Intelligent networking and the smart home15. April 2021 Published by Jana Greyling
Connected TV sets, voice assistants and devices in the smart home – intelligent networking, as the Internet of Things is also called, is now a part of consumers’ everyday life. Seven out of ten consumers already use an IoT device, according to the recent study “Faktencheck Consumer IoT” (“Consumer IoT Fact Check”) by Deloitte and the German Association for the Digital Economy (BVDW). Around 2,000 consumers in Germany were surveyed in order to ascertain the status quo as regards the Internet of Things (IoT) in the consumer arena. The study’s focal issues included connected entertainment, smart speakers and voice assistants, wearables and the smart home. We present the results for consumer IoT and the smart home in this blog post.
Intelligent Networking: The smart home and consumer IoT
Perhaps the most exciting application area for consumer IoT is the smart home and intelligent networking. Turning on the heating by app as you’re on the way home and arriving to find everything warm and cozy, yet saving energy at the same time, opening the smart door lock by fingerprint without worrying about whether you’ve lost your keys again – all that is no longer pie in the sky. What began with smart lights has spread to include the heating, smoke detectors and windows. More and more home appliances, as well as other everyday products, are being enhanced with an IoT feature or can even be controlled by smartphone or even just with your own voice. The smart home has been regarded as a market with enormous potential for nigh on two decades. Intelligent networking of households is not seldom seen as the showcase application scenario in the consumer IoT arena. However, the smart home – in the sense of complete or at least extensive networking of households – has not become established to date. One of the reasons why the smart home has not yet emerged from its niche existence, despite many positive signs, is the lack of interoperability between the individual standalone solutions. After all, intelligent networking in the home can unleash its full potential only if the wide range of different functions and devices can be controlled centrally and in a coordinated manner. That is not possible with many of the smart home products currently on offer.
Enlightenment can be unsettling
Reports in the media repeatedly reveal security deficiencies and vulnerabilities in smart home applications. There are many articles describing how hackers control someone else’s blinds, turn on the light and electricity at the touch of a button or open the front door. That has provoked wariness among consumers about equipping such as sensitive area as their own four walls with devices that are potentially open to attack. It’s therefore not surprising that consumers are cautious and have opted mainly for standalone solutions to date. For instance, eight percent of those surveyed use smart lighting systems, six percent have connected security cameras or home appliances that can be controlled by app, five percent already use smart thermostats and four percent use connected smoke detectors. But what is the reason for this caution in the market? The products are there and there is no lack of commitment on the part of the various manufacturers. Bosch, for example, began presenting its IoT-capable devices in everyday life and promoting them some time ago under the slogan “Like a Bosch!”
A lack of interoperability and insufficient data protection
There are three major obstacles from the point of view of consumers when it comes to intelligent networking. There has been a lack of interoperability so far: hubs with which different smart home elements can be linked and controlled centrally. In addition, interested consumers are confronted with a fragmented, confusing array of vendors. There is no one-stop shop for integrated smart home solutions to date. The protection and security of usage data are still a sensitive issue here in Germany. That is demonstrated by all surveys in the various consumer IoT segments: Barely one-third of video-on-demand users are willing to disclose data in order to obtain more tailored program recommendations. Only 48 percent of Germans would share their own smart home usage data. And 58 percent are worried about their personal data being used by online companies.
And there is a further hurdle for consumers: “They not only have to deal with the question of whom to buy their smart home solution from, but also where to buy it and who will install it. There is still no transparency in the sales landscape and also a lack of specialized technicians.” It seems the retailer of trust has not yet been found.
Smart TVs are ahead by a nose
53 percent of Germans across all age groups use a video-on-demand subscription at least once a week, while that figure for music streaming offerings such as Spotify or Deezer is 42 percent. Hardware connectivity is a must so that these services can be used on a large screen or with high-quality loudspeakers. That is now often the case: 51 percent of German households have a TV set that is connected directly to the Internet. These smart TVs have been a key factor in the spread of consumer IoT, since connectivity has been part and parcel of TV sets for years, even in midrange models.
Smart speakers and voice assistants
Smart voice assistants are growing in importance as a user interface. Apart from their use on mobile devices, Alexa, Siri and the like have also long been of relevance in a stationary context – whether as a feature on existing categories of device or as the core element of a new, independent piece of hardware. In the latter case, it is smart speakers that are now winning a place in German households with intelligent networking. Popular examples of these Internet-based speakers with an integrated voice assistant are Amazon Echo, Google Home and Apple HomePod. Gigaset has launched the Gigaset Smart Speaker, an interesting and value-for-money alternative to the products from the U.S. tech giants. Thanks to its refined microphone technology and echo cancellation, it impresses in terms of voice quality and clarity – which is especially important for making calls from a home office when there’s a lot of background noise. If the call is taken on a handset, it can be transferred to the Gigaset smart speaker. And if a contact name has also been assigned to other handsets connected to the same DECT base station, internal calls with other rooms are also possible, for example by saying “Alexa, call the study.” The Gigaset Smart Speaker can also be used to control all products that work with Alexa by means of simple voice commands. One sentence is enough to enable smart controlling of the home – and that means greater security as well as convenience.
Voice assistants have already acquired a broad user base in mobile contexts. 43 percent of Germans between the age of 18 and 75 use services such as Google Assistant, Siri or Alexa on their smartphone or tablet – a huge 27 percent increase in the space of two years. The boom in mobile voice assistants is also driving their stationary use. 16 percent of Germans across all age groups now have access to smart speakers, compared with just four percent back in 2017.
A key success factor for voice assistants and smart speakers is the right apps. These commands, which are called “skills” by Amazon and “actions” by Google, access apps from numerous third-party vendors and are becoming more and more refined, specific and so relevant to users. Apart from universal apps, such as a general search for information, weather forecasts or sports news, there are now many local skills and actions available. You can read about 303 of the most important voice commands at homeandsmart. Amazon is currently planning a redux of the good old cuckoo clock (Smart Cuckoo Clock) – naturally with voice control using Alexa.
Standalone solutions are still in demand
The study’s experts predict that the number of connected standalone intelligent networking smart home solutions in German households will continue to rise in the coming months. A key driver behind that is the low price, for example for smart lighting systems, connected doorbells or surveillance cameras that can be controlled by smartphone. However, central networking is not possible with most of these entry-level solutions. Looking at the big picture, consumer IoT has not leveraged anywhere near its full potential. The future still has a lot of exciting things in store and we’ll keep up to speed on the subject for you.