Smart Homes Are Here, But Adoption Hurdles Exist

A House With Devices That Make Life Simpler Brings Opportunities and Challenges Alike

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The "Jetsons" vision of a home with smart, connected devices that make life simpler is making a big showing at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas, but it brings both challenges and opportunities.

An estimated 900 exhibitors at this year's CES had products for the home, according to Jon Steinlauf, who introduced a panel titled "Smarter Living: Technology for Today's Home."

The panel, hosted by Scripps Networks Interactive, Ad Age and IPG, noted that while connected-home technology is available and in homes today, it's still not broadly adopted. Homeowners can indeed remotely control their heating and security systems via smartphones, use sensors to detect home emergencies and shift TV entertainment to various screens scattered throughout a home. But there are a few kinks to make smart living into a broadly accessible reality.

John Marcolini, Qualcomm's senior director of Hy-fi, the technology company's hybrid-networking system, said that creating an industry standard for communication between devices is still the main hurdle. "Your home Wi-Fi network is supposed to be a central hub, but it's not standardized, it's fragmented. There are too many interfaces and standards and users end up with multiple gateways where your security gateway has to connect to and translate your appliance gateway," he said.

Another obstacle is in rethinking the user interface for our home appliances and creating a simple, easy to manage, "home command center" of sorts. Gene Liebel, partner and chief strategy officer at Huge , noted that means moving beyond the outdated panels that live on the appliances themselves.

"We need to embrace the way people are already managing things," he said. "Smartphones and tablets are the new primary interface. We need to replace the panels on your appliances with controls from tablets or smartphones."

"People are untethered and want to connect and manage their home, security and energy, from their tablet or phone," echoed Tony Wells, chief marketing officer at ADT. But ADT isn't banking solely on the smartphone; it's also partnered with Samsung to bring those tools to your TV. "We think the TV is going to be a command center [for connected devices and services]. Most usage comes from mobile devices, but when you get home, you're going to use your TV as the main interface." The idea is that you can check who's at your front door, or program your home's locks, without tuning away from your favorite TV show.

Despite tech hurdles, there's plenty of opportunity in smarter homes -- and not just for home-appliance or computer-chip manufacturers. One example, according to Scott Martin, senior VP-marketing at Ingersoll Rand, is the "green" space. Many people are environmentally conscious, but don't want to take extreme measures. A connected home is "about letting people do something -- monitor energy levels, your thermostat, check if you left appliances on and are out of the house," he said.

The insurance industry presents another opportunity. "We know water damage is one of the biggest claims people make," said Mr. Wells. The right sensors could help detect a water leak and alert a homeowner before the damage becomes massive. He predicted that there's opportunities for insurance companies to partner with marketers in the smart-home space to encourage use of such technology. "If consumers use technology to monitor their water, dishwashers and washing machines, they could get a benefit," he said of insurers.

A third opportunity lies in the area of health care. Qualcomm is working on systems for patients returning home from hospitals, using technology that monitors their recovery and can send that information to their healthcare providers, according to Mr. Marcolini.

Pushing these technologies and conversations forward are a priority for companies like Qualcomm, ADT and Ingersoll Rand -- and people are really excited about the topic. "Every time we do a show that says smart home, our ratings go up," said Kathleen Finch, general manager and senior VP at HTGV. "People want it. We have an entire series about the smart home called 'I Want That.' Our viewers can't get enough of it."

What will drive increased adoption? Huge 's Mr. Liebel suggests it won't be standard platforms but rather incredible products. "It's more exciting to me to see one-off amazing products," he said. "Consumers don't buy standards, they buy amazing products."

Ms. Finch offered a final bit of wisdom for smart-home marketers, based on her insight into Scripps' audience. "It's important that the technology can be updated and upgraded and can adapt later," she said. "People aren't going to replace their entire entertainment system every two years. There's a little bit of a hurdle there, with things that are going to be outdated in a year. Our viewers really care about that capability."

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