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
Tag Archives: smart technology
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 email@example.com
Guest blog by Chris Petersen, IMS
Last week at Paris Retail Week I met a number of French people who all repeated the same mantra to me – you are so innovative in retail in the UK. Well sacré bleu this is French negativism at its worst. The reality is the French are darned good at inventing new retail concepts – the hypermarket was an invention by Carrefour in the 60’s; international food retail was pioneered by Carrefour and Auchan in the 1970’s and 80’s; recently Auchan piloted the shop and collect drive-in format which was taken forward by Leclerc. And if you look at the area of retail which really interests us, a trip around Paris should remind any Brit that French creativity is not to be ignored in tech retail, and particularly connected objects.
Here is what I saw on the Paris Retail tour and in a visit yesterday to some additional stores:
- the new Orange store in the Champs Elysees – you walk into a store with VR demonstrations on Samsung Gear headsets happening as you walk in (or at least you did last week, this week they were sadly missing) – this is a tech destination showing off smart home, health, connected car, fun gadgets, and a workspace for repair. The layout is airy and modern, the displays very Apple. My only disappointment was that the “coach” experience did not work as it should and I was left to wander round by myself. This concept store being rolled out all over Europe is part of an omnichannel strategy linking the on and offline journey of the customer. 8/10
- Fnac Connect is on the Champs Elysees and has a small selection of connected objects and a large space dedicated to mobile phones. There is little visibility of store staff and it has not moved on since it was introduced nearly two years ago. But it is there and is being invested in as new stores are being rolled out over France in the Connect format. Inside the main Fnac store on the lower ground floor was excitement – the first display of Oculus headsets, on sale only in Fnac stores. I was underwhelmed as they were piled high next to a similar pile of HTC Vive. This is the biggest opportunity for tech retail to bring in the crowds as the Orange store has proven with the Samsung Gear and as clearly highlighted in our consumer survey on VR 7/10
- Darty – I went to the Beaugrenelle store as I had read that it was a concept store for them. It has a dynamic welcome with a connected back to school campaign, and had a very full offer of connected objects ranged over multiple gondolas and displays. There is no doubt that Darty means business with connected objects. But what is still missing is the engagement with shoppers. What does it all mean? You are left to work it out for yourself. 7/10
- Boulanger’s flagship store in Opera was our last visit and was a true delight. The welcome was a huge smile from the security guard – very un-Parisian. The prominent space on arrival is the collection point for the click and collect goods. Evidently this is a new generation omnichannel store. The gondolas were beautiful, airy and the signage was clear. The connected objects range was not as great as Darty but the store makes you want to shop and find someone to explain. Even as we left, the cashiers smiled at us. Boulanger has brought the warmth of the North of France to Paris and that is an unforgettable plus 9/10
On this visit I did not go to Lick, another specialist store for connected objects which we have covered previously in our Paris visits. The news is that Lick is extending its reach through a recent link-up with BHV to bring the flair of connected objects to this rather old-fashioned department store. I also saw the flagship Publicis store on the Champs Elysées which has introduced a connected objects offering (placed between champagne and wine on one side, and perfume on the other). I am not sure that they will get much traction from this as the selection of products was small and eclectic, but the overall conclusion is that the French are experimenting with tech retail, and for that I give Paris 10/10 – allez les bleus!
Our Smart Home consumer survey in August showed that only 29% of UK respondents had seen smart home products in a retail store, compared to 39% in Germany, so I decided to see what I could find out about the state of smart home retail in London. “Where are your Homekit products?” I asked on arriving at the Apple store in Regent Street. “What is that?” answered the front of store welcomer. Trying another ecosystem, I went to Currys PC World in Tottenham Court Road “Can you show me where the SmartThings products are?” The welcomer did better– he pointed me to a stand full of smart and connected products. But it was not the SmartThings stand, about which he evidently knew nothing. I then went to John Lewis’s to their Oxford Street store to see the new ideal home area which they have recently refurbished at multi-million pound cost. There were approximately 3 square metres of Smart Home Products in the technology area and nothing was to be seen in the ideal home area which sits on two floors. Smart home is definitely not front of mind in London.
To say that is to ignore one retailer – Maplin in Tottenham Court Road. Here it is almost the opposite extreme as they have developed a full merchandising concept of “Connected Home” with around 50% of the space branded under this banner. This includes cameras, tablets, home automation as well as TV & home entertainment, computer cables, hard drives, smart lighting – the connected home is shown off in its broadest possible definition.
If bricks and mortar retailers don’t make more of an effort they risk becoming irrelevant, and this is a missed opportunity, as consumers are asking for more information about smart home products, and every indication is that sooner or later, this category is going to grow exponentially. In our August survey, 60% said they did not understand enough about smart home products. The other risk is that they leave the space for online retail. 56% of survey respondents had heard about smart home products online. Some of the most successful players in the market are pure play etailers – specialists such as Vesternet in the UK and Conrad in Germany, and generalists such as Amazon across Europe. The specialists are becoming very good at explaining to customers what they need, and how to build a smart home. With Dixons recent announcement that they are launching a ‘home gadgets’ emergency service, they are getting closer to the consumer needs on smart home, but we need more imaginative displays and merchandising in store, as well as knowledgeable trained staff, in order to build up this category.
We’re a nation obsessed by smartphones, with 71 per cent of us owning at least one of these indispensable devices. So it will come as no surprise that our research shows that one of the most important factors when it comes to driving smart home adoption is how easy it is to control from our smartphones.
But as the sector develops, we must consider whether we want to use our smartphone to switch off the lights or turn on the TV. Consumers will crave a more natural and intuitive interface, and here we explore three ways the smartphone could be knocked off its throne as default remote of the connected home.
- Voice control
Speaking to inanimate objects might seem like an odd concept now, but in a few years the entire smart home could be running on voice biometrics. Online retail giant Amazon has put a lot of effort into its Amazon Echo: a speaker that you can ask about to play music, give you a morning traffic update, or even tell you the latest football score. Other smart products, such as Samsung Smart TVs now have voice recognition built in too. Yes, you can ask it to change channel and turn the volume up and down without touching the remote control, but it also builds a personal profile of you and every member of your family. It will learn what programmes you watch regularly so as soon as you ask it to ‘play the latest England game’, it knows you mean you want to see the latest goal from Sterling not the cricket or rugby.
- Actions and gestures
If the thought of having to ask your coffee machine to start brewing in the morning is too much to face, why not set it off with a simple smile? Intel’s RealSense 3D camera recognises hand and head movements, and even facial expressions. It’s currently targeted at video gamers who can control the on-screen action with their hand rather than the control pad. But it’s soon expected to become more common in our everyday lives with thermostats, TVs, or laptops that you control with a swipe of the hand, a nod of the head, or even a wink or smile.
- Mind control
It sounds like science-fiction but your thoughts alone could control the smart home of the future. The connected home will be full of devices able to monitor particular signals in your brain and see what you want to do before you’ve even had the chance to act upon it yourself. Incredibly, it’s already being developed, and in Eda Akman Aydin’s study at Gaza University all participants were able to learn to control a phone, light, TV and heater just by picking up signals from their brain activity. The technology might be slow to respond at the moment, but it’s a promising start. With our research showing that most European consumers expect to have a smart home in three or more years’ time, there’s still time for cutting edge tech like this to develop and grow.
Above all, what these three interfaces offer consumers is ease of use and what could be simpler than a few words, a gesture or even a thought? Retailers know that convenience wins over consumers and with such straightforward systems the question isn’t if the smartphone will be replaced in the smart home, but when.
 From Google Consumer Barometer 2015
The Internet of Things has arrived with more of our everyday becoming connected. While many have high hopes for smart cities and driverless cars, it looks like the smart home will be one of the more practical and plausible upshots of our newly connected world.
We have just launched a report into the smart home that polled the views, opinions and purchasing intentions of 1,500 people in the UK, Germany and France. For many consumers it is the promise of greater convenience, cost savings and security that drives their smart home aspirations. The idea of having your home ready for you when you return resonates strongly, as does being able to shut down the house in the evening when it’s time for bed.
We were also really encouraged by the respondents’ open-minded attitude to the smart home concept. Nearly half of consumers (46%) in the UK, France and Germany expect to be living in a smart home within the next three to five years. In Germany, where manufacturers have been pushing the smart home concept for a number of years, nearly a quarter (22%) believes that smarter living will be a reality within a year. Whilst many question the timing of a smart home breakthrough, we should be encouraged by these positive responses, which are a leading indicator of change.
The Germans also appear to have a more positive outlook for the smart home. In the UK, 56% said they just weren’t interested in buying smart home products. In France this was 43%, but in Germany this fell significantly to 18%, highlighting the importance of driving consumer awareness. When we look at the retail level, again Germany led the way, with four in ten consumers surveyed finding out about smart home products through retail stores, compared to only 22% in France.
Yet despite this optimism, we still find the sector in its infancy. Even with all the buzz around tech shows, media excitement, and big-budget TV ad spend on products like Nest and Hive, consumer awareness is relatively low. Over six in ten of those we talked to hadn’t heard of the term smart home, so much remains to be done to educate consumers on the benefits of automating the home.
This appears to be the key to unlocking the potential of the smart home. We found that consumers focus on individual products like smart light bulbs or thermostats in isolation, instead of joining the dots to see how they can connect their entire home together. For retailers there exists a real opportunity to drive revenue in this new category by showcasing the smart home as a whole, bringing products from lighting, electrical and home furnishings departments together for the first time. And for device manufacturers, this is a signal that it’s time to think collaboratively, so products are inter-operable straight out the box.
As consumers remain unaware of these wider benefits, price becomes somewhat of a blocker to widespread adoption. Over a third feels that smart home products are currently too expensive, with the current ceiling for the majority of consumers around the £150 mark.
The smart home is rapidly becoming tangible as retailers, utility companies and telecoms operators jostle for consumer attention. From here standards need to be set so products work with each other regardless of manufacturer. This would remove the complexity of setting up a smart home, something that is undoubtedly stifling consumer buy-in. The prospects for the smart home market appear to be very bright, and it will be fascinating to see if the German optimism reflected in our research translates to the rest of Europe, and is converted into higher sales volumes.
For more information or to obtain a copy of the CONTEXT Smart Home Consumer Survey, please click here.
Many people have come back from IFA saying they did not find much exciting buzz around the products – well I had a thrill seeing Amazon Echo in action as well as the acceleration of interconnection and the smart kitchen.
“Alexa, please tell James to prepare the kitchen for breakfast,” said Michael Schidlack, Chief Strategy Officer of DigitalSTROM, to the speaker in the middle of the table. Alexa is the speaker, James is the butler, and apparently Alexa does nothing unless you mention James’s name. Sure enough she responded with lights flashing and said that the room was ready. Then the action started – two leaves at the side of the table moved into breakfast position, the lights came on and the music started. He then asked for some water and the tap started pouring at his request. Lastly you can also order from Alexa the sink powder which you will get sent to you from Amazon (Alexa only understands US English and would not know what dishwasher powder is, and indeed she had some difficulty in understanding my Home Counties English accent).
In the consumer survey we recently commissioned and published at IFA, we asked the respondents which room would be smart first. 57% of people voted for the kitchen – this is not the intuitive choice of everyone when you think that so much talk about smart home has been about security and energy savings, in which case the under stairs cupboard or the hallway will be smart first, which is of course a ridiculous idea. In terms of purchasing intentions only a small percentage of respondents said they will buy smart ovens or fridges in the next 6 months.
So where does the smart kitchen come from? It’s all down to complexity, and the excitement of things happening automatically – there are so many gadgets and possibilities in a kitchen. I saw this on the Siemens stand with the new Siemens connect which allows you to control the oven and the dishwasher from your smartphone; from the autumn this will include the fridge, washing-machine and dryer, and in 2016 the coffee machine. One of our speakers at the breakfast was David Bailey, Global Retail Development Director of Samsung SmartThings – we were impressed to see the number of products which can be linked through this open system. I have all those images of the Jetson cartoons, so maybe the smart home is not so far from this, and the kitchen with its interconnected products will help lead a smart home breakthrough.
The CONTEXT Smart Home Survey is available for purchase and is based on a survey of 1,500 people in the UK, Germany and France. Within each country 500 people completed an online survey about their views, opinions and habits on smart homes and smart home products. The sample within each country was designed to be representative of gender, age and income and was also geographically representative. The questionnaire was devised with the input of the Smart Home Research Group, formed by CONTEXT in order to promote research that will help vendors and retailers track the embryonic Smart Homes market. Please email us for details at firstname.lastname@example.org.