Home Automation: A Consumer Market Analysis

First descriptions of home automation concepts date back to 1867. 150 years later, with the technological fundaments laid to implement all the initial concepts, what is the situation of the consumer smart home market today? A market analysis based on my one year experience in the Swisscom ICT-WG.

In 1867, Jean-Eugène Robert-Houdin described in his book „Le Prieuré“ a few initial concepts of home automation. How to count the number of visitors, how to count the number of letters in his letterbox, how to set the oven to prepare food punctually and how to control the temperature in a greenhouse. The first smart home was then realised in the 1970s by Pierre Sarda in Brussels in order to increase his comfort and security. In his home, the garage door opened automatically when he arrived, the lawnmower was mowing without human interaction and he was able to remotely control the lights, the roller blinds and the multimedia system. He predicted back then that his concept of intelligent home will be ubiquitous by the year of 2000.

Control unit for Pierre Sarda's home automation system.

Control unit for Pierre Sarda’s home automation system. Find the video below in the links.

37 years after Pierre Sarda’s concept, the selling arguments for smart home products, security and comfort, have not changed. But home automation is still a niche market despite the variety of manufacturers and products available. There are three major reasons why the home automation sector did not develop the way it has been predicted.

Missing Standards

There are numerous players in the sector of home automation, but as opposed to other industries, such as automotive, there are no international standards for this field. The majority of the manufacturers use their proprietary standard, making it hard for a common user to choose the right solution. It also aggravates the interoperability between different solutions, and hubs that connect different systems, such as OpenHAB, are difficult to install for a non techie. There is no company yet, that dominates the market and pushes a specific standard for the whole home automation industry, as it is the case for building automation (non-residential). In the recent years, Apple and Google, who are dominating the smartphone market, entered the smart home field and are heavily pushing their standards. Hence the other manufacturers cannot avoid adapting the standards of the smartphone giants if they want to survive.

Reliability and Longevity

Installing a home automation system is a major investment and therefore must be capable of working reliably for at least 10 years. It should also not add additional complexity to tasks that are being automated and always provide the possibility to overrule the system manually. In the foresight, the system should also be upgradable in order to communicate with the environment, since this is also getting smart (smart cities, smart car, smart grid, …).
Nowadays, only a few systems actually work reliably. Many of the solutions need frequent manual control due to connectivity problems or firmware bugs. A fall-back tier is mostly missing. Also the longevity is a problem these days. Many manufacturers update their product portfolio every few years, but also cease the the software and service support for their deprecated product lines, forcing customers to buy the latest system.

Privacy

With cloud services on the rise, more and more smart home solution providers require customers to sign-up to their cloud in order to user their product. Although there is the advantage of controlling your home from all over the world if connected to the cloud, it should be the customer’s choice if he wants to use this service and share his living habits with the company or not. Since a choice is not always provided, people are reluctant to automate their homes.

Conclusion

Standardisation and interoperability, in addition to longevity are essential for the home automation industry to take off. And the smartphone being the centre of the daily life of a human being, the customer will eventually choose the smart home solution recommended by the mobile giants.

Further readings:
IoT landscape:
Numerous players in the IoT field

Numerous players in the IoT field