Some time in the not-too-distant future, a family will return home from vacation, enter their home wifi network, reach for a recently unlocked door, and be greeted by light music,idyllic lighting and a cozy temperature.
This is the vision for smart homes that Nest, ecobee, and Best Buy want us to have in mind when consumers buy their first internet-connected, energy-saving thermostat. You’re not just investing in more efficient home heating, you’re buying the centrepiece of your connected home.
Despite the potential of the category, some cynicism has crept into the conversation about the connected home. Last summer, the annual Gartner Hype Cycle 2015 listed ‘Connected Home’ as an emerging technology on the rise, but recent news about Google-owned Nest has given some industry speculators pause.
While Nest has been issuing press releases about the the growing demand for connected home products (like its thermostat, security camera and smoke detector), sources say that Nest has fallen behind its parent company’s revenue expectations.
“Our sales curve and our hype curved are pretty well mirrored.”
Toronto-based ecobee, the second-ranked brand in the consumer-focused smart thermostat market, is continuing to grow its revenue and team while market-leader Nest takes the brunt of both praise and criticism.
Ecobee VP of Marketing & E-Commerce Rahul Raj isn’t worried about the growing pains of the smart home category.
“Our sales curve and our hype curved are pretty well mirrored,” he told the Dx3 Digest. He believes that that consumer interest is higher than it’s ever been, but tech companies have to do a better job of explaining how smarter homes can solve household problems. Futuristic visions don’t necessarily solve modern-day pains.
“I know very few people who say, “Ah! I need a connected home’,” he said.
The cynicism around the category is fair, Raj said, because of the lack of products to address every consumer’s needs and the benefit-compounding nature of connected tech products.
Imagine shopping around for a new thermostat, comparing features and prices for competing brands. A wifi-connected security camera or lightbulb doesn’t enhance your ability to heat and cool your home – it’s a different problem that would be addressed at a different time of need.
“People don’t just buy entire DVD collections – they buy one movie at a time,” Raj said, picking just one metaphor for the situation.
“Showing how when devices work together, they deliver benefits that they couldn’t deliver individually.”
The conundrum then becomes about how consumers can see the networked benefits and justify the cost of connected home devices when they’ve only just dipped their toe into the category with a $300 thermostat.
Though it doesn’t currently sell devices other than thermostats, ecobee integrates with other connected devices through Apple’s homekit and announced an integration with Amazon’s voice-controlled Echo device.
Raj said the key is “showing how one plus one equals three. Showing how when devices work together, they deliver benefits that they couldn’t deliver individually.”
It’s important to keep in mind that Nest was founded in 2010, while the seven year-old ecobee only began focusing on marketing directly to consumers three years ago. While the tech hype cycle might demand a category to be in either boom or bust mode, the smart home might be a case of sales catching up to consumer need rather than tech lust.
After a few years of collecting smart home devices, a family might return from vacation and step into a connected utopia.
“When you get to this level where devices can work together to deliver even smarter solutions, that’s the story that people need to hear,” Raj said. “That’s the promise of the connected home.”