Consumers are still not sold on the smart home, with their biggest concerns being privacy and fragmentation. That’s according to Raza Shah, technology strategy and design leader at Jabil, a contract manufacturer that has manufactured many smart home products.
Shah and I spoke this week in the wake of the release of Jabil’s 2023 Smart Home Report, which looks at the future ways consumers might interact with the smart home. It sheds light on how far off manufacturers think Matter deployment is, which sensors are the most exciting, and how AI will affect product development. For me it’s a chance to look at what’s coming next in the smart home and what we’re still struggling with.
I purchased my first smart home device in 2012. It was a Wemo smart plug (ironic, given this week’s podcast discussion) for $50, which I then used to turn my Christmas tree lights on and off using the app on my smartphone or a schedule. My husband was baffled by the idea since we already had an outlet with a timer for our holiday lights. He was unimpressed by the fact that I could turn the lights on from a restaurant or the car or our bed using just my phone.
At the time, most of the world was like my husband. Connected devices that added remote control were viewed as expensive toys. And as more companies started launching these devices, it became clear that mainstream users weren’t going to adopt smart home products unless they were cheaper, they did more, and it became less complicated to buy them. Even then only some devices worked with Google’s Nest thermostat, for example, or with specific smart hubs.
More than a decade later, most devices are still expensive (or require a subscription) and still don’t work together, despite Matter launching last year. And there still isn’t a compelling value proposition to connect all the gear in the home. Adding to this mix of uncertainties is concern over security and privacy that leaves consumers wondering if it’s even safe to connect home devices.
As Shah said to me: “The first struggle for consumers is the amount of choice and the fragmentations. The second struggle is believing that they are constantly being observed.”
Matter was designed to solve the first struggle, but even Shah admits that so far Matter has had a slow start, and he believes that the more complicated experiences — such as enabling users to control devices using multiple controllers, like Alexa and HomeKit, through the multi admin function — will take two to three years to occur. Despite that, the Jabil survey notes that 73% of companies plan to integrate Matter into their devices in the next 12 months.
“It’s a slow start, but it is a start,” said Shah. “For once, all of the giant ecosystems have come together, so of course there is a bit of jostling and shuffling of elbows.”
As amusing as it might be to imagine Apple and Google, or Samsung and Amazon, crammed into the back seat of a minivan, fighting about who’s crossing over the invisible line delineating each company’s “side,” it’s hell on consumers who have been eagerly awaiting real device interoperability. Based on Shah’s comments, if fragmentation is the biggest concern, smart home adoption isn’t coming until Matter actually works.
As to the second-biggest concern, in which consumers are focused on their privacy and how their data gets used (or hacked), we’re probably even further than two or three years out from solving that. Shah said that while Matter does provide some security, he thinks that “one of the principal challenges [consumers have] in embracing smart devices into their homes is they are aware that everything they are talking to is being listened to.”
Shah said this is partially a consumer education problem. He thinks manufacturers need to be aware of the types of data they collect, and engage with consumers early on around what gets collected and how it is used. He’s also “interested” in how the White House is approaching the cybersecurity label for IoT devices, and whether or not privacy could be part of that effort. He said efforts by the Connectivity Standard Alliance, the organization behind the Matter standard, to create a data privacy working group are also welcome. “It should be both a top-down and bottoms-up effort,” he said.
Jabil, which works with startups as well as with giant companies that are already focused on securing and developing privacy policies for their products, is also working on creating a service that would get data from medical devices into the cloud securely, all while protecting consumer privacy. The service has the benefit of protecting consumer privacy and also letting medical device companies bring products to market faster.
The report also touches briefly on the impact of AI on smart home products, with 23% of respondents labeling it as disruptive. Shah said AI will drive newer applications based on personalized data from individual smart homes, and even data extrapolated from multiple homes in a neighborhood. I think that’s possible, but I believe we should solve the privacy issue first.