How Ikea is transforming itself into a smart home company

The world's biggest home furnishings brand is launching itself as a 'smart home' company with a range of connected devices to tempt customers

Smart home
Intel

People make fun of Ikea as a company that sells lower quality furniture that takes hours to put together, but the company has made it easier for everyone to buy furniture they could not afford otherwise. As of last week, Ikea seems determined to take this democratic approach to the smart home, making it easier and cheaper to access the power of the internet of things (IoT) and smart devices.

The Verge reported that Ikea’s first step will be in smart LED lighting, which will be connected through an app called Tradfri (Swedish for “wireless”). The Tradfri starter kit consists of 2 light bulbs, a hub to link devices together, and a remote control which will let even those without a connected phone change the lights. The starter kit is not currently available in the United States and will sell for $79.99, $50 cheaper than a comparable set from Philips Hue.

On one hand, the fact that Ikea is jumping into the smart home game shows how companies understand that the smart home is truly an innovative idea which could improve our quality of life. But smart technology is not the same as furniture. If Ikea wants to participate in the IoT, it must understand the challenges and difficulties around smart devices both from a security and business perspective.

Why should I buy a smart light?

Ikea’s smart light starter kit may be significantly cheaper compared to its competitors, but many customers will still balk at the end of essentially paying $80 for two light bulbs and a switch. A major challenge surrounding the smart home and smart lighting in particular is that people do not understand its benefits.

Smart lighting does carry significant advantages compared to traditional lights. As Ikea showed in a promotional video, you can change the light intensity to reflect different moods. Dim the lights for a candlelight dinner, or keep them bright when the children are playing. Furthermore, you can control the lights even when you are not at home, preventing you from accidentally leaving a light on before you go on a trip and saving energy or deterring criminals by turning the lights on at night.

The Ikea smart light system is more limited compared to Philips, as Ikea lights are just white while Philips can be multicolored. And some customers may decide that the ability to dim and turn the lights on when away is not worth the additional price.

But the key point to understand is that this is merely Ikea’s opening foray into the smart home and the IoT. Smart lighting may not be a total game-changer in and of itself. But imagine a world where by turning on the kitchen light in the morning, your toaster or kettle instantly start as they are connected to your light. Devices communicating together is the idea behind the IoT, and Ikea’s smart lighting system could become more useful as it links to more devices.

The progression of the smart home has been slow in part because customers are unsure if the benefits are worth the high costs associated with such devices. By creating smart home devices for cheap, Ikea is on the road towards showing its benefits and improving the market for all consumers like they did with furniture.

The security problem

But there is one major difference between smart devices and furniture, and that is the fact that your furniture is not a potential security risk. In October, hackers took advantage of unsecured IoT devices to launch a DDoS attack which shut down Twitter and other major websites temporarily.

More devices everywhere like what Ikea wants means more vulnerabilities for hackers to take advantage of. But the biggest concern with Ikea in particular is whether its commitment towards cost-cutting could make their devices less safe. Ikea will certainly claim that they are committed towards protecting their consumers’ privacy and safety. But even if they are, do they have the technological background to accomplish that?

These are legitimate questions about Ikea’s efforts. However, consumers have to be the primary protectors of IoT devices. Consumers must educate themselves on what data IoT devices are collecting, keep software updated, and consider scaling back their dreams of a smart home if they want to stay safe.

Cautious approach

The growth of IoT and its wave of connected devices offers benefits and problems, but such questions remain academic until the smart home becomes a ubiquitous part of our lives. Ikea is taking the first step towards democratizing the smart home. While its smart lights may not offer quite as much as its competitors, it remains a viable, significantly cheaper option.

As noted above, Ikea’s smart lights will not reach the US market for some time and it will take longer for Ikea to decide what other smart devices to market. But this development shows how companies are taking a serious look at the IoT and the benefits it can bring for consumers and businesses.

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