Category Archives: Home automation

CeBIT 2017 Points the Way to VR and Smart Device Growth

With 200,000 participants flocking to Hanover this year, the week-long CeBIT show can be an intimidating prospect. Over 3,000 exhibitors set up shop at the world’s biggest technology expo. And while this is not a show for big name product launches, it still provides a very useful snapshot of what’s hot in the tech industry from one year to the next.

This year, as we predicted, there was plenty of buzz around smart devices, the Internet of Things and Virtual Reality (VR)/ Augmented Reality (AR). These, after all, will be the technologies that in years to come delight consumers and power the next generation of European businesses.

VR/AR catches the eye
CeBIT 2017 had a bigger focus on VR/AR than ever before, highlighting the growing maturity of this burgeoning technology. If you were in any doubt of the scale of interest in this space, half of Hall 17 – one of the show’s aircraft hangar-sized expo spaces – was devoted entirely to firms exhibiting VR-related tech. As we predicted at the end of 2016, gaming will continue to drive forward interest in VR on the consumer side. But, as evidenced by its exposure at the business-centric CeBIT show, more and more companies are exploring corporate applications.

Examples included the “Virtofy” VR presentation system, which offers companies an opportunity to demo products and showcase projects to prospective clients/customers. Another interesting use case developed by engineers at the Zwickau University of Applied Sciences incorporates integrated data goggles into the helmets worn by steel workers – designed to flash up safety warnings and the like.

In Hall 2 Intel, in cooperation with Microsoft, presented the dataflow the companies expect in the near future. Based on the BMW i8, Intel presented with the Microsoft AR Hololens how cameras and sensors scan the environment of a future car in order to drive autonomously. Intel predicts that approximately 4000 GB of data will be tracked, processed and uploaded from cars in the future, which creates brand new business scenarios in this market.

IoT everywhere
As we mentioned in December, the Smart Home market is really heating up, with Apple, Google, Amazon, Samsung and Microsoft set to battle it out for hearts and minds in 2017 and beyond. True to form, the Internet of Things formed a major part of CeBIT 2017, with over 270 exhibitors from 29 countries participating. The IoT also had its own spin-off summit at the conference – a first for the organisers and again illustrative of the growing interest in smart products.

The IoT, of course, extends far beyond the smart home. In fact, attendees were treated to demos of everything from smart shirts and dog collars from Telefonica Deutschland, to Toshiba’s industrial applications for the energy sector.

Drones are taking off
The smart device revolution also increasingly extends up into the sky. As evidenced by the buzz at CeBIT, drones are fast carving out an IoT niche of their own. A large outdoor area sponsored by Intel drew many of the crowds, with much attention drawn to the bright orange H520 hexacopter from Chinese firm Yuneec. When combined with an on-board camera and Intel RealSense tech, it’s able to detect movements and distances like the human eye – enabling it to avoid obstacles in flight.

The Drone Park even drew the interest of German Chancellor Angela Merkel and Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe.

by AD

 

 

 

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Filed under Connectivity, gaming, Home automation, IoT, Mobile technology, Retail, Smart Home, Smart Technology, virtual reality, Wearables

Reflections on DISTREE EMEA 2017

When the IT channel gathers in Monaco for DISTREE in February it is always good to get some winter sunshine, not just from the balmy Cote d’Azur weather, but also the opportunity to meet up with panellists, clients and new tech companies.

This year there was a strong distributor focus, and the keynote, delivered by Chris Petersen , our strategic partner, was a look at what distributors need to do to benefit from the omnichannel revolution. Chris challenged the audience provocatively with a tombstone showing that on 14th February 2017, traditional retail died. What is the significance of this date? It was on this day that Warren Buffett, the legendary investor, sold almost all of his WalMart stocks. The WalMart stock has been languishing for years now, as the company is incapable of catching up with Amazon on ecommerce. Their total of $13bn online sales is equivalent to the growth which Amazon puts on every year.

Chris elaborated on 5 areas where distributors can contribute. Here are two key ones:

  • The last mile represents 40% of costs – how can distributors help with logistics support such as drop shipment, and inventory management.
  • The long tail is the chosen strategy of ecommerce and particularly online marketplaces, which are big competition for distributors. What can distributors do to help retailers increase the breadth and depth of categories which they hold.

In addition, CONTEXT had a workshop slot, and presented a deep dive on three emerging technology areas – Smart Home, VR and PC Gaming. There is a thirst for understanding all these areas, as evidenced by the full house of those attending the talk. Of all of them, the theme which cropped up throughout the three days was PC Gaming. In the CONTEXT presentation there was a very visual presentation of the need for deep analysis in this area, with a slide showing two Asus models. One was a Republic of Gaming model, evidently a gaming machine.

adamdistree

Adam Simon, Global MD – Retail, CONTEXT

The other was a “business” laptop, but when you dig into the specifications you can see that it is also gaming capable. The channel needs to understand the total market if it is to develop the gaming category, and that is where the CONTEXT categorisation is very useful.

Finally, we were asked to take part in a panel on Brexit. All 4 UK participants had been pro-Remain and are all now pragmatic if concerned about the future. We are delighted to see additional investments recently announced by tech companies in the UK, and look for an interesting competition between the hardware strong France and the software strong UK.

by AS

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Filed under Connectivity, Home automation, omnichannel, Retail, Retail in CONTEXT, Smart Home, Smart Technology

Smart Home survey Latam unveiled

CONTEXT recently expanded its smart-home survey coverage to Latam and Howard Davies, our CEO, presented the results at the recent GTDC conference in Miami.

This category is still in its infancy in Latam but, since things are now moving in the US and the UK, accelerated by the arrival of voice control with Amazon Echo and Google Home, we are keen to establish a baseline.

Here are some interesting findings from the survey:

  • Timescales given in response to the question, “When do you envisage you will have a smart home?” are shortest in Mexico. Brazil and Argentina are next, and Chile is some way behind.
  • It is open season on smart home for the channels – none has established themselves as the natural go-to place: in two countries (Brazil and Argentina) online retailing leads, in two others (Chile and Mexico) DIY is in front. Specialist technology retailers lag throughout Latam, which is surprising.
  • Awareness of voice control is high, in particular Apple Siri. This makes these countries fertile ground for the launch of Amazon Alexa and Google Home although, at the moment, people prefer to use smartphones to access smart home. We think this will change when they see the ease of access voice control provides.
  • Thermostats, lightbulbs, smart plugs, smart doorbells and locks, and smart cameras are the products people are most aware of. Lightbulbs and plugs are the entry products, the ones people are going to buy (intention to purchase > 4%). Smart doorbells and smart sound systems cross this threshold too.
  • Interestingly, leading reasons for purchase differ by country – security in Brazil and Chile, automation and making life easier in Mexico, lowering energy costs in Argentina. “Because it’s just cool,” scores very highly in Chile and Argentina – is this coming from tech lovers, early adopters, or just people for whom image is important?
  • Lack of understanding of benefits and lack of knowledge of products are key barriers, and this is unsurprising. But the strong vote for products that work together should be a call to action for the industry. The importance of integrated offerings is supported by the number of people who say that they don’t understand how the smart home concept fits together. The manufacturer or retailer who really communicates and delivers this will be in a strong position.
  • People are more concerned about the physical risks of owning a smart home product than the cyber risks. Product malfunction is the top risk in all countries.
  • The only country where retailers are doing a reasonable job of explaining smart home is Mexico.
  • There is a three horse race for the hub – Amazon Echo leads in Brazil, Google Home in Chile and Apple Homekit in Mexico. In Argentina, Amazon Echo and Google Home are neck and neck.

Smart Home in 2017 is going to be a battle of the giants! For more information, please click here!

by AS

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Latin American Consumers Ready for Smart Home

Over three quarters of consumers surveyed in Latin America’s leading economies say they want to know more about Smart Home products, according to CONTEXT’s new survey. With no one retailer dominating the Smart Home market in the countries surveyed, this potential demand for the new global wave in technology products and services presents significant opportunities for the IT channel in Latin America.

Carried out in January 2017, the CONTEXT Survey was announced at the Global Technology Distribution Council Latin American IT Distribution Summit in Miami, USA, and covered 2,000 consumers in Brazil, Mexico, Argentina and Chile.

The general picture for Smart Homes in these countries with a combined GDP of $USD4.4TN is good, with an encouraging level of awareness. However, it is clear that this awareness is not rooted in a deep understanding of the concept. This is partly down to limited exposure to Smart Home products or ideas, with very few people seeing or hearing things about Smart Home on a regular basis.

Such limited exposure is hardly surprising, given that no one channel is doing a good job of explaining or showcasing the concept. Where people have picked up on Smart Home, it tends to be from online sites – both retailers’ and manufacturers’ – rather than from in-person contact via things like store displays. This limits the degree to which consumers can interact and engage with Smart Home products.

As well as highlighting the opportunities, the CONTEXT Survey found that worries surrounding the idea of the Smart Home are prevalent, with 9 out of 10 people having at least one concern. Some of these are serious, including views that products may malfunction, causing harm or damage to the home. Privacy concerns and a fear of identity theft are also high on the list of worries.

When asked what user scenarios were encouraging them to buy Smart Home products, the top three responses were “arriving home”, “waking up”, and “advanced security”. In terms of the Smart Home hubs people would be most likely to trust, the Survey found that while there are variations across different countries, Apple, Amazon and Google dominate. Amazon has a clear lead in Brazil, while Apple leads in Mexico and Chile. Google is in the lead in Argentina.

In summary, despite the lack of deep knowledge and the barriers this creates, the good news is that across all countries there is an appetite to learn more. This is especially in terms of how they can save money, and how they can make home living more enjoyable, easier and better.

by JD

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Get big, get specialist, or get out!

You’re a brave person to be the only representative of a titanic eTailer in a room full of established and independent retailers. This was my thought last week at the PCR Bootcamp where I was lucky enough to evangelise on the subject of Smart Home to the brightest and best in the British ICT channel. Time and time again the name of a certain rainforest popped up when the subject of tough competition was mentioned. Having scanned the attendance register earlier that day, I knew that one of the Amazon team was probably in the audience, but if they were they had decided to wisely remain reticent and keep their head down.

In fairness, the presence of Amazon in UK retail is nothing short of terrifying. Amazon is now the first port of call for many consumers for just about everything from laptops to t-shirts suggesting that the 40th President of the USA was an undead monster. Indeed, in the last CONTEXT consumer survey on Smart Home, 80% of respondents in the UK said they would look to buy Smart Home products from Amazon, followed by Maplin with 60%. There is a lot to be wary of when in competition with Amazon, however that’s not to say that traditional retailers do not have a play in the current retail environment – even the mighty Achilles had a dodgy ankle.

Towards the end of the panel discussion, Rich Marsden (MD VIP) made the comment that in today’s world it’s “…get big, get specialised, or get out”. This resonated with everything I had tried to admonish during my own speech. The owner of a very successful Smart Home eTailer recently confided to me that a significant portion of his customers were those who had bought from Amazon but ended up returning the products because the post-sales support was not sufficient to help them set up their purchase. This particular eTailer has a fantastic technical support service and pride themselves on their very low return rate. Smart Home products won’t sell themselves and are not your average plug-and-play devices.

Consumers need to be educated, if possible in store and in person. Moreover, some products cry out for home installation and partnerships with trusted service providers. Many consumers struggle with resetting their fuse box, let alone fitting a new thermostat. As Rich went on to say “…there will always be a market for people who want to walk into a shop to make their purchase.” With emerging product categories such as Smart Home (and soon, VR), the experiential is far more important than convenience of purchase. It’s time for retail to bring back a little theatre and hands-on salesmanship, something an online transaction cannot currently capture.

by JW

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Filed under Home automation, Mobile technology, Retail in CONTEXT, Smart Home, Smart Technology

“Will someone take me seriously?” Why smart home manufacturers may end up echoing Steve Jobs

15 years ago Steve Jobs launched the mould-breaking Apple stores and created a retail model which generates more revenue per square foot than any other retailer. He was driven to this because he was tired of having his products placed at the back of the store.

Today, there are still too many retail stores where the most exciting new technology ecosystem to emerge in a generation is being put at the back of the store or even omitted from the sales offering.

The good news is that we are seeing a new type of experiential retail store emerge where connected objects are front of stage. Fnac, the French based retailer, has launched a Fnac Connect format dedicated to smart and connected products. Half of Maplin’s sales area is dedicated to Connected Home and John Lewis has invested in a Smart Home experiential area in its flagship Oxford Street store.

But the smart home retail sector is still lacking the Apple magic – which by the way is nowhere to be found in Apple where Homekit is ranged in a quiet corner somewhere!

Here are some tips for what we think is necessary to achieve what Steve Jobs has done with Apple:

  • Courage is needed – to bring the goods to the front of the store and provoke people’s curiosity. The ROI is not there today, but the winner will be an innovator who takes a longer term view of this market.
  • Understanding consumers is vital – they are prepared to spend £150 on one product in 2016. Across Europe it is the same story. There are plenty of products to fill the shelves which sit below the £150 threshold – smart plugs (topselling introduction to the world of connected home), lightbulb starter kits, smart home starter kits, baby monitors, IP cameras, or one of the most recent arrivals – a smart door lock. The only category where it is hard to spend in this budget is smart thermostats most of which sit between £200-300 and often include installation costs.
  • Nothing will happen unless retailers assume their historic role of educating consumers – this is the biggest barrier to people purchasing smart home goods. 65% of consumers in our recent Smart Home survey worry about their home when they are away from it, but only 10% have heard of an IP camera or a smart door lock. Imagine if through good selling practices, retailers were able to link these two and sell a solution to a real consumer need. This education role is now being led by the specialist etailers, who are doing a great job of explaining new products and supporting confused consumers – look at a UK etailer like Vesternet (http://www.vesternet.com) and the helpful support system they have created.

If there is one courageous retailer who is mimicking Apple in the Smart Home world it is Lick in France (https://lick.fr/). Its 17 Paris based stores are dedicated to connected objects. There are well educated salespeople, some ex Apple employees – who engage and explain how those products work and can bring benefits with customers. The store layout is simple and encourages dialogue with salespeople across tables like in the Apple store. Stéphane Bohbot, the founder, calls his salespeople “coaches”. The retail space is used also to showcase tech start-ups, part of the booming French Tech sector.

Steve Jobs always loved France and used Paris as the base to launch a number of his products. Maybe the French are going to lead the way on Smart Home Retail as Apple has done for the last 15 years in mobile technology.

by AS

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John Lewis Gets Experiential with Smart Home

On Thursday 7th April 2016, John Lewis opened the largest Smart Home retail experience in the UK at the flagship Oxford Street store. I was invited to a preview to see the display before doors officially opened to the public later that morning. I’m thrilled to report that John Lewis have shown a very strong understanding of how to sell these products to a largely ill-informed public. The most recent consumer survey from the CONTEXT Smart Home Research Group shows that public interest has increased in Smart Home products over the past six months, and this growth of interest has been reflected in what we have seen being sold through the UK IT channel. John Lewis themselves today reported an 81% increase in Smart Home product sales over the last year; they, like CONTEXT, see a big market opportunity.

What excited me most about this new display is that it really is an experience. To understand the potential of the Smart Home it’s critical to get a feel of these products in a simulated environment. John Lewis divided the display into four sections: kitchen, entertainment, sleep, and home monitoring. Within each section is a variety of products connected to tablets for consumers to control and try, accompanied by custom-built displays to simulate night/day cycles, or a view from a window, placed around furniture and household appliances. Moreover, I was assured by the John Lewis team that there would always be a sales attendant on duty to show consumers how to interact with products and run them through use-cases. Once again, this reflects the results of CONTEXT’s consumer surveys which highlighted the importance of educating the consumer to bring down purchase barriers.

John Lewis’ proposition is similar to other excellent offerings I have seen in specialist ICT retail stores, particularly in France and Germany, but John Lewis is the first department-store chain in the UK to wake up to the unique requirements for selling Smart Home products successfully. Moreover, the John Lewis team has a clear understanding that consumers need to have a good experience on buying their first Smart Home product in order to secure return sales for more devices. They are also acutely aware of their position as a trusted UK brand, one which many consumers would be happy to allow into their homes for installation. The John Lewis team informed me that installation would be part of the offering, installation that often requires very specific training with accreditation from vendors. I am interested to see how this will operate, as finding a good source of installers is a headache for many Smart Home retailers in the UK.

Should you wish to see the new experience, it is on the 5th floor of the Oxford Street store and positioned adjacent to the TVs and other electronics. I would have liked to have seen the experience placed within the main home section on the 2nd floor where less typical consumers would have had visibility of these products as fewer shoppers will be visiting to buy a TV than cheaper home-wares. However, I am excited to see John Lewis’ move towards experiential Smart Home retailing. The Smart Home market in the UK can only benefit from more didactic efforts in retail.

by JW

 

 

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Filed under Connectivity, Home automation, Retail in CONTEXT, Smart Home, Smart Technology