Consumers still eye smart home technologies warily

Despite the ever-ballooning list of smart home products on the market, consumers still see smart home technologies with reticence and as unnecessary.

SANTA CLARA, Calif. -- While smart home technology providers may position the market as one in which consumers are ready to rush headlong into buying connected home technologies, the consumer data is more sobering, according to industry experts.

In recent years, the smart home concept has gained traction as a way to network individual sensor controls for various home operations -- thermostats, security systems and door locks, garage doors and water systems -- to Internet of Things-enabled devices that can communicate the status of what they measure and adjust accordingly. For example, a connected water meter can help consumers measure water usage and save on their water bill, and an IoT-connected security system can help homeowners protect their property against intrusion.

"The future of smart homes is likely to be dictated by the leading-edge consumer," said Kevin Taylor, executive vice president and head of technology, North America, at GFK, who put some perspective on the smart homes trend at Internet of Things World. He noted vendor exuberance far outpaces consumer engagement with smart home technologies.

GFK, a global market research firm based in Nuremberg, Germany, conducted a study on the smart home to identify some of the gaps between vendor exuberance about the Internet of Things and consumer caution about it. With 7,000 respondents in seven countries, the survey determined that while consumers are generally aware of connected homes, they have yet to embrace the value of these technologies. The study identified that still only a small subset of consumers -- leading-edge consumers who made up less than 20% of the survey's total population -- are leading the charge toward smart homes.

These leading-edge consumers comprise 17% of the survey's population and tend to have experience with forward-looking technologies, including mobile devices, video and music streaming, and smartwatches.

Vendor exuberance far outpaces consumer engagement with smart home technologies.

Nine out of 10 people have heard of the term smart home. Interestingly, despite other technologies that one might expect to have permeated consumer consciousness and become accepted more easily, smart home technologies rank near the top for having a big effect (51%) -- a slightly larger number than mobile payments (50%), wearables (33%) or cloud computing (41%). 

At the same time, consumers are wary of gadgets and technology for technology's sake. As GFK's survey found, only half of consumers said smart home technologies are credible.

And the study found only one-third of consumers believe smart home technologies are something they need. "While the reality is that the consumer is excited, there is another story here," Taylor said. Taylor played recordings of consumers in the U.K. and whether they see a need for a connected refrigerator, which is designed to help consumers replenish items they're running low on, monitor expiration dates and so on.

"I can't see the point of it," said one U.K.-based respondent. "I open my fridge often enough and empty it regularly. I haven't seen anything on the market to compare it to, but it sounds like an unnecessary gadget."

GFK's Taylor said connected products haven't reached a tipping point yet where they make an impact at the lifestyle level. A smart fridge won't necessarily provide an impact, he said, until, for example, the fridge could gauge that a consumer has lapsed in healthy habits of late, and encourage smart ingredients and recipes to help that consumer in his goal to lose weight. "That's where it can really take off and have real-world impact."

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