My light bulb has a password. I am not sure where having to verify an email address to switch on a light sits within Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, but it seems over the top. After a while and a lot of faff, I was able to make it work through my Alexa, but it took ages and wasn’t easy. Lucky it was an Alexa too as that particular lightbulb doesn’t support Google Home, Bixby or Apple Homepod, which means it would have been a waste of money and a fingers-burnt experience for many consumers trying to buy into smart home products.
The convenience, coolness, security, and energy efficiency gains are well known sales drivers for those in the connected home market, but faff, time and logging in isn’t exactly what consumers had in mind when they ordered their devices. There is a real risk that underperformance and a damp-squib feeling could hinder adoption alongside better known barriers such as privacy concerns, price and cyber-security (a recent University of Warwick study looked at this).
So how can we eliminate this particular barrier? Standards is the obvious one (see the success of USB and NFC), single sign in (perhaps supported by digital identity) and one click or voice command through smartphones or smart speakers could work. Apple Pay for example is well used and understood, so could there be a similar thing that just makes connected home products all work with a single click or command? People don’t want to lose 30mins configuring a lightbulb or downloading supporting apps, and the service provider that nails this will have a huge advantage.
Another way has to be not overusing the word ‘smart’ and focus on the benefits. Manufacturers spend a lot of time and money innovating on new features which are cool, but consumers don’t care about many of them. Manufacturers should talk instead about how easy it is to use their products and focus on main benefits and purpose of the product (could be security, or warmer rooms for example), not worry about overengineered features that will get used once (looking at you, un-adapted internet browsers built in to smart-TVs).
Lastly we need others to stop others adopting tech sector language that fuels disappointment with the potential of smart products. For example, VW is marketing the new Golf as the ‘Digital Golf’, Q gave James Bond ‘smart blood’ and a company created a ‘smart exercise bike’ that counts how far you’ve cycled, something not exactly new to infrequent gym users like myself. This saturation puts people off and with the car example specifically, I bet it works in a suspiciously similar way to other non-digital cars.
So all in all it is probably time to accept that smart is default (see how hard it is to get a non-smart TV or phone) and come up with some new ways of explaining the benefits while making a lot more headway into making the user experience one-click and instantaneous. If we do not people will stop filling in captchas to use their doorbell and stay put with their analogue one.
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