Selling the connected home
New research reveals what consumers really want from technology.
The industry's learning a hard lesson. Even if consumers are warming up to the idea of connecting two computers to a broadband modem, that doesn't mean they want a connected home.
Yet the technology to link independent systems into one centrally controlled systems is here (or mostly so), and vendors are clamoring to create strong market demand, if only consumers would cooperate.
To get at the root of the problem, the Internet Home Alliance (IHA) - a nonprofit consortium dedicated to advancing the Internet-enabled home technology market - recently released a report conducted in conjunction with research firm Zanthus that delves deeply into consumers' attitudes about home, family and technology. Much of the report was based on telephone interviews with 1,000 U.S. single-family households, but researchers also conducted focus groups, e-mail surveys, observed subjects in their homes and even employed drawing, free association and role-playing exercises.
The report, "The U.S. Connected Home Market," focused on three areas: pinpointing the market sweet spot, discovering consumers' unmet needs and revealing sources of resistance. Finding the sweet spot was the easy part: households with two college-educated parents (35 to 44 years old) with a combined income of $75,000 per year or more with two teenage children. Typically, such families are technology early adopters, pressed for time and enthusiastic about tools that cut the time spent on household chores so they can spend more time together. This core connected home market comprises 17% of U.S. homeowners or 10.1 million households. To them, the advent of the connected home ensures family comes first.
Determining unmet needs (or anticipating the next killer app) was much more difficult, as most people don't know what they want until they see it. Researchers used an algorithm that considers various factors: preferences for family, career and entertainment solutions; pain points associated with existing technology; reactions to product concepts; and the desirability of various technology benefits.
They found respondents were more interested in practical technology they can apply to their family life rather than to work productivity or home entertainment. Rosie the Robot-type devices that could clean the house, rake the yard, mow the lawn, prepare meals and do laundry were all suggested. But overall, respondents' unmet needs fell into four categories: household chores, home systems, personal communications and scheduling.
Fifty-two percent found "very appealing" a series of interconnected kitchen appliances that could cook a full meal when activated remotely (say, at 4 p.m. from the office). Sound crazy? A company called Tonight's Menu is at work on such a scheme as we speak.
Control over home systems (lights, air conditioning, heating) also ranked high. Beyond familiar home control devices like The Clapper and X-10 gear, in time your power company may offer an energy-saving thermostat that lets it cut the amount of energy sent to your home while you're at work. To meet personal communications and scheduling needs, the IHA is piloting a family communications package that includes a kitchen-based centralized computer monitor and several cell phones and pagers for keeping in touch.
Last, there are multiple sources of resistance to the connected home, with 58% of respondents expressing a negative or at best neutral reaction. Many of these folks are older, conservative and see connected home technology as invasive.
But even many early technology adopters reported feeling the concept threatens their sense of home as refuge, and harbor the suspicion that while built to save time, such systems would inevitably cost more time to use. Some found the popular concept of automated meal preparation distasteful because it made the process too impersonal, and others believed the connected home would only accelerate the blurring of home and work life further.
For an overview of the report, click here.
Toni Kistner is managing editor of Net.Worker. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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