Why consumers aren’t connecting the connected home dots. Yet.

Posted by on Feb 10, 2014

Without a doubt, this is the dawn of the age of the connected home. An era that will revolutionize our relationship with once “dumb” household appliances.

The seeds of this revolution are already planted in the marketplace. More and more connected devices like smart thermostats, power outlets, lights and cameras fill the shelves at stores like Best Buy, Brookstone and Lowes. Problem is, while industry forums, like the recent Consumer Electronics Show, seemed to be all about the connected home, that industry buzz elicits a “meh” from consumers.

It’s not a rejection of connected home products. It’s just that the industry is ahead of the consumer. It’s similar to new stars that Hollywood unilaterally proclaims are the next big thing. Might be true, but you really haven’t seen a lot of their work yet to decide to march in step with the hype.

So before home automation and the connected home grows, what has to grow first is the consumer’s ability to viscerally connect to these new devices.

That may take a little time. This is not a problem exclusive to connected home technology. It’s an age-old problem with technology in general.

What makes technology amazing to consumers is that it thinks ahead of them, presenting ideas and possibilities that we as consumer can’t even imagine yet.

“Can’t imagine” is the key word. There’s a gap between innovators with dreams that reach for the sky and consumers who look close to the ground for applications they can apply meaningfully to their own lives. That space between the two visions is the purgatory for innovative technology.

This gap is also what causes technology innovators to create and release products a lot like the movie “Field of Dreams” and the mantra, “If you build it, they will come.” It’s a line that is more fitting as the epitaph of most failed dotcoms and tech startups. So many times, tech companies have prided themselves on building a truly better mousetrap only to find out people didn’t really have a burning desire to catch mice. Or, in some cases, not even sure if they need a mousetrap.

“If they build it, they will come “It should be changed to “if they get it, they will come.” If so, then the question for the connected home that needs to be asked is, “Are we explaining it so they get it? Or is our marketing message essentially to point at these new connected home products and yell, ‘Ta Da!’?”

Often, it’s a lot of the latter. This growing industry is presenting amazing products that users can’t quite yet see what it means for them. It’s like the hand-held digital assistant Newton, Apple’s early predecessor of the wildly successful iPad. It started with a lot of press coverage and industry fanfare. Yet upon release, the general consensus from consumers was, “Nice, but…” The lesson, “I see it” is one thing. “I get it” is another.

In some of the work I’ve been involved with in developing connected home products, I see the that smart home adoption is temporarily hampered by one key factor that prevents the consumer from “getting it,” It’s consumers’ inability to imagine the possibilities of the connected home.

This is not saying consumers don’t understand the idea of automation. They do. Just in rigidly narrow terms. If they need a camera to watch their pets, they’ll get a camera they can automate. They’ll get a smart sensor to know if someone’s in the house. But to make the leap of using a motion sensor to tell the camera to take a picture is still too big an imagination gap for many consumers to cross.

Odd that the biggest issue of the growth of the connected home is both the inability and lack of messages that help consumers “connect the dots (or devices)” as to what these new technologies mean for them. Most the marketing efforts in the space are by home automation product companies attempting to sell their offerings FOR a connected home–but not selling the idea OF a connected home.

That’s like selling your brand of effective cholesterol medicine when a customer doesn’t really know what the benefits of reducing cholesterol are or that they really need to lower theirs.

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