App Fatigue in Smart Homes and Smart Apartments

Will app fatigue kill IoT?

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I was recently at a friend’s house for an end of summer pool party with the kids. Like many in single family homes today, our friends have their place outfitted with several IoT devices. My friend was using an August lock to remotely give his cleaners and dog walkers access to the home, a Nest thermostat to control temperatures and schedules from his phone, and his new pool was equipped with an app to control the lights.

For now, that is three different apps to control his smart home. But what happens when he and his wife decide to add a smart refrigerator, washer and dryer, more smart lighting, security cameras, leak sensing, voice automation and more?

The truth is my friend is already experiencing App Fatigue with just the three apps. Finding the app and logging in are valuable minutes wasted that he could be spending with his family.

The simple definition of App Fatigue is having too many apps in your life. This makes apps that support multiple devices extremely valuable in a society focused on saving time.

For IoT companies, the first step is realizing that app fatigue is real and the second step is not making it worse. Ask any single family home owner who has taken the time and money to create a smart home. These folks want management and control over their smart devices but they don’t want to have to go to a handful of apps to access those things. Technology needs to be reliable but it also needs to be seamlessly found and used extremely fast.

As someone working in this space, it is my opinion that not enough IoT solutions are integrating with each other to lower the pain points for their end users. Intelligent Software as a Service (SaaS) platforms have recognized app fatigue and are working on plans to integrate with other software so that end users can access one single app to do multiple things.

According to Fortune Magazine, “research firm comScore (SCOR, +0.00%) finds that among mobile users surveyed, most spend 85 percent of their time using just five apps.”

Gabrielle Trotter, Lead Embedded Systems Engineer at BuLogics, which designs, builds, and certifies hardware, software, and ecosystems for IoT is well versed in App Fatigue by end users.

“With smart devices, everything is about user interface. If an experience is clunky and doesn’t easily integrate into a person’s life, it is a huge deterrent to using the product, especially if the product is supposed to enhance a person’s lifestyle, rather than necessarily fill a “gap”. If it’s easier to just flip the light switch, people will continue to flip the light switch. So yes, I do think too many apps will negatively affect adoption rates of smart home products.”

When this conversation moves to the multifamily industry and campus communities it gets even more complex. Our team faces these challenges daily. IoT companies have sold products and solutions that were designed for single family and won’t work in this industry.

Our competitors are out there telling the industry that certain smart devices can not be used in multifamily, which is simply not true. Our marketing team is then forced to spend far too much time educating the public about myths vs reality in the marketplace.

 

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Another challenge in multifamily has been the amount of access points. Traditionally one hardware solution might control the individual units and another would control the common area access like front doors, side doors, and access to fitness areas and pools.

Sometimes yet another hardware company is being used to control the garage or gate access and another to control Package Concierge® for the property. If these applications are not all integrated into one platform, you are not providing technology as an amenity to your residents, you are providing a massive headache.

“As a technologist, it is endlessly frustrating the number of new standards and integrations required between smart devices. This question always makes me think of the XKCD comic about competing standards,” Trotter said.

Competing standards in smart IoT devices
XKCD

“Especially when standards are largely proprietary and closed source, it makes it even harder to integrate products with one another, and these integration pieces are the most difficult part of any project. Engineering in a bubble is easy, the hard part is connecting with other pieces and components outside of your control. The lower this barrier is, the better the end user’s experience with a product.”

Trotter is a frequent app user and has strong feelings on this topic.

“As a user of apps, I pretty much try to keep as few apps as possible on my phone and I only install things that are absolutely essential,” she said. “My phone is a thing I need to not be out of battery when I need to contact someone, so expecting that users have a tiny computer in their pocket that can be used for endless purposes is not a completely accurate standpoint. Good apps should be efficient, effective, and essential.”

The solution may be found in software companies being less guarded with their API and exploring strategic partnerships that benefit all. Right now our sales and business development teams are exploring so many partnerships with almost every hardware provider in the smart home space. This approach is much more effective than being constantly worried about competitors or competitors that might do what you do in the future.