Apple just released a new ad for its connected home hub/platform, Homekit. But we all don’t know what it is yet. By this I mean the game changing use case for the connected home. We have hubs and products and platforms etc. But we still have the problems of interoperability and security.
A few months ago, I wrote a post about this lack of clarity and I still get emails from folk looking for an answer. While I’m not sure what the best use case/product will be, I think Ring is the closest product out there to what I can consider a winning use case/product. I’ll share some more use cases that I think consumers will buy (below). These products, the winning products, will mimic current user experiences and just augment these experiences with the power of the new technology. It’s why Ring wins. Ring did not attempt to change how we currently behave. The failure of most other IoT businesses is that they try to change how we behave..
Most of us like to think we are willing to change but history shows that most of us are actually curmudgeonly in our approach to new things. This unwillingness to change is why products like Amazon’s Echo do well. No other use case (for lack of a better phrase) is as seamless as voice activation. But reports show that engagement with these skills is low. There are close to 6000 Alexa skills (things you can get Alexa to do) developed by 3rd party entities. Most of them have a 1-star review, this is an indicator of low engagement. While we all love convenience, which is what Echo provides, not a lot of people can pay for convenience at $100.
Another area where the current voice activation use case fails, and why Alexa is not the game changing home IoT product (yet), is security failures due to lack of adequate voice recognition in the devices. My 3.5yr old son requests his ‘Bob The Builder’ songs off Alexa almost as regularly as my wife asks to listen to ‘This American Life’. Alexa is indiscriminate in granting the wishes of any voice. As indiscriminate as it would be disabling the security system in our home if a burglar managed to get in. And we’ve seen this in incidences of requests from TV shows triggering Alexa orders. Still we ask, request and enjoy the convenience that Alexa provides. Because it satisfies the first layer of our base desires…Like Echo, this first layer is where most home IoT product focus on. . They stop their design thinking efforts at satisfying the need to ensure ease of use of the product. Most of these products fail to heed the advice of Irna Phillips, inventor of the first radio soap opera, who offered that,
“to engage listeners in their home you appeal to i) the instinct for self preservation ii) sex iii) the family instinct or iv) all of the three together if you can manage”
This (seemingly trite but) higher level of design thinking for product development for the home yields products that serve a customer’s core needs, are easy to use and are empathetic. This is where Ring, an IoT security system that allows you to view your front door etc from you mobile phone, comes in.
Currently, and for a long time to come, the most important use cases for IoT product will satisfy the most basic of our needs; security. Every species of animal has its young look towards its old for security and protection. It is the most basic of our needs. And it is the need that Ring (and IoT products in the security category) has tapped into. To put it bluntly, I haven’t met any low income consumer who’s bought Echo (or Google Home) but I’ve met a few who’ve bought Ring (or similar IoT security products) for their homes. From my research/calculations, Ring sold ~407k units of products on Amazon over the last year. Just on Amazon!
Use Cases for Simple, on device running, IoT Products
According to HBR, organizations that ‘get’ design, and use it to build products that tap into the core of customer desires, are the ones that focus on the emotional elements of what their products can do. These companies focus on the emotional resonance of their value proposition to their customer. These companies consider this ability to emote, and translate this into products, as their core competence.
So what other products can be created for the home to tap into basic needs of modern living? What empathetic IoT (eIoT) product ideas still exist out there? In my recent conversations with the firm Axis Design, one of the design industry’s top innovators, they shared a few ideas for simple innovative products that do just this. Each of these ideas successfully strikes a chord by solving small problems in simple ways, not requiring a dramatic change in behavior, and in some cases helping to decrease environmental footprint. Like the Ring security system, these products embed technology in an unintimidating way to improve their lives.
Air Filter Sensor: I’m yet to meet a person who changes the air filters in their home at the right time. It’s either too early, but you go ahead and change the filter anyway, or too late, and it’s so grimy you realize why your kids have had the sniffles for the last few days. Air quality changes throughout the year and season. How about an air filter sensor that ensures that you change the filters on time, every time? The idea is simple, attach the sensor to your intake grate, and forget it. The LED light turns on when it senses the filter needs to be changed. Tied to an app, it can also send a reminder when you are at your local hardware store to pick up a filter, and even the size! The beauty of a concept like this is the data collection element and the platform business model that is possible as a result of this.
Garage Door Opener: It fascinates me how little attention, even as everything in the home is being sensored, is being paid to the garage. And that’s where a product like the Connected Garage Door opener comes in. There are existing products out there to connect a garage door, but they require you to purchase a completely new opening system. While this may be good for the company selling you an all new garage door opener, it is not necessarily good for the wallet nor the environment. Why not keep using your current garage door opener and simply upgrade to a connected wall switch? Allowing you to open your garage from anywhere, this product borrows from the Ring in the ease of installation and integrating into equipment you already own.
Sprinkler Water Cutoff: It rained here in Austin last Saturday. It was totally fine, we need the rain. But I forgot to turn off the sprinkler system. While some sprinkler systems have archaic rain sensors, they have never worked that reliably wasting precious water resources. How about a simple sprinkler plug power interrupt, connected to the internet (say weather.com API) and cuts off power to the sprinkler system till the rain passes by…
The core value in all these products is that none require a change of behavior from the user and neither do they impede on their current way of life. And they are doing this while serving basic needs we all have in our homes. We’ll need more of these types of products, especially in a world where a lot more of the responsibility to take care of our loved ones and the planet will fall squarely at our individual doorsteps…
Sidenote: The Amazon S3 Outage a few days ago highlights one of the issues with IoT products that have their analytics, intelligence, and actuation in the cloud. Lots of customers could not open their garage doors, switch off their heating systems and other critical home conveniences when S3 went down.
With the Varuna project, we are focused on having the device capture the data, analyze and implementing the actions requested by the user. It is a safe bet that, due to the nature of technology, the conveniences that IoT provides will quickly become inconveniences when these inevitable cloud outages happen. I’ll touch on this design approach in a blog post.
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