Why the smart home still sucks

What are the biggest challenges in the smart home? What do people want? What are big companies doing to solve this problem? Are there any alternative solutions? I’ll try to answer all these questions in this blog post.

I’ve been working as a product marketing manager for 4 years now in Yeti. This allows me to be in contact with many businesses in the IoT and smart home ecosystem. But also, I have the opportunity to talk with our users about their needs and how they feel about the current status of the smart home.

When we started, Netbeast (Yeti), four years ago, we were foreign to most of the challenges and needs around smart homes.

We figured out that there were some pains for people with many smart home devices. Applications to control homes weren’t intuitive, the user experience was bad and reliability was a big problem.

So, we wanted to create a smart home solution that solves problems for smart home users and improves their experience. This is how Yeti would launch two years later.

Here are all the problems we discovered and how we believe they must be solved.

What are the biggest challenges in the smart home?‍

We need more people to get smart home devices

Back in 2014, when we bought our first pack of Philips hue color lights, there weren’t many people with smart home devices.

We soon found that most people with smart home devices live in the USA. In Europe, Germany and UK are the main markets for smart home technology.

However, smart homes aren’t very common yet, even today. When we go to Europe it’s difficult to see automated homes far from a couple of smart lights.

It’s true that many big companies like Apple, Google, Tado and Philips are pushing hard to introduce people to the benefits of smart homes and how they can profit from them. But there is still a lot of work to do.

We need to work on showing people how smart homes can help them in their daily life. What the benefits are to use this technology and how it can cover their needs.

Technology needs to improve

You may think that people with smart home devices use them every day, all the time. People turning on/off lights, changing thermostat temperatures or playing music… Everything working like a charm. Meh! False.

  • Sometimes the reliability of the devices is bad so you can’t even control them
  • Mobile apps to control devices take up to 3 seconds to open
  • People don’t know the real potential of their devices. They use less than 50% of the total features of the smart devices.

The reality is that people sometimes give up on the smart home.

Imagine someone trying to turn off a light while sitting on a sofa. Waiting for the app to open and once it’s finally opened it says “device not available”. I’m sure that this person will decide to use the wall switch.

Many brands, many devices, many solutions

As I pointed before, every day new brands and new devices come to life. There are many attempts to unify wireless connections but in terms of usability and experience, there is nothing.

People don’t care about Wifi, Zigbee, KNX, Z-Wave…They care about having one app to use every device they have at home. They care about the bad user experience that sometimes the official app has. They care about smart devices being dumb by not being able to talk to each other because they are manufactured by different brands.

What do customers want?

I love asking Yeti users about what we are doing well but especially what we are doing wrong and how they think we can improve. I’m sure there are more points I could add but these are the three more common answers I usually get:

I want my home to be smart

It’s fancy that you can control your lights, your thermostat and your tv using your phone. It’s comfortable that you can do all that while you lie in your bed. It’s useful that you can do all that when you aren’t at home so you can make sure everything is turned on/off

This is what most smart home companies are trying to tell us on tv, websites and social media. However, getting stuck in this point is not a really good choice. You need to make people feel that smart homes are more than focusing on not to forget the iron is left turned on.

I want my home automated

When I say smart home, I think about arriving at home at night with lights already turned on and the thermostat already heating my home.

The smart home is all about letting your home to do the job for you. About not worrying to turn on your lights at night or to turn them off when you go to bed. Letting the home do it for you

I really love when companies with cool smart devices work this way like Nest, Tado, Philips Hue…

We need solutions focused on personal customer needs

For me, this is one of the key points in the smart home that hasn’t been solved yet. If any company desires to win the smart home race, this is where we all should start.

There are many people, many devices and many different needs. We are in the era of Big Data, Machine Learning and Artificial Intelligence… We have so many tools and technologies at our disposal, however, all the solutions we provide are the same.

In the marketing field, we are used to segmenting people based on their needs, interests, job, age, gender… why can’t we do this on smart home?

A family with kids and smart lights has different needs than a couple just married with a dog at home. Why don’t we suggest them solutions based on their needs?

What are companies doing to solve all this mess?

To introduce people to the smart home, many companies are pushing to start selling devices in common stores and retailers. It’s a good starting point.

We also see companies such as Amazon, Apple, Google or Microsoft working to promote their voice assistants all around the world. This helps to introduce people that didn’t know of the existence of voice assistants to their benefits and value even before they hear the names “Siri” or “Alexa” for the first time.

Thanks to these voice assistants, the smart home is getting easier to understand and to use. All these platforms allow aggregating all smart home devices under the same assistant. So we can interact with all devices with simple voice commands.

However, as I said, there is still a lack of personalized solutions. All the solutions explained above are generic solutions. They don’t care if you are new to the smart home or if you are an experienced user or any other profile segmentation.

What are startups doing?

I’ll briefly talk about the mission we have in Yeti. Our mission can be defined as “Yeti wants to improve the user experience of smart home technology to make it more accessible and beneficial for everyone”·. This is something we’ve worked on since 2014 when we bought our first pack of color hue lights.

At Yeti, we know that we are not alone in the smart home ecosystem. This is why instead of fighting against corporates and brands we try to improve and complement what others are offering.

We’re always integrating new brands into Yeti to make our product more accessible to everyone. We try to create new features based on what we believe our customers need. Thinking about how we can offer a new experience that they don’t have so far.

As a startup, our main advantage is that we can move fast. This allows us to test, experiment, measure and improve or scale.

We’re always looking for new people and new opportunities to show what we do in Yeti. For this reason, we have been able to introduce Yeti to many brands and people where others have not.

We, the team behind Yet, will keep working hard on making the smart home a better experience focused on users.

This is only the tip of the iceberg. I could write a whole book telling my experience in the smart home field and all we do in Yeti but I tried to keep this to be more about the current status and challenges of smart homes today.

I hope you like it. Luis Pinto


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