Day one of the Smart Home Summit in Palo Alto was humming with energy this past Tuesday. Although the space was tight, the turnout and participation from both speakers and conference goers was great. Something that certainly caught my attention was from the opening keynote all the way through the end of the day, there was one overarching theme above all else: smart home players and products have increased as expected since the conference a year ago, but customer adoption has not come close to meeting expectations. People had various opinions as to why this is so, pointing at cost, lack of interoperability and weak go-to-market strategies. Though these are all certainly contributors to the problem, I believe that smart product builders are getting so lost in the innovative technology and dazzling new insights collected from these shiny new devices, that industry leaders are forgetting the basic principles of customer experience. People want a product that saves time, money, or adds control in their lives, but will not be willing to pay a premium if interfacing with the device adds more work or an adjustment to the current way of doing things.
Every successful business knows that the success of a product starts with the customer, who is more important than any specification or data point a product can offer. Successful mobile companies have understood the importance of the “mobile moment”, a term that describes a mobile app’s ability to immediately satisfy a customer’s needs with minimal friction as soon as they pull out their phone to do something. Mobile app companies are aware that they have to provide a seamless experience to their customers in order to stay alive. The transition from web to mobile has been built on one primary principal; create a seamless user experience that enables customer loyalty to your brand. Let’s talk about user experience with IoT, because well, somebody has to. Take the smart light bulb as an example. This is a product that has the potential to add significant value to people’s lives. Being able to turn the lights on and off, dim the lights, change a room to a different color, and sync the lights to the music blasting from Spotify during a dance party is an amazing addition to the living room and bedroom. Functionality wise, the addition of WiFi capabilities built into the bulb removes the need to wire each lamp to a switch. This all sounds amazing on paper, but once this light bulb becomes a part of a consumer’s daily life, they may realize that having to enter their phone password, open an app, click on a tab, then press a button to turn on a bedroom light is much more of a hassle than flipping a switch on the wall. Amazon Alexa has certainly soothed this process, but before that, the standalone app provided by the light bulb companies rendered the product difficult to use and not worth the trouble, especially at the 20x price point a customer would have to pay compared to an ordinary bulb.
The smart light bulb is just one example. At conferences and in product marketing pitches, all you hear about is how many new capabilities these smart products offer, and what new insights can be gained from this freshly mined data. When you pick up the box, the specs will blow you away; install it in your house, and you may realize the juice may not be worth the squeeze. IoT companies need to quickly get over the novelty of the “wow” factor of a smart product, and shift the focus back to the customer. Before defining what value a product may add to people’s lives, a smart product company must first define how the customer can interface with this product in the most natural, frictionless way. Consumers will be more willing to pay a premium for a product that saves them time or money, AND reduces the physical or mental energy they have to expend when interfacing with the old, dumb product. I believe that to enhance customer adoption of an IoT product, new insights + convenience = success.
There are many factors contributing to the slow growth of consumer IoT products. I will talk about the need for proactive customer service, creative revenue models, and technology administration at another time. Along with the aforementioned topics, a seamless user experience is one of the main barriers to consumer IoT adoption. IoT businesses need to find that “mobile moment” for their products. It is imperative that companies bring in the right people who can interface with customers early in the product development process to gauge how the customer will most effortlessly interact with the product, while still gaining the intended value. The first step will be replacing the mobile app interface with more natural interactions such as voice control, gesture control and machine learning based on a consumer’s natural habits. Until IoT companies start delivering their customers’ value in a natural, more frictionless manner, consumer IoT devices will be nothing more than shiny overpriced gadgets. The day these products do add value in the context of a consumer’s everyday life, is the day people will start looking at a smart product as their best option when upgrading the essentials.