December 29, 2020
'Tis the season for smart homes.
If you're in the UK (or even if you're elsewhere and just want to listen), Alexa will let you ask her to play the Queen's Christmas Day message.
And it kicks off a year in which the worldwide number of smart home devices will reach 1.7 billion by the end of 2021.
Makers of smart home products range from Amazon (with its Echo and Alexa devices) and Google (whose Nest series has grown from thermostats to doorbells), to Apple (the HomeKit has a smart sprinkler controller and a flood sensor), and hosts of other companies like iRobot, who make the hoovering Roomba.
This entire sector will see its revenue grow by 32.3% in 2021, says a new report by Omdia. Smart home products, which were worth $121 billion as a market in 2020, will more than double that by 2024, to $249 billion.
There's gold in them there gadgets.
Let a thousand Alexas bloom
More companies are joining the Connected Home over IP (CHIP) project, which aims to make a single standard for smart homes across the whole industry and improve device interoperability.
This project is open sourced and was begun a year ago by the Zigbee Alliance, who develop shared standards for the Internet of Things.
The CHIP project will see its first concrete results in 2021, predicts Omdia.
And this increased consensus about standards will help smart homes grow quicker.
Amazon's Certified for Humans program for product installations is another initiative Omdia expects will have a big impact.
This is designed to cut down the number of installation steps and reduce the complexity of setting up a device.
Smart devices that win the Certified for Humans badge are "struggle-free, tinker-free, stress free," as Amazon puts it.
A season for DIY
Self-installation will grow anyway, since coronavirus will continue to clamp down on home visits.
You don't want to have a product that requires an engineer to come visit and set it up.
But remote technician-assisted models using video chat could be important for devices like smart cameras and motion sensor, so people installing them put them in the right place.
It's not just the pandemic that's driven changes in consumer behavior around setup.
There's also the "disuse of user manuals," and a growing impatience with smart home gadgets that aren't intuitive to set up and use, says Omdia.
Meanwhile, more broadband operators will start bundling smart home functionality into their routers to do away with the need for separate bridges: gadgets that link smart home devices that run on bluetooth with the Internet.
That isn't to say smart device makers don't have their work cut out for them.
Especially with interfaces.
If you rate your experience of Alexa and Siri as average or poor, it's most often because it regularly doesn't understand what you're saying.
That's a problem afflicting 42% of people who say they aren't happy with their voice assistants.
Slightly fewer (39%) didn't find them very useful, and (32%) worried about security.
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Voice assistant makers will be trying to improve their speech recognition AI to cope better with background noise, and thinking of other solutions like working in lip reading, too.
Because everyone wants to be understood.
Especially when you're asking Alexa to play the Queen's speech or Die Hard.
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