The Era of Smart Tech
Connected smart home technology continues to grow.
Smart technology will continue to make itself at home. These connected products that work with other devices are gaining attention every year and being welcomed into more and more homes. Sensors and switches are the key to some of the new smart technology. As traditional products are tasked with doing more, sensors have to keep up. This means they are getting smaller and lighter, thus allowing more functionality in the same amount of limited space. And this is increasingly necessary, as smart technology continues to be in demand. Analysts, manufacturers and consumers all have different ideas on the next big thing in smart technology. For some, smart technology is everywhere and it’s only going to increase. Others haven’t adopted it yet, but they are waiting to see how it works and plan to do so in the future. And this future isn’t far off.
IHS Technology found that fewer than one million units of connected white goods were shipped last year, and predicts this will grow to more than 223 million units by 2020. This includes washing machines, clothes dryers, dishwashers, refrigerators, room air-conditioners and large cooking appliances. If this category is expanded to include smaller appliances like coffee machines and rice cookers, this number jumps to 700 million units around the world by 2020.
Although the capabilities are not new, they are now being introduced to a wider segment of the market, not simply premium appliances. “Now the timing is right to promote tech on a more global basis,” says Dinesh Kithany, senior analyst, home appliances, at IHS Technology. He says that the past two or three years have seen this technology promoted as a concept, but last year companies seemed to be more confident, and showing materials in production.
“I’m quite optimistic about this growth,” Kithany says. According to IHS Technology, three factors that will affect smart appliance adoption are: “energy management initiatives, such as dynamic pricing, government initiatives and structure of utilities; standards for interoperability; and other marketplace dynamics covering product pricing, retail environment, competitive landscape, the approaches adopted by suppliers and overall interest in smart home technology.”
Smart technology dovetails nicely with the long term plans of appliance companies. Kithany says that many manufacturers have said that by 2020, most of the appliances they manufacture will be connected. Of course, one factor to watch is the cost of connectivity.
He says the challenge is the price-value proposition. With connected appliances, consumers want to be sure that the benefits are there if they are paying more. Kithany uses the example of a mobile phone. Perhaps someone only uses a small percentage of the features, but they will likely replace the phone after a few years anyway. Buying a washing machine, on the other hand, is something you would likely only do every ten or fifteen years, and the technology keeps changing.
And so are the players in the market. In addition the home appliance manufacturers, Kithany points out that tech companies are joining the market as well.
Research Backs Up the Hype
“Lights, locks, thermostats and network cameras have been leaders in terms of product categories,” says Tom Kerber, director of research at Parks Associates. He also notes that the range of products continues to increase, with smart ceiling fans and smart sprinkler controls.
According to research from Parks Associates, when asked, “Do you intend to purchase a smart home or smart kitchen appliance in the next year?”, seventeen percent of broadband households (and over 80% of households have broadband) said they intend to purchase one of these appliances within the next year.
Kerber notes that this is a strong number, and driven by the focus on features that consumers value. According to research, consumers say diagnostics is the top-rated feature, as they simply want to know that the system is operating correctly. With CES on the horizon, he says there will likely be many more appliances to watch.
And when designing such products, Kerber says it’s important to be aware of the big picture in the home. Consider the broader connectivity in the home, not just limited to one product. He also says that keeping consumer value at the forefront is important. Rather than embedding expensive displays into a product, first ask the question: How is the consumer experience? What is the value? And consider the broader connected home ecosystem.
For those manufacturers who come up with winning ideas, this can improve the business. As Kerber says, “Connectivity is one of those features that helps pull people up from mid-tier products to premium.”
A Closer Look at the Technology
Sensors and switches can enable some of the new smart technology. Josh Edberg, global product line director at Honeywell Sensing & Control, says customers are asking for more. As traditional products are tasked with doing more, sensors are getting smaller and lighter, thus allowing more capability in a smaller footprint.
“It always starts with the sensor,” Edberg says. “Depending on the appliance, being able to get the information is only one piece and what you do with that information is just as important.”
“When I’ve been talking to people in medical, devices are getting not just smarter, but they are trying to use them at home. Size and power become very important, and having sensors that are flexible in their design and don’t use additional power.”
In these circumstances, battery power is very important.
“Generally speaking, it’s size and flexibility, not just having low power,” he said. The target is “more flexible and less power.”
With Internet of Things products, “People need to put more on each of their sensors,” Edberg says. He says a customer might ask: “Can you make this 10X less power so I can add a humidity sensor without changing power?”
And with the continual advances in technology, these types of applications become possible.
With another CES only a few months away, no doubt more connected products await. And it seems like it might not be long before products on the show floor become common on every floor of your home.