With the press days at IFA 2015 earlier this month seemingly existing to subsidise the Berlin taxi industry and to test whether the assembled media actually could be in two places at once, I spent a lot of time thinking about being at home.
Fortunately, many vendors were happy to indulge these thoughts – rather than being mobile-focused like Mobile World Congress, or an over-the-top collection of robots and quadcopters like CES, a lot of space at IFA is dedicated to what are generally termed ‘white goods’. And, what with it being 2015, a good chunk of these are now ready to form part of the Internet of Things (IoT).
There are some areas where IoT makes a lot of sense, and many of these are in the enterprise space. The number of industries that can see productivity and efficiency boosts through machine-to-machine communications are numerous and, with the possibility of very tangible rewards, many businesses are keen to get involved, supported by eager operators.
Likewise, the automotive sector, where cars are very much “self-contained” objects created by a single company, which can therefore manage integration from design to delivery. With a number of clear consumer benefits on offer – from enhanced entertainment through to maintenance monitoring and navigation – the potential is clear to see.
And Audi, BMW and Daimler have already put their money – the best part of €3 billion – where their mouths are with the acquisition of Here from Nokia.
But for the home, IoT is another thing. Many of the expensively-produced promotional videos on show at IFA showed use cases that ranged from the unlikely to the unsavoury, including the ability to remotely
stalk monitor family members while barely lifting a finger.
That’s not to say that there aren’t some areas where the benefits are (potentially) clearer. While the subject of criticism related to issues such as privacy, smart TVs are finding more homes, if only because in the mid-range and above, it’s all that is on offer.
This is reminiscent of the days when Symbian OS was the dominant smartphone platform. In this case, its reach was driven by the deep support of the then number-one handset maker (Nokia) and its broad distribution, rather than customers seeking out a smartphone per-se. And many of these users would not have taken advantage of the relatively advanced features supported over and above a standard feature phone.
Of course, there are other changes that will make the smart TV more popular, not least the growing adoption of over-the-top content services from players such as Netflix and Amazon.
With tablets and smartphones increasingly becoming important content consumption devices, and – as Apple CEO Tim Cook said recently – the TV experience becoming more “app like”, there does seem something of an inevitability to the fact that smart TV usage will increase (although not in every household).
But there are few arguing that the washing machine experience needs to be more app-like, or that the time has come for the long mooted (and almost as long-mocked) connected refrigerator.
What is most likely is that devices, certainly in the mid- to high-price categories, will include wireless capabilities off-the-shelf – in much the way that high-end televisions are generally ‘smart’, whether connected to a network or not. This will pave the way for wider IoT adoption in the future, as well as providing vendors with a useful ability to trumpet “hundreds of millions” of connected devices sold – even if not activated.
Once in the home, all it needs is for a consumer to see the benefit of one connected device to open the way to exploring the potential of others. A significant part of the battle comes in educating customers to the potential, and finding the one use case that appeals in the first place.
But the challenge comes in that it will not be the same killer app for everyone. Lighting, audio, heating/air conditioning, white goods and many other options are likely to appeal to different users, with the perceived value assigned to each also likely to vary widely.
And interoperability will also prove a crucial factor. Should I wire up my home so that the heating, audio and lighting are all connected using components from different vendors, the idea of having to reset everything using three different apps if I decide to have a lie-in is hardly appealing.
While vendors will, of course, be keen to extol the benefits of sticking solely within their own product portfolios, I prefer the freedom to choose products on a one-by-one basis – and I’m sure I am not the only one who is not a slave to brand loyalty. Hopefully efforts such as AllSeen Alliance will help to this end – although having attempted to use a range of network-connected products in the past, it’s probably best I don’t hold my breath.
The best thing I saw at IFA this year? A washing machine with an extra little door on the front that enables forgotten socks to be added even when in full flow.
And – as if you couldn’t guess – Samsung’s WW8500 AddWash “comes with an array of smart functions, which work with both Android and iOS smartphones, which not only make it easy to monitor the progress of the laundry programme, but also offers the option to alert users on their smartphone just before the start of a new washing cycle”.
Even if you don’t want them (yet).
The editorial views expressed in this article are solely those of the author and will not necessarily reflect the views of the GSMA, its Members or Associate Members.