By Neelanjana Gautam & Matt Gwin
You’ve probably heard the term Internet of Things (IoT) — it’s one of those things people seemed to just start saying out of nowhere and suddenly it’s like we’re all supposed to know what it is. Basically, the internet of things is when “things”–in this case, anything that isn’t a phone or computer or something that would obviously connect to the internet– connects to the internet. Think wifi-enabled refrigerators, TVs, thermostats, toothbrushes, etc.
The invention and prevalence of these items has allowed for the emergence of a whole breakout industry– Smart Home — designed to make your life at home more convenient and connected.
and how it is set to create a lot of disruption in the way we live and work. And in that context, you must have also heard about the smart home industry and its vision for the future. But there’s more happening here than what you may realize.
While many of these things seemed like novelties or extravagances at first, new integrations and falling prices have made them seem much more realistic for the average home. According to OneLink’s Tarsila Wey, the average American home has 2 connected divices, but that number is expected to triple in the next two years.
What’s the deal?
The aim of smart homes technology is to incorporate comfort, entertainment, mobility, security, and convenience. The idea is to sync our lives with technology, thus making chores easier, life more luxurious and hassle-free, and remote home control possible. To do this, consumers need multiple networking devices, apps and more to build and run their smart home.
Imagine getting your lights automatically flipped on when you enter the front door, controlling your thermostat when you’re away, getting the oven to preheat while you’re driving home, or controlling the music in every room from your phone.
Tech giants leading the way
Some of the world’s largest tech companies that have emerged at the forefront, such as Amazon, Google, Apple, August, and Philips, are now intersecting with small startups and changing perceptions of what the home can be.
Amazon, Google, and Apple have solidified themselves as the main three ‘home assistants” designed to interface and control a wide variety of smart home products.
Alexa is Amazon’s voice service and the brain behind millions of devices like the Amazon Echo. Customers can use Alexa to control smart home devices such as cameras, door locks, entertainment systems, lighting, and thermostats; as well as order products from the world’s largest internet retailer with just a simple command.
Google, the search engine-turned-all-encompassing-internet giant, has also made great headway in the space with its Google Home series of smart speakers, which use its Google Assistant artificial intelligent systems.
Apple was the last of the three to enter the space, but the familiarity of Siri as a digital assistant makes their HomePod a more welcoming addition to many people’s homes.
For the most part, rather than try to build all their own small hardware (locks, lights, appliances, thermostats, etc) these giants used their superior AI engines and name recognition to create these central hubs, which can connect with other manufacturers’ hardware (locks, thermostats, etc). However, we might start to see that change–Amazon recently acquired the Santa Monica smart-doorbell maker Ring.
Since the industry is heavily built on the idea of installations, automation, and logistics, not many would see this as an easy ground to break into. But smart home industry jobs are also flattering for candidates that have some of the skills and talents they would need in any other archetypal industry.
Smaller startups innovating
While Google, Apple, and Amazon have mostly worked on building central voice-command hubs, countless smaller companies have focused on building innovative new smart gadgets. These come from several camps. One is older legacy companies that have adapted and innovated into the tech space (Kwikset, Shlage, FirstAlert). Another are tech companies that have innovated into the home hardware space (Samsung). And finally are newer companies that have only existed in the hybrid tech-home space (Nest, ENTR, LockITron). Those three types can offer vastly different company cultures and work environments, even while all producing essentially the same thing.
Some Spotlight Companies:
First Alert is the leading brand in home safety in the US. It’s synonymous with fire alarms, smoke detectors, fire extinguishers and other similar services. Now, with their Onelink brand, they’ve developed a whole range of smart home products, which can integrate with Alexa, Google, or Siri. One product example is a smoke alarm that’s also a speaker you can talk to, or premium security-minded routers and mesh solutions.
Kwikset has been producing door locks and entry hardware since 1946, and pioneered the easy-to-install tubular lock design. They’ve adapted an innovated with new technology, and now are one of the top smart lock manufacturers, and have even introduced anti-microbial door handles.
The company makes bedside docking stations for iPods, clock-radios and speaker systems for iPod, iPhone, and iPad, charging perch for Apple Watch, aromatherapy diffusers, vanity mirrors with built-in Bluetooth speakers, and many more.
This Michigan-based startup provides space optimization products for homeowners, property managers, developers and hospitality operators. They make Murphy beds, storage, kitchens, movable islands, wall tables, movable walls and seating . They are innovating in the wireless kitchen space, creating wireless countertops that can charge or power your electronics as well as small appliances without wires.
August is a San Francisco-based home automation company that makes smart locks and doorbell cameras. They have partnered with Walmart for its in-home delivery pilot. Following the success of this pilot, they’ve announced the expansion of the service (now called August Access) to the broader network of retailers that work with same-day delivery startup Deliv. August Access enables safe and secure delivery of goods and services into your home.
Growth = jobs
With an industry expanding so quickly, it’s logical that thousands of new jobs would become available. These aren’t just jobs for engineers, however. An industry that aims to integrate with basic home and life behaviors requires more than technical engineering—user interface, aesthetic design, customization, branding, and marketing are equally important. These functions all require people with knowledge of art, interior design, psychology, consumer behavior, and more. Furthermore, as many of these products require collaboration among different companies, people are needed to think up, initiate, and negotiate these relationships.
The average consumer may not think twice about their doorknobs, locks, thermostats, smoke detectors, etc. These are items that almost everyone uses, but that people normally don’t replace very often, and certainly aren’t used to spending high-tech prices on. That makes it a unique marketing challenge—you need to make people aware of what these normally-boring items can be capable of and what their life would be like with a ‘smarter’ home.
Marketing coordinators, brand managers, and other related positions work on the messaging and delivery of marketing materials. Analysts comb through data to identify the customer profiles of likely potential buyers, along with what messaging resonates best in different situations/media/markets.
Sales / Account Management
Sales and Account Managers work with distributors and retailers to get their brand’s products carried, displayed, and sold. Different roles will contain a different mix of managing of existing relationships and attempted forging of new ones.
Since most smart home items are prominently visible in a user’s home, appearance and style is more important than for many other tech products.
For anything with a screen or buttons, User Experience and User Interface departments deal with how those functions interact with their users. This includes engineers to actually build it, but also includes testers, researchers, and project managers who work with those engineers to inform and direct how a product’s interface should behave.