The Internet of Things (IoT) has found traction and interest in the smart home market. Smart doorbells, door locks, lighting and thermostats are some of the most popular IoT products found in the home today.
A recent analyst report found that 21% of the 450 IoT platforms in the market had a focus on the smart home segment. Despite the strong interest in IoT for the home, today’s solutions solve the wrong problems and miss the mark with real world buyers.
This article describes several strategies for product managers to come up with “use cases” that resonate with buyers.
Today’s connected homes solve “first world” problems
Today’s smart home solutions do simple things. They turn lights on and off. Some solutions time the closing of blinds with turning on the entertainment system. They automate tasks based on pre-defined user profiles, scenes (user scenarios), and events. They do these tasks automatically, or when you tell them to.
While today’s smart home products do useful things, they solve “first world” problems of convenience that are useful to a small group of people.
In order for smart home IoT adoption to really accelerate, it must do something useful beyond turning things on and off. Smart home IoT product managers must rethink the smart home and solve real world, real people problems.
Rethink the smart home to solve “real world” problems
The smart home has to solve people problems. The inconvenience of taking a day off work to wait for the plumber is a costly people problem. The inconvenience of walking to the other side of the room to turn off a light switch is not.
People problems happen at home, but affect you at work. Or they happen at work or elsewhere, but affect you at home. These real world problems occur every day and have a measurable impact on our lives at home or elsewhere.
The smart home must integrate with people, processes, and technology at a very deep level. It “re-imagines” how it engages with its homeowners, guests, and service providers. It’s proactive and adaptive in providing new value in ways not possible before while enhancing your lifestyle, not disrupting it.
So think of your smart home as a smart home assistant (like Jarvis in Iron Man). Homes don’t solve people problems. Assistants do.
Real people, real situations, real solutions
The following are small examples of how a smart home assistant solves people problems:
Your home assistant detects that the kitchen sink is draining slower than usual. It connects to your plumber’s online appointment system to set up same day service. It sees your work schedule and knows you can’t be home, so it issues a one-time front door access code that deactivates your security system and lets the plumber in at the appointed time. From the office, you can monitor the plumber’s progress through your home security camera system.
Your alarm clock wakes you up 15 minutes earlier than usual. The home assistant has detected a major accident on your commute route, and wakes you up earlier to give you extra time on the road so you will arrive to work on time. It also plots a new route for your car’s navigation system.
While you are at work, your daughter’s school calls your home. The home assistant recognizes that this is an important call and routes it. It reviews your calendar and sees you are in a meeting, but because your spouse is not, the call is routed to your spouse.
Your elderly father lives alone. The home assistant notices that he has been in the kitchen for too long, and is not in the family room like his usual pattern. Because it detected no motion for fifteen minutes, it dials 911 and alerts you and his neighbors through text message. It also unlocks the front door for emergency responders.
Key strategies for smart home product managers and designers
Think like a home assistant
Smart homes don’t solve people’s real world problems, but assistants do. When you think of the smart home assistant, you are creating higher value for existing and new users. Shift your perspective from “I have technology, what problems can I solve?” to “I have a problem, what solutions can I create to solve it?”.
Uncover opportunities with the “Day in the Life” technique
Follow your users for a week. Find the things that cause the biggest disruptions to their daily routine or lifestyle. It may be unplanned (something breaks), or “necessary evils” (grocery shopping). How can a smart home assistant help? The biggest disruptions lead you to use case hypotheses that you can test.
Think “end to end” – prevent, detect and repair
A good assistant prevents, detects and repairs disruptions. Prevention includes monitoring, tune-ups and maintenance. Detection includes assessment and reporting after something happens. Repair resolves the issue and includes diagnostics, coordination and fix. A good smart home solution addresses all three needs.
Design around lifestyles and demographics
The value provided is different for singles/married no children, family, multi-generation families, and empty nesters. Build use cases around home infrastructure management and maintenance, home appliance/technology operation and management, health and safety, assisted living, and activity scheduling for these groups. While the use cases are similar, how each of these groups approach them is different.
Connect the dots across the “solution” chain
Problems need a combination of people, processes, technology or tools to solve. Often these resources and services are outside of the home. The more you integrate and automate these outside services and resources, the more value you provide to the user. For example, integrating with the user’s work calendar, or the plumber’s appointment system will simplify the scheduling of the repair.
Think outside the home
Smart home problems are about people, not the home. They may start at home, but be completed outside the home. Or they may occur outside the home, but continue at home. Think in terms of activities, and how you can tie the experiences inside and outside the home.