Home Appliances Get Smart
This is part two of a three-part series on the rapid growth of smart homes. See how we got to this Jetsons-like world we’re living in and where we’re going next.
This is part two of a three-part series on the rapid growth of smart homes. It’s predicted there will be 25 billion Internet of Things (IoT)-enabled devices by 2020, creating opportunities for enhanced customer experiences and lucrative new revenue streams for manufacturers who can stay ahead of the curve. See how we got to this Jetsons-like world and where we’re going next.
Imagine a World with No Chores
Smart appliances are particularly well-poised for growth in the smart home revolution. As Nest’s success with its Learning Thermometer proved, consumers have an appetite for energy-efficient smart appliances that help control their monthly bills and contribute to a greener planet. Still, smart homes are about much more than efficiency. While a smart home can unlock the front door, turn on the lights, adjust your heat, infuse scent, and start your favorite playlist, none of those actions is particularly burdensome or time-consuming. Appliances are such a lucrative market because they represent every homeowner’s anathema: household chores. Washing machines, vacuums, stoves, refrigerators, dishwashers – these devices tether people to housework when they would rather be doing something (anything) else. The allure of freedom from these chores will help propel the smart appliance market to grow at a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 15.4 percent and reach a value of $37 billion by 2020.2
The Smart Appliance Evolution
Manufacturers have been pitching appliances to lighten the load for more than a century. In the early 1900s, the electric vacuum, rudimentary refrigerators, washing machines, clothes dryers, and irons helped alleviate some of the most time-consuming tasks. The post-WWII U.S. manufacturing boom capitalized on advancements in refrigeration and thermoelectricity, and soon refrigerators, air conditioners, and dishwashers began appearing in homes around the country, joined by a slew of time-saving, convenience-driven devices such as self-cleaning ovens and refrigerators with ice and water dispensers. By the time The Jetsons aired in 1962, more than 200 American manufacturers were making major home appliances in a flurry of competition. By the mid-80s, appliances were beeping when doors were left ajar, buzzing when cycles were complete, and flashing digital error messages. Price competition reduced the number of U.S. appliance manufacturers from more than 200 to about 25, and the scope of product lines also fell as production was standardized.
“Today, it’s time for George Jetson to hang up his space boots and retire his World’s Smartest Home title, with the smart home revolution here to stay.”
The advent of home computing ushered in rampant change. In 1984, The New York Times trumpeted, “THE DIGITAL REVOLUTION BREEDS SMART NEW APPLIANCES.” And in a quote that could just as easily appear today, a General Electric (GE) product manager noted, “In the early days electronics were seen as a fancy gimmick. Now they’re seen as essential.”3 As processing speed improved and prices fell, home automation began to increase in popularity in the early 2000s. In 2009, The New York Times proclaimed that, “Smart appliances are officially on their way to American households,” touting GE’s new water heater as “the first smart appliance sold commercially in the United States.”4
Since then, we’ve seen more change compressed into shorter timeframes. Smart home devices have become a more affordable and viable option for consumers, and current trends in home automation include home security, remote mobile control, automated lights, automated thermostat adjustment, scheduling appliances, and remote video surveillance. Smart appliance launches rarely warrant headlines anymore, and it’s getting tougher to cut through an increasingly noisy, crowded marketplace. According to research from Statista, in 2020, the value of the global smart home market will reach $43 billion, nearly triple its value in 2014.5
The Competition Heats Up
The smart appliance competition is heating up now that manufacturers can leverage Amazon’s voice-activated technology. Companies are seeking “Alexa-certified” capabilities, and advertise smart connectivity that promises conveniences like voice controls, automatic supply replenishment, and intelligent energy consumption. GE has the most robust smart large appliance offering on the market today, including more than 20 models with WiFi Connect built in that can natively connect to Alexa voice controls and Dash Replenishment. Whirlpool has joined the fray, and in 2017 plans to manufacture more than 20 ovens, laundry machines, and refrigerators that will communicate with Alexa-enabled devices and let users adjust timers, temperatures, and wash cycles using voice commands.6 In the meantime, Samsung is already doubling down on its ground-breaking Family Hub refrigerator and introduced 10 new touch-screen models at CES 2017. Competitors are fast on Samsung’s heels. At the same show, LG debuted its InstaView refrigerator, featuring a larger touchscreen that turns translucent if you knock twice, and full Alexa integration so Echo users can order groceries via voice command.
While companies like Samsung and LG are jockeying for leadership in smart home appliances, no one can claim winner the connected device race yet. Samsung staked an early claim by looking beyond large appliances and acquiring SmartThings in 2014, a broad-based home automation platform, but the acquisition hasn’t been without setbacks. Samsung has yet to translate SmartThings into its kitchen appliance strategy. Hackers proved they could easily bypass the protections promised by the SmartThings setup, leading to some heated debates about user privacy and a scramble to update developer documentation.
“Gartner Research predicts there will be 25 billion Internet of Things (IoT)-enabled devices by 2020, and by 2022, a typical family home could contain more than 500 smart devices”
Yet, in many ways, this simply reflects the unique problems inherent in new connected businesses. The smart home is evolving rapidly, and acquisitions are likely to present challenges. Companies considering acquisitions in the smart home market should remember that expertise in a product is not the same as knowing how to make that product valuable. Nothing can replace hands-on experience when it comes to working with disruptive technology, and partnering with a seasoned external resource is necessary to maximize value and ensure things work together seamlessly.
As the demand for connected appliances and smart homes continues to rise, the question is how companies will meet these demands and which will come out on top in the connected home competition.
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