It dawned on me this week, sitting in a room full of people responsible for purchasing and supply decisions for 'round about 150,000 homes completed in the past 12 months, some $40 billion in sales, that smart homes' biggest barrier to entry, adoption, and traction may be its name-- smart homes.
Google Nest's "beautiful mind" Tony Fadell has been saying it for awhile. The term "smart home" doesn't mean or contain a benefit to someone. Its meanings evoke responses ranging from "meh" to "that's going to cost more," to outright suspicion. Fadell suggests that "conscious home" or "thoughtful home" at least confers a worth, a benefit, a value you or I can get our brains around and care about.
For most of the folks sitting in the room who are critical decision-makers and solutions providers for 150,000 new homes a year, the dilemma is real, and becomes "real-er" by the day. As in, what do you do?
They're way beyond listening to the hype, which bounces back-and-forth on the question of what home buyers "say they'd prefer" with respect to smart home technology in their homes vs. what they'd pay for. People may say they'd "prefer" homes that offer smart, connected device technology, but, offered the choice, would perhaps opt for granite counter tops over a smart device.
For home builders, home technology ranging from security, safety, comfort, lighting, and environment systems, to appliances, to infotainment, to linkages to others (humans, things, networks, etc.), the prefer-vs.-pay-for debate includes a subtle though powerful third factor, a triangulatior question. Namely, beyond the question of what people say they'd prefer, and what they'd agree to pay for, it's more and more often going to be a question of what they expect.
Parks Associates research director Brett Sappington was on hand this week at our BUILDER Connections event in Dallas, to address some of the "Trend Vs. Fad" questions and observations about home technology and new home design, engineering, and functionality.
One of Sappington's key points was this. Believe it or not, people are not even especially aware when it comes to "smart home" as an offering. Here's Parks' data on people's "familiarity" with the concept.
But compare that awareness of "smart home" as a package of functionalities that make homes work better vs. the further dissected individual solutions technology offers, and you start to see much better awareness, and traction. Here's the break-down on traction, the "adoption rate" for each of the currently available solutions and systems.
The Sappington narrative is that tech-enabled design, functionality, and solutions are following a step-by-step evolution from "connected home" devices widely available now to true "smart home" systems capable of adapting and learning, listening and acting, responding in real-time and over time to residents' needs and desires. Here's what that progression looks like.
Two of the biggest challenges decision-makers in the supply chain--purchasing and sourcing directors and manufacturers and services who focus on technology-enabled connected devices and systems--have to do with the warp-speed accelerated pace of development of such solutions and the present level of incompatibility among all of those systems.
"A big challenge for us as we look at investing to put these technologies in new homes is the speed of change, change that makes some of these particular solutions obsolete within a short amount of time," notes Dan Bridleman, SVP of Sustainability, Strategic Sourcing, and Technology at KB Home. "This is a risk when it comes to trying to give our home buyers perceivable value that would impact their choice."
Too, the pace of change and adoption means that many will come to the party, but not that many will get to dance, or manage to hook up. We've seen recently that even some of the most vaunted and well-backed entries into the home technology space can not manage to endure. This adds risks to builders who go down a particular path of technology offerings that may or may not be viable over the long run.
Companies like Savant that integrate home tech systems and solutions are trying to offset risks by creating connective interfaces and conduits that allow devices and people to talk to one another intuitively and simply, and will accommodate and accrue to new tech as it develops.
Fadell's Nest has now introduced its "Weave" program, which as Gizmodo notes:
Creates a de facto mesh network between your devices that ensures devices throughout the house work well with little latency, regardless of how far they are from a router. Meanwhile, a Nest product—either the Nest Thermostat, Nest Protect, Nest Cam, or any combination of the three—will operate as hubs of sorts to keep everything connected.
Whether its in a floor-plan that allows for variation and choice across time, life-stage, and income-change, or in real estate that gains value, or in function, behind-the-wallboard systems that offer safety and security, comfort, usability, efficiency, health, performance and durability, people want, prefer, will-pay-for, and expect one thing: Future-proofing.
That may be a lot to ask, but it's also what some will deliver and many, many buyers today expect.