (Germany), will sign an international cooperation agreement working together to build the category across Europe. CONTEXT is associated with all three associations, having been a force in bringing them together, and already collaborated on a number of pan-European projects.
Lastly, and not least, CONTEXT is looking forward to hosting its annual IFA dinner with clients and partners – the opportunity to hear the latest CONTEXT research on Smart Home and Immersive technology, will be delivered in a delightful Berlin venue, providing a great opportunity to relax, meet up and network.
I went on to Facebook in 2008 to check up what people could see about my aspiring 17-year-old daughter who wanted to be a doctor. That was when the deluge started –the year after I joined, Facebook went from 100 million to 300 million members. That same daughter is now 26, and is part of the millennial generation, who surprisingly, at first sight, are dropping behind the younger Generation Z in driving technology adoption. Continue reading
At the recent GTDC EMEA Summit, the CONTEXT data and team were in evidence as the preliminary results of its annual 2017 ChannelWatch survey were unveiled in a dedicated workshop, and the GTDC Rising Star awards were selected using the CONTEXT data.
There was a real buzz this year with over 175 attendees, a record number of vendors, and senior executives from across the industry. The location was excellent with top class hospitality in the Kempinski Hotel in Vienna.
The conference opened with an upbeat introductory speech from Tim Curran, the CEO of the GTDC. Europe is on the move, growing faster than the US, and with excellent results in Q1 2017. Curran also took the occasion to remind members of the services provided by the GTDC.
We were then treated to a fascinating glimpse into the future by “futurist and humanist” Gerd Leonhard. Bringing together a myriad of ideas about the current technology explosion, he closed off his speech with a slide which really sums up the challenge ahead. Humans can only advance at a linear pace, whereas technology capabilities are advancing exponentially. We need to deal with this so that we don’t become “useless humans” and we must channel the new technology to the benefit of all mankind.
From GTDC Keynote Presentation by Gerd Leonhard, 13/6/2017 ©
The final session of the morning, before breaking off into workshops and 1-to-1 meetings, was a Distribution panel, hosted by Peter Ward. On the panel were Graeme Watt, formerly CEO of Avnet Europe, now SVP Value at Tech Data; Jeremy Butt, Executive VP of Westcon EMEA; Ilona Weiss, CEO of ABC Data; Eric Nowak, President of Arrow ECS EMEA; Svens Dinsdorfs, CEO of Elko; and Anton Herbst, Head of Strategy at Tarsus.
The discussions were broad-ranging around the future of Distribution, the impact of recent consolidations, and there was a plea from Graeme Watt for vendors to think solutions not products, in order to get the right results for customers. An interesting debate took place about the importance of recruiting and retaining the best talent in the tech industry, a challenging area. One of the panellists said that often when people have been trained up in a specialist area, they are subsequently targeted for recruitment by resellers or vendors. This is definitely the stuff of future discussions for this audience to grapple with and find solutions.
In the CONTEXT workshop the preliminary results of the ChannelWatch survey for 6 out of 17 countries – UK, France, Germany, Spain, Italy and Poland – were presented. A number of questions were asked by attendees at the GTDC conference who were curious to know more. As Andy Dow, Group Marketing Director of Tech Data UK said, “The more deeply you dive, the more you understand that you need to dive even deeper.”
In this year’s ChannelWatch survey we had an overwhelming response of nearly 7,000 resellers, supported by our distributor partners who shared the survey with their reseller clients. The respondents were mainly owners, CEO’s and senior management, covered a broad spectrum of resellers, VAR’s, etailers and retailers, as well as small, medium and large sized companies.
Overall resellers in these countries are confident about 2016 and optimistic about 2017. This has been confirmed by a stellar opening to 2017 with 5% growth in Q1 panel revenues in these countries compared to last year, ranging from 13% growth in Spain to 1% in the UK. The outlying country for optimism is Spain (71% think that 2017 will be better than 2016) and the country with the highest number of doubters is the UK where 20% see 2017 as being worse than 2016.
The preliminary ChannelWatch data supports the encouraging opening talk by Tim Curran, and we look forward to a positive second half of the year.
The full results of the ChannelWatch survey will be made available in the coming weeks.
The SH&BA – Smart Home and Builders’ Association – Retailer & Manufacturer Panel met this past week in London. The attendees were truly a reflection of the convergence of the devices and technology in our homes and lifestyle. Participants represented a variety of industries and sectors including: manufacturing, vendors, retailers, associations, government agencies as well as academia and industry experts. What does such a diverse group of attendees gather to discuss?
Smart Home – The hub of a digital lifestyle
IoT (internet of Things) devices have been in existence for a couple of decades. They enable connecting a variety of devices to the internet to send and receive data. That capability is not very exciting for most customers. But the ability to use IoT to monitor household utility connections to save money becomes a much more compelling reason for consumers to consider a “smart” home.
Many of the examples discussed in the SH&BA forum were about the increasing ease of use for consumers, and the value the smart devices play in making life convenient. Steve Moore from Dixons Carphone illustrated how their Honey Bee becomes a hub to connect many devices in the home. And even more importantly, it becomes the homeowners’ support centre where they can get answers to questions about devices they own. Steve Moore perhaps best summarised the key to Smart Home expansion by saying that we are at the stage where our “Goal is to take the friction out of life”.
Maybe we shouldn’t be calling it “Smart”
Rick Hartwig from the IET (Institute of Engineering and Technology) made the interesting point that we shouldn’t be using the term “Smart” home. Smart implies futuristic … a long way off. Mr. Hartwig argued that in many ways aspects of the digital “smart” home are already here. Most customers who are online already have at least one device beyond a PC connected to an internet. In the near future, energy and power consumption will be prime drivers for the home owner to adopt “smart” connected technology which adapts its settings to hours of the day in order to save energy.
The Power of Voice is rapidly accelerating adoption
One of the most exciting buzz factors in the smart home arena is the power of voice control. Initially propelled by Amazon Echo, Google Home, Apple and Microsoft are all rushing ahead with voice control speakers which become more humanised “hubs” for a variety of smart devices throughout the home.
Keynote speaker Theunis Scheepers brought some cutting edge examples from the evolution of the Amazon Alexa ecosystem. The speaker is the “human portal”, but the real genius is the Alexa cloud platform. The Alexa cloud is essentially an API system that enables partners to connect their devices to Alexa for voice control. In reality the Echo device is an array microphone and speaker – the “smart” is in the cloud that enables the customer to interact in a very natural way of using their voice to direct their digital lifestyle.
The Future of Smart Home
Adam Simon, from CONTEXT and Chair of the SH&BA Association, updated the group on the latest CONTEXT Smart Home Survey. The trends are clear, and consistently upward. More consumers are aware of “smart home” and more plan to purchase a device for their home, but the patterns vary significantly by country.
From a consumer perspective, smart home adoption is still a “mid-term” play with purchases planned on 3 to 5 year horizon. The exception is in the builder market where whole house adoption is accelerating because it is “built in” as the backbone of the home and constitutes a relatively small part of the overall home market.
If there was one clear consensus and predictor for Smart Home it is that the power of voice will rapidly accelerate adoption. Amazon reported that Echo is now selling at 9X the holiday rate, and the Echo Dot is being bundled as a 6 pack so consumers can cover every room of their house. With the speaker hub and API cloud system we have now reached a stage similar to that of the smartphone with apps that make a connected life possible and convenient.
The next Retailer & Manufacturer Panel will be on 14th November, 2017.
For more information about SH&BA or if you are interested to attend the SH&BA panel please email firstname.lastname@example.org
Guest blog by Chris Petersen, IMS