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Wednesday, 27 February 2013

Home Automation and the age of talking kitchen gadgets

The Nest Learning Thermostat created a huge buzz  among tech buffs and the media when it was launched in 2011. It was beautifully designed with a simplistic UI that rivalled Apple products. It performed an unusually geeky, financially important and socially relevant task - it monitored the household energy consumption 24X7 to learn how to intelligently control and save electricity - switching off central heating or cooling when everyone is outside, adjusting it at different times of the day - without any need for user intervention. And if you were outside the house, you could control it with a simple mobile app.

The device was revolutionary even by the bleeding edge standards of the mobile industry. Even more so, it was a revolution to the HVAC industry, where equipment was designed without reference to the paradigms of the digital world and artificial intelligence.  Nest went on to become one of the most disruptive launches  in the tech world and is on course to launch more products in line with its mission to 'make home technology empowering for everyone'.

With Nest's success as a benchmark, home automation is a trend that is here to stay and the Consumer Electronics Show (CES) 2013 amply demonstrated this. Luxury appliance maker Dakor has launched an Android powered oven with interactive recipes, remote control through a smartphone app and access to Google Play store to download more apps and recipes - all controlled by the user from a 7 inch LCD Panel. If you want, you can also check email and surf the web!

Samsung, LG and Whirlpool are all examining the possibility of baking technology into white goods like washing machines, dishwashers, and refrigerators. A washing machine which sends you an SMS when clothes are done - a refrigerator that you can program to send you a shopping list on your mobile phone...the list goes on and the potential is endless.

What are the implications of home automation for marketers?

1. Digital ethnography will explode as we are now able to collect big data about how people are actually using devices. This will become a huge input for product R&D, innovation and give us new ways of segmenting users as marketers

2. The internet of things will move towards a reality as different appliances will be connected onto a smart grid and controlled by mobile devices like smartphones and tablets. The smart homes of the future will generate huge amounts of data which has social, financial and business implications. For example, it will be useful for governments, public utility companies and environmental bodies to understand patterns of energy usage and work towards greater efficiency. Devices which have been silent for decades, will gain very public voices!

3. There are far reaching implications for design and service of products. A service person who comes to repair a smart kitchen gadget needs an understanding that straddles hardware, electricity and technology!

Sources : MIT Technology ReviewEngadgetUX Magazine