Navigant Research Blog

Are Smart Devices Too Smart for Their Own Good?

— February 22, 2018

There is so much promise around how smart devices will make our lives more comfortable, convenient, efficient, and automated. These devices are supposed to learn from our lifestyle patterns, analyze this information in real-time, and perform tasks seamlessly in the background, without it even occurring to the user that all of this smart stuff is happening. I have bought into this promise, having adopted several digital assistant-enabled devices and connected products, because I can see a future when all of this tech comes together to create truly smart homes. And I’m not the only one—these futuristic ideas about tech seamlessly, automatically operating in the background of our lives can be seen in popular media like Black Mirror and Her. This future is imaginable, lingering on the horizon.

The Problem with “Smarts”

However, we are still at the precipice of the technology revolution supporting the future scenarios as seen in pop culture. Don’t get me wrong, technologies emerging today really are smart, and are already making our lives significantly better. But at this time, many these devices are not actually delivering on their promise, and they don’t work that well in our everyday lives. For example, my colleague, who is also an early adopter of smart technology, has been having issues with his ecobee3 lite. His smart thermostat has started preheating at such early hours of the morning that he wakes up before his alarm clock, sweating. ecobee customer support has suggested that the problem may be because he likes to sleep cold, at 60°F, and wake up warm, at 70°F, and that the large variance in setpoint means the thermostat must kick on the heating system well in advance to make up the difference in temperature by the time my colleague is awake. The issue makes sense logically, but ultimately my colleague shouldn’t have to compromise on his desired temperatures. A smart thermostat should be smart enough to figure it out. And his Nest isn’t any better—when the cooling season comes around, his Nest sends him alerts that it is unable to activate his cooling system, when his home doesn’t even have a cooling system. I’ve heard countless stories of people tearing smart thermostats out of the wall to replace them with programmable thermostats, never opening the digital assistant device they got for Christmas because they don’t really know what smart things it can do, and returning smart plugs for plugs with a simple timer.

As a consumer, these examples have put doubts in my mind about how smart these products really are. As a research analyst, when I attend shows like CES where some of the most impressive and innovative products are on display, it makes me skeptical about how these devices will actually perform in the home. These devices are peddled to consumers as seamless, automatic, and easy to use, but sometimes it seems we are spending more time managing them than they are managing our lives. Perhaps these devices are too smart for their own good, and consumers are not ready for how advanced these products can be—we just want the old, dumb devices that we know will work. The learning curve for smart technology is steep and we are still in an early stage of piloting and innovation, but as these technologies reach the hands of mainstream consumers, vendors need to ensure that their smart products are delivering on their promises of being smart.

 

IKEA Expands in Smart Home Market with Lighting

— June 16, 2017

The smart home market is filled with big name companies like Amazon, Google, Apple, Honeywell, Comcast, Lowe’s, and AT&T, and now another large incumbent is expanding into the smart home space. Traditionally known for its well-designed, inexpensive, and easy-to-assemble furniture, IKEA recently introduced a line of smart lighting products called TRÅDFRI, or “wireless” in Swedish. The TRÅDFRI smart lighting product line includes a ZigBee gateway device, connected bulbs, a remote control, and a motion sensing dimmer switch, as well as LED lighting doors and panels. The dimming kit starts at 749 kr, or about $85. A similar offering from Philips includes a gateway, two Hue bulbs, and a dimming switch and starts at a price of $129.99.

Home Tech Innovation

IKEA claims that this new product line is part of its long-term commitment to its home tech innovation initiative Home Smart. The company first began offering smart products in 2015 with furniture and accessories that include wireless charging for compatible smartphones. The company is furthering this vision not only with its TRÅDFRI lights, but also by integrating the smart lighting products with voice control through Google Home, Apple HomeKit, and Amazon Echo devices. Voice control capabilities will be available beginning this summer. IKEA’s goal is to make smart home products easy to use and affordable for everybody, and its expansion in this space with its smart lighting shows this commitment.

Relative to other various smart home technology markets such as smart thermostats, smart plugs, security cameras, door locks, and smart meters, the smart lighting market is still in its early stages. Navigant Research’s recent Leaderboard Report: Residential Connected Lighting currently pegs Philips as the market leader; however, there is plenty of room for other companies to gain traction in this space, and activity is ramping up. Some lighting incumbents have yet to offer connected lighting products in the residential lighting space, and startup companies never before involved in the lighting are becoming engaged, such as ecobee with its new Alexa-integrated light switch. Thus, big name companies like IKEA can still gain traction and become leaders in the space through more innovative and affordable products.

 

Interoperability Is an Issue Both between and within Companies

— June 14, 2017

Interoperability is a major barrier for smart home companies. Mainstream adoption of smart home devices largely depends on the experience and ease of use for consumers. And consumers don’t want to install an ecosystem of devices that can’t communicate and require multiple apps to operate. But when issues around interoperability are raised, it is usually in reference to companies with different devices that can’t work together. For example, the somewhat newly released Google Home still does not work with rival thermostat product ecobee. Google already has integrations with a subsidiary consumer products company, its Nest Learning Thermostat. However, one issue that is not always apparent is the interoperability of devices from within the same company or product line.

This issue hit close to home for me during a recent holiday. While celebrating with friends, the group decided to play music using Bluetooth-enabled UE Boom speakers. We wanted to connect each of our individual speakers so we could play the same music from all three speakers in sync. UE Boom’s app guides users through a step-by-step FAQ on how to PartyUp, or how to connect multiple speakers through one smart phone app. But we could not seem to get all three of our speakers to connect. The closest we came to troubleshooting this problem was discovering that we could connect two speakers to each other by connecting one speaker through the app and manually connecting the other to the already connected speaker via Bluetooth. However, the third speaker wouldn’t connect to either of the other two and could only play music on its own. After much frustration and Googling, we determined that the third speaker was an older generation than the other two. This means that even though the speakers were all from the same company and product line, the firmware in the third speaker was too old to enable us to connect all three speakers.

Big Picture Implications

As somebody active and engaged in the smart home industry, it is concerning that I was unable to connect these speakers; if I’m an early adopter and I can’t do it, then how can the average consumer? Though this was a small technology glitch, it has much larger implications for the smart home and its role in the energy cloud. How will the smart home manifest when it depends on an ecosystem of various connected devices and there are currently issues connecting a few devices? How will the smart home play a role in the energy cloud as a dynamic grid asset when there are still issues at the device level?

Not only do participants in the smart home space need to work together to fix interoperability issues between third-party devices, but companies themselves need to ensure products within their own lines work together—otherwise the smart home industry will never succeed or play a role in the larger energy industry.

 

How IoT Can Improve Airports

— March 15, 2017

Airports are busy, crowded places, and navigating through such large and complex buildings can be confusing. The flow of passengers through different checkpoints can go smoothly or stand still for hours. Around 23 million bags are mishandled (either lost or delayed) every year. However, thanks to the Internet of Things (IoT), this experience can be transformed. Sensors and connected devices, combined with intelligent analytics, are allowing airports and airlines to make rapid advancements toward a better passenger experience and reducing operational costs.

Sensors are expected to enable airport management to have a real-time understanding of what is necessary to improve traveler experience, such as dispatching additional staff at the check-in counter. This data will help speed things up and streamline numerous processes within an airport. Sensors aren’t the only IoT-related technology being applied to airports. Travelers with smartphones will be able to take advantage of location-based apps to help guide them to their gate. In fact, in the context of digital transformation across all industries, customers are demanding innovations that enable customization—whether it be ordering a coffee or booking an airline seat. Smartphones and mobile applications are the main channels for facilitating customization.

Based on a survey of 225 leading airports, the 2016 Airport IT Trends Survey found that around one-third of airports have incorporated IoT into their IT strategy, while an additional 43% have plans to do so over the next 3 years. 80% of airports in India are expecting an IT budget increase in 2017. In China, 29% of airports included IoT in their strategy in 2016, and that number is expected to rise to 82% by 2019.

IoT Use Cases in Airports

Miami International Airport (MIA) is one of the pioneers employing IoT technologies in airports. The airport’s mobile application, MIA Airport Official, provides flight information, wait times, baggage tracking, the weather, and boarding pass information. It also provides an indoor map with geolocation to help passengers navigate through the airport to restaurants and gates. The GVK Chhatrapati Shivaji International Airport in Mumbai has also launched an airport navigation app, the Mumbai T2. Based on Bluetooth Low Energy (BLE) beacons and technologies, the app provides interactive navigation assistance.

One of the biggest pain points for travelers is baggage collection, and there are IoT technologies to help with that. In particular, radio frequency identification microchips (RFIDs) address mishandling during transfer from one flight to another by ensuring that airports and airlines keep track of bags at every step of the travel. The technology also supports the International Air Transport Associate’s Resolution 753, which requires member airlines to maintain an accurate inventory of baggage beginning in June 2018. In 2016, Delta Airlines spent $500 million to deploy RFID baggage tracking technology at 344 stations around the world, the largest investment in baggage tracking solution yet. The RFID-enabled tags look just like regular barcode tags, but with tiny chips inside that are able to provide real-time tracking of luggage during travel.

There is little doubt that further proliferation of the IoT advancements will affect the air travel industry. With IoT devices and analytics, the airline industry is poised to achieve greater efficiency and better customer service.

 

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