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Breaking down the barriers to Smart Tech

Rod Slater, Exertis head of Smart Tech & IoT, explains what Exertis is doing to help resellers and retailers exploit opportunities in smart home technology

Rod Slater, Head of Smart Tech & IoT, Exertis
Rod Slater, Head of Smart Tech & IoT, Exertis

Technology is part of everyday life. At work, we use it to be more efficient and productive, so it’s hardly surprising we want the same benefits in the home. Of the billions of IoT-enabled devices predicted to be in use by 2020, millions are earmarked to help consumers automate their home.

In retail outlets as diverse as John Lewis, Argos, Screwfix and Maplin, consumers are already faced with a growing range of products that can add security to a home, control heating/lighting and potentially reduce energy costs, provide entertainment and make everyday tasks more convenient.

The ability to monitor home security with high quality video direct to a mobile device from a small and convenient ‘smart’ camera has clear benefits. As do time- and energy-saving devices and monitoring systems like Nest’s thermostat, which cuts energy consumption by an average of 12-15%, and smart home entertainment appliances from consumer electronics giants like Sonos and Samsung – 90% of Samsung products will be able to connect to the internet by 2017.

Herein, too, lies one of the barriers to mass market adoption. Despite the huge array and diversity of ‘smart’ products and brands, consumers tend to take their first step in this market by making a single purchase in one of the key product categories (security, energy, home automation, entertainment) in the expectation that their new ‘smart’ device will work with future purchases i.e. that their smart lighting will work with their security system.

Yet, because there has been no standard protocol and a number of different eco-systems have emerged, such as Nest, Apple HomeKit, Samsung SmartThings and Amazon Echo, not all smart devices talk to and work with each other.

Exertis, the leading distributor in the Smart Tech market, believes that for smart home technology to become truly mass market, consumers need to be made aware, at the point of purchase or from a professional installer, which products and brands will work together. To this end, it provides retailers and professional installers with a multi-brand product matrix showing compatibility within each of the major eco-systems.

Voice to drive market growth

Smart home features are usually controlled via an app on a mobile device. This is manageable when you have one or two Smart Tech brands in the home, but when each product has its own app, it starts to get complicated and time consuming.

The ability to voice-activate smart devices through spoken commands, without the need to reach for your smartphone or tablet, has many advantages, and there are some very big and powerful companies that believe voice activation will drive adoption of smart devices: Amazon with Alexa, Apple with Siri, Microsoft with Cortana and Google with Google Home.

Amazon Echo is leading the charge, with its voice assistant Alexa. This has a number of voice-activated features that work with leading brands like Nest, Hive, Yale, Philips Hue and Honeywell, giving consumers instant voice control over their heating, lighting and security. It can also connect to other smart home hubs, such as Belkin and Samsung. By opening up its platform to other developers, Amazon is making it easy for users not only to access and control a number of smart home devices but also to add ‘skills’ that are personal to the user.

The security challenge

As well as expecting the products they buy to work with other devices, consumers need to be confident that their privacy will be protected.

By its very nature, IoT gathers and analyses data from sensors in products, which can then be used by other devices to make the home more thoughtful, convenient and personalised. For example, presenting data that informs the consumer about cost savings that can be achieved by reducing their thermostat by a couple of degrees or ensuring lights are switched off during the day will encourage people to invest in smart technology.

In terms of privacy, any connected device is vulnerable, but this needs to be put into perspective and calculated on a risk versus reward basis. Choosing a well known and trusted brand is good practice, as is taking care of basic security, such as changing default passwords and applying updates. Professional installers have an important role to play here.

Homes of the future

You don’t need to buy a new-build to take advantage of smart home technology, but those who do have every reason to expect it to be designed and built with home automation already installed. A growing number of property developers are including smart home technology, networking and entertainment as part of their offering, with a high percentage of customers reportedly taking up the option.

A new home should be a smart home and that requires developers, architects, builders and installers to be aware of the opportunities that exist and to plan for them accordingly. Insurers can help develop the market by reducing premiums for homes that have additional security features or smart appliances (e.g.ones that can detect leaks).

Globally, the smart home technology market is expected to be worth $43billion by 2020, three times its value in 2014, according to Statista, with the UK as one of the leading early adopter countries. Retailers and installers that want to take advantage of growing demand for smart devices need a distribution partner like Exertis that understands the market, has access to the leading brands and can keep pace with developing opportunities.

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2018