Is smart home tech ready for the mass market?

Iris Price | Improvement Center Columnist | November 4, 2015

Market researchers are scrambling to predict what consumers want in the exploding field of home automation over the next five years. Meanwhile, new devices, control systems, and applications seem to hit the market every month, each trying to outdo the next with its coolness factor or perceived practicality. So many smartphones, so much automation. Crockpots and coffee makers will never be the same.

While home automation has been slow-cooking for decades, it's just begun to percolate with a vengeance, and we're now in the throes of a rolling boil. The cream of the contender crop vying for most popular system hasn't risen to the top yet. Some, like Apple Homekit, are bobbing for partners with desirable devices, hoping to achieve market domination sooner or later.

If you're an early adopter of smart home technology, you could wind up having to convert to a new platform or buy new devices that can communicate once this innovative cook-off phase ends and some products fail. Consumers like yourself become the ultimate judges.

In the meantime, however, some smart home technology like Nest thermostats have already proven solidly desirable to those who have had no fear of being some of the first to automate their homes, while other systems and devices hang onto uncertain futures.

Smart home trends in 2015

A survey by iControl networks of 1,000 Americans and 600 Canadians in the spring of 2015 revealed the following smart home adoption trends, indicating that for many, practicality takes precedence:

  • An estimated 54 percent of Americans plan to purchase at least one smart home product in the next 12 months.
  • For two years in a row, despite the vast array of product types already available, 90 percent of those surveyed said they would adopt smart home technology for security purposes.
  • Protection is important, but remote control of TV and music spurs 45 percent to buy smart home products.
  • Energy-efficiency and cost savings from smart home technology appeals to 70 percent of those surveyed -- 78 percent of those 55 and older.
  • A 60 percent majority of consumers want smart devices that talk to each other. If they don't, 49 percent say that's added stress, which defeats the purpose of automating their homes.
  • Almost 50 percent find the convenience of programming and maintaining home settings desirable.
  • Smart thermostats, security cameras, lighting and door locks top the list of connected products wanted by all ages. In the South, the largest majority of North American respondents, 77 percent are interested in a smart thermostat.
  • Entertainment rooms, kitchens, and bedrooms rank in that order as the top three rooms in the home to automate.
  • Most consumers surveyed had far less interest in automated products designed to manage their lives and social connections, but more Millennials than older adults appreciated those features.
  • Knowing their parents or grandparents lived in a smart home would help almost 50 percent of consumers "sleep better at night." Clearly, potential exists to build smart home technology into aging-in-place remodels and new building construction for older adults.
  • While only 18 percent of those surveyed wanted their smart homes to anticipate needs such as minor repairs and shopping list items, when asked which device they'd want most to read their minds, the top answer was their indoor lighting.

...and future projections

Home automation appears here to stay -- and to grow dramatically in the next five years, according to market predictions:

  • As of 2014, Business Insider's BI Intelligence THE CONNECTED-HOME REPORT forecasted annual global shipments of 1.8 billion connected-home devices comprising sales revenue of $490 billion by 2019.
  • Gartner Research, a global information technology and advisory company, puts the number of connected-home devices by the year 2020 at more than 26 billion.
  • Frost and Sullivan, a marketing research firm, projects an opportunity of $731.79 billion in the combined home-, city- and workplace-automation markets.

Cost and ease of installation and use keep improving, but there are still some major smart home technology hurdles to overcome.

Challenges for smart home technology adopters

The lack of standardization has some consumers holding off on committing to any one particular system if it could be edged out of the market. Unless the home's hub, the controlled devices, the sensors, and the devices that are doing the controlling are designed to be able to communicate with one another, you could end up with devices that are incompatible with your system.

Concerns over privacy and hacking still plague some products, particularly older ones -- certain garage door openers, for example, and smart TVs. Since security is one of the primary reasons for automating the home, you'd want to feel certain someone wasn't able to hack your personal information or paralyze your home's systems. Apple HomeKit is one system that is making a point of vetting its partner devices for adherence to its stringent security requirements.

With the ever-growing number of very exciting home automation devices appearing on the market with increasing frequency, you may be tempted and ready to jump in. As with any new technology, product life expectancy may be short because constant advances create obsolescence. If you're comfortable with change, you're probably in luck. If not, it looks like home automation itself won't be going away, and only getting better with time. Take as long as you want.

Photo credit to Myryah Shea

About the Author

Iris Price is a single Baby Boomer whose antidote to a lack of retirement funds was to launch a long-delayed career as a writer. While others her age concoct bucket lists and travel the world, she bought a new-construction home and obsessively creates lists of must-have home improvements and personal realization goals. She specializes in writing about home services and self-motivation.