Monday, 13 June, Apple finally revealed what their latest efforts for HomeKit have produced. In the 3 minutes and 44 seconds Apple spent unveiling their new Home App (about 3% of the entire keynote), there was not a lot of time to cover some of the glaring holes in Apple’s Smart Home strategy moving forward. Apple spent more time explaining that Messaging emoticons are now three times larger, an innovation for the ages to be sure. What was most surprising is what Apple did not say about HomeKit. While they shared that HomeKit certified devices should be controlled seamlessly by the rebranded Home app, Craig subtly dropped to bomb that in order to access your home remotely, Apple TV is required. (Granted, this has been known by most folks for a while, but it’s unlikely that consumers realize this little requirement.) And yes, you can control your home through Siri and clever home macros, called ‘scenes,’ can be crafted (the means of which we do not yet know) and controlled by your phone through taps or deep conversations with Siri.
But here’s the kicker on HomeKit and the Home App, who do you call for help when your kit does not make you feel homey? HomeKit certification is supposed to ensure encrypted, private, easy to set up, cloud enabled, delightful experiences for consumers. Unfortunately there are a key set of devices that are not HomeKit certified, and these come in two flavors, routers and competitive ecosystems like Nest.
Our research with Support.com on barriers to Smart Home adoption found that issues with WiFi set-up and maintenance were a key stumbling block for many DIY Smart Home consumers. Given the finger pointing that already occurs between Internet Service Providers, Consumers and Router manufacturers, now this key sources of chaos in the home is now on the critical path to Apple delivering the HomeKit experience promised two years ago. Now if HomeKit has any hiccups in the path from the phone to the cloud to the ISP to the home to the router to the Apple TV to the various devices, who bears that responsibility for making it work? How does Apple, which relies heavily on its retail stores to provide high touch, high quality customer service, going to deal with issues peculiar to the home environment? Apple does not have a fleet of trucks to roll out to consumers and help them troubleshoot the root of the installation or connectivity issues. Apple shines (pardon the pun) in experiences where they can control/orchestrate every step of the consumer journey. Smart Home is not the same cadence as Smart Phones or Tablets. Plus, many consumers have already launched several ships towards the Smart Home shore, not just HomeKit.
Nest, and by proxy, Google has been forcing Apple’s hand in the home environment ever since the Nest thermostat was launched. And Apple has not swayed from their strategy of keeping Nest outside of the slowly evolving Walled Garden called HomeKit. This did not deter consumers from making a Nest Thermostat, for many, their first purchase of their Smart Home journey. Sure, many consumers have been waiting to see what Apple will do before jumping in with both feet, but there is a not insignificant number of consumers already signed up for the Nest ecosystem, and though fewer, for SmartThings as well. This means that there will be gaps in intelligence of Smart Home enabled by HomeKit. While not likely to trigger a backlash of anti-adoption for Apple, this continued lack of openness to other players will cause issues for consumers, Apple and their competitors like Nest. This means that millions of mostly happy Nest customers are unlikely to be pure HomeKit users, meaning the persistent fragmentation of the user experience will continue until one or the other wins or Amazon just overwhelms both Nest and Apple with it’s more jovial community garden approach.
Argus Insights has been listening to Smart Home consumers for years. We have analyzed and reported on the trials and tribulations of market leaders like Nest, Amazon, and Belkin, and innovative, up and coming disruptors like Vivint, SimpliSafe, and Ring. Since we know what consumers like, hate, and want (based on analysis of over 444,000 consumer reviews and over 1.9 million social conversations about the Smart Home market, not surveys), we know what Apple must focus on to create a compelling, competitive Smart Home offering. We use this same extensive data set to create the most comprehensive Smart Home report available, check it out.
While Apple’s HomeKit remains of interest to Smart Home consumers, talk of Amazon’s Alexa is drowning out interest in HomeKit among current connected device consumers. Apple’s latest keynote left Smart Home fans wondering: Where’s the Kaboom? Question is, will Apple’s announcements at the upcoming Apple Worldwide Developers Conference in early June steal back mindshare among Smart Home customers? Will the latent demand of consumers waiting for HomeKit finally start the flood of Smart Home adoption other research firms have been predicting for years? Or, will Apple fumble their entry into this market, leaving opportunities for Nest, Nexia, Amazon, and others, with ample opportunity to deliver on the promises consumers hoped that Apple would keep?
This post explores 5 features Apple, and competitors, must focus on to please users and succeed in the Smart Home market.
Since Apple’s last keynote a mere 2 months ago, Amazon has continued to find booming success with the Echo, and Alphabet has introduced their response, Google Home, which is still in development. Apple’s HomeKit offering to date hinges upon successful Siri integration into third party devices and services, but several experts “expect an announcement, if not [a] device itself” from Apple “at WWDC in June.” So, what does HomeKit (and other Smart Home hopefuls) need to succeed in this market?
Quality and Reliability: Quality and reliability matter more than ever as the market moves beyond earlier adopters.
Connectivity: Connectivity is still the main issue impacting consumers, across both the ‘Do It For Me’ and ‘Do It Yourself’ consumer bases.
Graceful Failure: The next generation of Smart Home devices and services need to fail gracefully to avoid stalls in the user experience.
Accessibility: As the hub of the home, a voice controlled assistant needs to be omnipresent; it must be constantly accessible through a variety of media.
Play Well With Others: In the Smart Home show down of walled versus community gardens, consumers show a preference for simplicity in all devices working together, regardless of OS or wireless protocol.
Quality and Reliability The chief complaints amongst Smart Home App users stem from comments on reliability, stability, and overall bugginess of the experience. Since there is an app for nearly everything these days, consumers expect stable and functional apps as a bare minimum. Over the next few quarters, Smart Home brands can differentiate themselves by simply testing their app ecosystem to ensure a seamless user experience.
Apple is famous for delivering quality app experiences, but has recently failed to deliver this historical ease of use. Consumers trolling through HealthKit find page upon never-ending page of potential health data with little context. Will the same wall of data confront Smart Home users? Forcing them to paw through pages of potential devices they can control over HomeKit? Or, will Apple take a step back and simplify the overall experience?
Connectivity The impact of spotty and difficult to configure connectivity hangs heavy over Smart Home consumers. Challenges arise with initial installation of the devices, unexpected discovery of weak WiFi coverage, and breaks in the chain from consumer to app to WiFi router to cloud server and back again. Solutions that address basic requirements in connectivity will see increased adoption over the competition in the next several quarters. This is where professionally installed Smart Home experiences have an edge in the market place today. A strong promise of seamless connectivity even after installation can help brands stand out in what promises to be a crowded holiday season in 2016.
To date, Apple’s HomeKit specifications have focused on blending a mix of hardware and software requirements to address the connectivity issue, but not all Smart Home experiences are part of the HomeKit ecosystem. While those that are integrated into Apple’s walled garden should connect just fine, popular devices such as Nest Thermostats, will not be able to join consumers as they enter Apple’s ecosystem. This forced fragmentation may compel Apple to relax some of their HomeKit certification requirements.
Graceful Failure The news of the Revolv shutdown combined with tales of smart door locks losing their ‘minds’ when connections to cloud services are disrupted are evidence that most Smart Home devices are designed to assume ideal conditions for operation. The unfortunate truth is that Smart Home solutions must be designed to fail gracefully under a wide range of conditions. This can be addressed by bringing more intelligence back into the home and away from reliance on cloud services. While this may not ensure increased adoption in the short term, it ensures the brand against high profile debacles like the Nest Thermostat pipe freezing issues that plagued users in winter 2016, something all members of the Smart Home ecosystem are anxious to avoid. Solutions that are designed to fail gracefully will succeed over those that just fail.
Given that most all Siri users were surprised when their data usage went up after late night chat sessions with Apple’s voice interface, how will HomeKit both educate and mitigate consumer expectations? Will Apple be the first major brand to bring intelligence back into the home, with HomeKit smarts residing next to the consumers they are serving? This sort of local data management would give Apple more than a leg up on the competition.
Accessibility For the dream of an intelligent home to become a reality, devices must work and communicate with little effort from humans. While a quality voice controlled smart speaker does a good job of acting as a hub, it cannot hear you from upstairs, or outside. The ultimate Smart Home solutions must combine voice control, geo-location, and remote access for comprehensive jurisdiction.
We’ve already seen that single user smartphone apps are a constant source of frustration for Smart Home users. Parents have to unlock their phone, and pass it to their family and friends with the password already entered, all to ‘flip a switch’ on a lighting app. This arduous process is no better than sending someone to flip an actual switch. Echo works because it provides functional voice control in a multi user environment. how will Apple leverage Siri to allow families play together with HomeKit?
Play Well With Others Building walls to exclude other companies from your ecosystem does not sit well with consumers struggling to build an intelligent home with devices from various brands. With all the options and protocols available in the Smart Home market today, it is important for a viable solution to communicate with any and all connected devices that work together to make a Smart Home. In the battle of walled gardens versus community gardens, we find that widespread interoperability is far more appealing to consumers, as it eliminates the need to pick and choose devices based on potential compatibility.
Amazon stumbled into Smart Home greatness with their Alexa enabled Echo speaker, and this success was bread from simplicity. Alexa thrives in multi user environments, and works with a growing number of devices due to open integration of the company’s API. After Amazon’s rapid success with the Echo, other major companies are playing catch up. Amazon is already introducing additional hardware to expand the reach of Alexa beyond the Echo. With the Tap and Dot users can take Alexa with them wherever they go. Apple has had time to assess the successes and set backs of Amazon’s Smart Home offering, and according to rumors, is on the right track. The company is “preparing to open up Siri to apps made by others.” This will allow developers to make third party apps accessible through Siri, and finally create a crack in Apple’s tightly walled garden. While we all wait for Apple’s next move with HomeKit, you can get actionable intelligence across the entire market with the Smart Home 360.
You need to know what we know about your consumers. For more details about the Smart Home market and the facts and figures behind these insights, take a look at our Smart Home 360 report. Instead of a static survey or short lived focus group, the report looks to a collection of dynamic consumer data that can be leveraged for all your Market Research needs.