The internet of things is a platform technology, not an end to itself. Like broadband or semiconductors, adding connected sensors and analyzing data isn’t the business goal, but rather a means to achieving it. So when considering what the internet of things can do, start with what you can build on it.
What can those IoT-enabled applications, services, or products do for the end consumer? I’ve spent years living in a connected home and talking to other users of smart home tech to understand what the IoT can enable and why consumers look for such products; I’ll offer up what I’ve learned here. In future stories, I will break down why enterprises look for connected products.
So, let’s start by talking about the home.
Consumers tend to buy connected products and services for their homes for one of the following six reasons:
1. Safety. People want to know what is happening at their home when they’re away. They also want to track their loved ones and make sure they are safe. Products ranging from security cameras and video doorbells to sensors that can alert a homeowner if their gun safe is open or their kid is in their liquor cabinet fit here. This is my first category because, so far, it’s the one that consumers spend the most on. It’s also why everyone who wants to play in the smart home space has some type of camera or security system effort. People will not only buy connected devices that they believe improve their safety, they will also pay subscription fees to add capabilities to base products.
2. Energy efficiency. Products such as easily programmable thermostats, or those that connect to your phone to turn off the HVAC when you’re not home, make sense in this category. The move to connected LEDs or connected switches is generally about energy efficiency, in part because the bulbs use less energy than the incandescent bulbs they are replacing, but also because being able to turn lights off when they aren’t needed is good for the environment. There is also a defensible ROI for some people who buy these gadgets. Yes, a $200 thermostat is expensive, but if you’re replacing a dumb one that in the summer was running at 76 all day after you’d left the house, then you will save money.
3. Convenience. Convenience should go at the top, because it is a feature in each one of these categories. You’re not going to install an energy-saving thermostat if it isn’t more convenient than the one you currently have any more than you would install a video doorbell if it didn’t let you talk to a delivery person from the couch. Voice-controlled devices fit into this category as well, as do the new classes of smart speakers that enable you to actually set times, turn on and off lights, and change the temperature with your voice. The home robot efforts really want to fit in this category, but for the most part, I think they are still more likely to be found under novelty.
4. Novelty. Robots, color-changing bulbs, connected egg trays. There are so many products that fall into this category that I find myself rarely surprised by what people come up with anymore. For example, a few weeks ago Tommy Hilfiger launched a pair of jeans that have Bluetooth in them. Unfortunately, the jeans didn’t use their connectivity for anything beyond giving you “points” every time you wore them. While some people will buy them just for the novelty factor, this isn’t a sell for most. And generally speaking, when selling a novelty product, pricing it as close as possible to the original “dumb” product makes the most sense.
That may sound somewhat hypocritical coming from me, as I’ve spent more than $1,000 on color-changing lights for my home, but I classify that as art. Though for all intents and purposes, it’s still novelty.
5. Expertise. These days, the best place to find devices that boost expertise are in the kitchen. Connected ovens, scales, and even pans are trying to make it easier for a novice to cook like a pro. Other areas where we see this are in wearables, which do things like help track your running form or your tennis swing. I think we’ll see more expertise-enabling products in the garden area in the coming years, as sensors get integrated with irrigation systems and users can easily take pictures of their plants and identify them using an app; such information will then feed into a device and dictate watering schedules. Personally, I expect to see a lot of people spending money here, sometimes with the goal of improving their skills on a particular hobby, and sometimes as gifts for others.
6. To feel closer to loved ones. This last one may seem like a stretch, but it’s important, because when a device taps into this element it becomes more than a gadget. Instead, consumers view it as a way to stay connected to those that are most important to them. Pet cameras and toys are a booming category here, as are cameras and even video doorbells. When I’m traveling, the ability to watch my family leave the house each day, and sometimes get a wave from my daughter, via the video doorbell is awesome. Likewise, when we travel, we set up a camera so we can watch our fish swimming in the fish tank because it makes our daughter happy to see that her fish are alive and taken care of. Baby monitors fit into this category as well. Parents buy them with safety in mind, but in many cases they also just love checking in on their kids, and the ability to save cute moments makes doing so even more tempting.
So whether you are building or selling connected devices, focus on the need it will fulfill as opposed to the connection. Because of their high price points and some of the challenges associated with getting these products to work together, it’s essential that you understand what the consumer is really after. And it is almost never the ability to turn a product on or off from their phone.