Just because companies are making it possible to hook up increasingly more devices in the home to the Internet, doesn't mean that's what consumers want.
Following the success of the smart thermostat that Internet of Things company Nest Labs introduced in 2011, a barrage of smart home products hit the market--think, smart blenders and smart toothbrushes. The problem is that many have failed to gain traction with consumers. A survey of 28,000 people in 28 countries released by consulting firm Accenture this week found that just 9 percent of respondents planned to buy connected devices in 2016, roughly the same percentage as a 2014 survey.
During a panel discussion at Las Vegas tech trade show CES this week, a group of consumer technology experts discussed some of the challenges facing smart home products. One theory put forward is that optimizing energy usage and climate control with a smart thermostat is simply far more useful than the majority of services offered by other connected devices.
"[Nest] achieved pretty good penetration honestly for something that most people didn't mess with for many years, but I think the idea of a handful of gadgets that do some things that people aren't sure they really need--that's a hard sell," said Brian Markwalter, senior vice president of research and standards at the Consumer Technology Association.
Another issue for smart home products is the unintended consequence when consumers see the hard data on how exactly they use their home.
"When you start to track water usage you suddenly realize how often your spouse flushes the toilet or does laundry," said Genevieve Bell, director of corporate sensing and insights at Intel's corporate strategy group. "There's something faintly creepy about [people's] houses knowing things about them."
Instead of worrying about hackers stealing data generated by smart home devices, consumers have expressed concerns about how smart devices might openly share their home-related information, according to Bell.
"Consumers started to use this really interesting language where they said to the researchers, 'Is my home going to gossip about me?,'" she said. Other concerns focused on what assessments might be made by companies on the basis of the information, and the consequences of having devices that know when you're home and when you're not. "What's the difference between a smart home and a stalking home?" Bell said.
For Joel Espelien, a senior analyst at research and advisory firm The Diffusion Group, smart home companies are focusing on homes when they should be focusing more on the value of smart technology.
"People are open to smart devices, particularly if it solves some kind of problem, and whether that's inside or outside the house is beside the point," Espelien said. He added that wearable fitness devices and even smart dog collars have been popular among consumers. "Having the home being the focus of everything is not necessarily what the consumer is looking for."
Still, CTA's Markwalter pointed out that many consumers would welcome more granular utility data than just a single bill every month.
"It's like going out to eat for a month and then figuring out what your bill is," he said. "Consumers are completely disconnected from some of the data about their utilities, and that needs to end, or we can't get smart."