The term “connected home” or “smart home” has been around for decades. In the 90’s and 00’s, a lot of consumer electronics companies and component makers published drawings with home servers, gateways, and all types of home devices talking to each other and sharing files. I remember, in my past life, I used to draw similar things on powerpoint and announced a lot of partnerships and initiatives . However, none of those concepts became a mainstream hit.
Fast forward some 15-20 years and we now see an explosion of connected home IoT devices–Nest, CubeSensors, Lockitron, SmartThings, Canary–the list goes on and on (see here and look at IoT Home). I think it’s too early to say these devices have “crossed the chasm” and gone mainstream, with exception to perhaps Nest that was said to reach 1 million unit shipments in 2013. So what makes today’s connected home devices different or better than its predecessors? Here are my personal opinions/observations from having lived and worked through the two generations.
- Network-centric VS Solution-centric: In the old days, realizing connectivity was really difficult and that lead to many standards and technologies (ie: DLNA, eHome, echonet, etc.) that were all competing against each other, extremely difficult to set-up, and benefits gained after finally connecting was really not worth all the hassle. Today, connectivity is really easy with the widespread use of wifi, bluetooth and direct M2M connection of smartphones and devices. Now that creators do not have to worry about solving connectivity they can really focus on the solution it provides its customers.
- Hardware-first VS Software-first: For past products, primary value was in the hardware itself and software/connectivity were secondary or “nice-to-have” solutions (ie. DVD player’s primary function is to play back discs, not have it connect to the net or controllable from smartphones). Many of today’s products are designed by people from the software-school who put the software and connectivity development at least equal to or higher in priority than hardware.
- Supply-driven VS Demand-driven: Lastly, products of the past were developed with a supplier-side mindset to sell more of the same maker’s products or components to lock-in the customers. Many of today’s devices are tested for customer-demand by putting them on crowd funding sites. Product presentations on those sites only have one purpose–excite the customers and get their buy-in before going to production.
There may be more reasons and angles to seeing this phenomena, but these are what it boils down to me. We are at a very exciting time in the connected home front with hundreds of new products making their debut on crowd funding sites. Let’s see how many of them survive the market test and eventually make it across the chasm to hit everyone’s (including my parent’s) home.