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Last week, we hosted a dozen Atlanta innovators to discuss the challenges and opportunities facing smart-device manufacturers and companies looking to leverage the connected home to reach consumers. From utility companies to logistics providers and automotive experts, we recognized that the connected home market is failing to fully connect with consumers.

As we saw from last year’s Consumer Electronics Show, device manufacturers are all-in on IoT devices, yet no one has figured out how to deliver a cohesive experience to consumers. The marketplace is fragmented between leading platforms like Amazon’s Alexa and Google Assistant. Each new connected device often requires its own app that may or may not integrate with a consumer’s chosen platform. Popular apps and services may only be available on specific devices.

In short, the consumer experience for the connected home stinks.

As we spoke with these innovators, we pulled out a few themes the market will have to overcome before it manages to fully mature.

The Paradox of Choice

Whether it’s a B2B or B2C application, there is no cohesive solution for smart device consumers. While most smart home decisions are driven by the user’s smartphone platform, that often limits a consumer’s options in terms of connected devices. Certain devices may only be compatible with Android or iOS, and some premier device makers are trying to create their own ecosystem independent of smartphone platforms.

This has created a truly broken customer experience. Without universal standards for devices, apps and services, consumers must become both technologists and futurists to try and guess the direction of the market. Faced with companies trying to create their own walled gardens, users face endless app fatigue and alert fatigue, with each connected device competing for their attention through a bevy of notifications. On the other end of the spectrum, service providers face the difficult challenge of investing in every possible platform or segmenting their audience to a select few.

And determining the true connected-home customer is more difficult than the typical product environment.

Who is the Customer?

Smart devices have mostly followed the typical bell curve for tech adoption, but the market has matured quickly enough – mostly pushed by the pressure of the Amazon Echo – that companies did not truly have time to test products and features with early adopters before reaching mass appeal. Instead, Google and Amazon pushed out products with limited scope (search the web, buy a product, tell me a funny joke, stream a video to my TV) without establishing truly valuable consumer use cases.

The typical proving ground for new technology – the early adopters – don’t necessarily have the buying power to afford the latest technology, yet they often serve as the purchaser of a smart device for an older demographic. So device makers must market to a buyer who is often not the end-user, while developing services for a group that may not be tech-savvy enough to fully leverage the product.

This is where the typical marketplace analysis breaks down. Device manufacturers and app developers are still focused on demographics, rather than the mentality of their users. They still struggle to match products and applications to consumer problems and needs, rather than capabilities and business needs. Once we begin to focus on mentalities instead of demographics, the connected home will begin to truly connect with users.

Where Are We Heading?

We asked the room to share their goals for the next 2-3 years:

  • We’ll break past young early adopters buying for their parents and get older users involved directly in purchases and daily use.
  • Product strategy will begin to align directly with consumer behavior, rather than business goals.
  • Connected home will become an integrated part of daily life, rather than an afterthought
  • Enterprise teams will be able to attach products with internal systems, so the more people who adopt it, IoT teams gain influence within the organization.
  • Companies begin to segment users across customer needs, not industry, so companies can begin to develop consolidated solutions.
  • Innovators can stop being hammers in search of a nail and begin to truly craft useful solutions for consumer problems.

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352 is an innovation and growth firm. Leading companies hire us to find billion-dollar opportunities, build killer new products and create hockey-stick growth. We bring grit and new-fashioned thinking to innovation, digital development and growth marketing.