A quick perusal of Kickstarter or Indigogo confirms, the smart home market is a thrilling place to be. Thanks to crowdfunding, quick-build smartphone apps and decreasing hardware costs, anyone can craft and launch a smart home service, connecting people and their abodes. Let’s not forget about the cool factor. The smart home is a geek’s paradise, as the world rediscovers a highly personalized relationship with technology.
The bubbling smart home market’s an enticing one for any entrepreneur, expected to reach $35.5 billion by 2020. Adding to the allure, we’ve witnessed a diverse group of industries entering the space. Consumer infrastructure providers like cable and internet, phone and security companies, are extending such utilities to smart home services. AT&T Digital Life and Comcast Xfinity both have an opportunity to bundle home automation and tracking with existing products. Chipmakers like Broadcom and Intel have entered the fray, while hardware makers including Cisco and Oplink have tapped the broader consumer market powering up home automation needs.
Shoe manufacturers and gadget designers alike have spilled into the smart lifestyle, monitoring our health and home safety. Nike and Nest, each the poster child of their respective niches. Healthcare is leveraging the smart home to monitor the elderly, while other peace of mind services automate check-in alerts when children arrive home from school. Enterprise legacies from IBM to General Electric are also making a splash in the consumer-driven smart home, powering the cloud and analytics tools required to build an operable business from any of the above sectors.
Stand out through UI and UX design
There’s a dizzying amount of activity buzzing around the smart home market, so interested entrepreneurs will want to appeal to the end user. Of equal or more importance to the hardware design is the user interface – the software that actually connects people to their things. If an app isn’t user-friendly, it will fail. Simplifying the management of connected devices will set any startup apart.
- UI as education
The user interface can not only simplify, but educate. As consumers warm up to home automation, it will be the responsibility of the service provider to share optimal use cases and troubleshoot with the end user. When Staples saw the chance to expand its office retail business to the smart home market, they teamed with Zonoff to power the new platform. The benefit lies in tapping Zonoff’s existing ecosystem for added retail opportunities and consumer education.
“When we looked at putting this together, we wanted a very clean look and feel, something that’s not intimidating,” explained Mike Harris, Zonoff’s CEO. “It’s easy to put too much functionality in front of users, but also bring the power of the cloud into play to make it seamless and perform those actions to adding devices, etc.
“One of the most critical things we’re finding at this point is consumer education. Not just before they buy, but once they have it there, to give them an opportunity to learn what they can do and other devices that add value,” Harris said.
- UX as auto-optimization
Others recognize UI design as an opportunity to optimize the environment automatically, based on cues from the end user. Such collection of personal data has privacy implications, but this very issue becomes just another aspect of the smart home experience to optimize.
“The user knows that increasingly, whatever physical environments they’re in are being – obviously there are privacy implications – are being monitored, and tracked, and optimized to meet their requirements to some degree,” said James Kobielus, a former analyst turned IBM Big Data evangelist. “User experience is not just me interacting with devices, but me simply moving through environments that are continuously optimized to my needs.”
Strategic use of sensors, APIs and mobile interfaces are three major trends driving UI design in the smart home space. Here’s some additional notes on current trends as outlined by three industry experts regarding smart home UI design and user experience.
3 experts on smart home UI design
Trends that we’ve noticed in the home automation sector:
Integrated design across the entire consumer experience. Companies are putting more
emphasis to make sure the look and feel of their products or services are translating across each customer touch point from display to the smartphone and Web application.
Mobile and Web applications are a must. We recently conducted a customer engagement study with a large utility partner where we surveyed thousands of residential customers. Convenience and ability to control and access their thermostats from remote devices was ranked as one of the top benefits.
APIs are essential. With various platforms and more home automation products coming to market, companies are opening up their ecosystems to API developers. For companies like us that are hardware agnostic, we’ve made it easy for channel partners via our open APIs to connect our service to any Internet-connected thermostat, existing user interfaces or leverage templates for consumer-facing web and mobile applications.
It’s about personalization. Connected appliances and devices collect a lot of data. What makes many smart devices “smart” are the machine learning and automation pieces. For example, EcoFactor gathers and analyzes a combination of residential data, customer behavior and preferences to create customized programs for each unique household to maximize energy efficiency.
Three trends we’re noticing:
Mainstream providers like AT&T and ADT offering fully integrated home automation via mobile apps; Integration of sensors in the house with cloud services for alerts and remote operation of security, lighting, environmental controls; and Browser-based configuration of device and service from both in-home and remote access.
Three trends I’m watching:
Gateway based abstraction layers (e.g. OSGI, RDK) to provide uniform interface to devices in; Restful APIs for cloud-to-cloud interfaces for third party data sets and manufacturers; and Open APIs with transaction fees to allow OEMs to participate in backend revenue.