Despite its growth in recent years, the consumer IoT space is still relatively nascent, and few of the products developed so far have managed to really cut through.
There are two main challenges preventing the market from growing at the pace analysts originally predicted, the first of which comes from working in an emerging category. Unlike established categories which provide solutions for a clearly defined set of needs, many consumers are still unclear why they need IoT in their lives. Where in a sector like oral hygiene, there’s a known solution to maintaining clean teeth, people aren’t realizing that IoT can also solve simple, everyday needs like finding misplaced keys or valuables. There’s a whole set of unknown pain points consumer IoT can address that potential customers aren’t aware of, and this lack of perceived value is causing a significant adoption barrier.
The second challenge being faced is that what’s already out there isn’t innovative enough to ignite the category. The market is crowded, but few products have the right balance of integrated hardware, software and connectivity to create a truly seamless customer experience. Many are prioritizing design and technological capabilities in their solutions, which of course are critical to driving desirability, but an equal importance must be placed on building incredible customer experiences too. This has to be front and center of our minds achieve the cut through required to drive mass adoption.
How can IoT help revolutionize the consumer space?
More than anything, the pandemic has reminded us of the importance of staying connected to the people and things we care about, and consumer IoT is uniquely positioned to create new ways of doing this.
Well-designed technology has the power to not just help solve existing customer needs, but define new, unknown ones. When the first smartphone was built with T9 predictive text technology, for example, we couldn’t have anticipated that within just a few years, an integrated qwerty keyboard function would become so essential for so many. IoT has the same potential to create what I call those ‘aha!’ moments; simple solutions that solve a pain point we didn’t even realize we had.
Pre-smart technology, when my parents came to visit us in London I would have to communicate with them over the phone to find out where they were and how they were getting on in their journey. Now they have their own smart trackers, I am able to simply check their location on my phone and have peace of mind that they are safely on their journey without having to disturb them with a call or text. This new type of connection simplifies those quick check-ins in ways I would have never previously considered, and it’s those kinds of magical moments that can really revolutionize consumer IoT.
These new forms of connectivity have the potential to encourage greater inclusivity and truly empower the user; whether that’s through providing a child with a sense of independence and responsibility, an elderly person with a feeling of security or someone with autism a way to combat overwhelming stimuli in public spaces. There’s huge opportunity for consumer IoT to not just to enrich people’s lives through practical, simply executed solutions, but to use the marriage of technology and connectivity to create a more inclusive culture.
What are going to be the key drivers to mass adoption of consumer IoT?
I always look at active advocacy as a key measure of success, and starting with the early adopters is critical for collecting early customer insights and driving influence within the broader market. The support of these early adopters is all the more important in a nascent market where awareness is lower and securing buy-in is more challenging.
There’s also a lot to be learnt from the more established B2B market. When we think about business IoT, we see it as seamless, intuitive and for the most part, running in the background. Consumer IoT has a way to go before it reaches that point, but I believe we should be working towards that model as an end goal. To be truly meaningful and desirable, consumer technology needs to both seamlessly integrate into people’s lives and help simplify them, and that can only be achieved by putting the user at the heart of the journey - from design to retail experience, technical support and beyond.
Of course, the technology itself is central, but the language around the tech has to also resonate with the end-user to drive mass adoption. Although it’s commonly used in business, research has shown that terms like ‘IoT’ don’t resonate with consumers as much as terms like ‘smart technology’, so ensuring that consumer-friendly language is fed into both the product and wider market narrative is also essential to cutting through.
What opportunities can shared capability platforms provide businesses?
The advantage in having a shared capability platform that can unify devices under the same design language, software experience and connectivity network is that it creates a ‘blueprint’ for entire product suites. Once a blueprint is built, it can quickly and effectively be deployed across different categories, capabilities and markets, allowing devices to mirror and speak to each other.
This is a welcome arrival in a fragmented market where buying a tracker, a home security solution and a smart kids watch currently requires three different devices that function on disconnected platforms and networks. In fact, it’s these frustrating user experiences that are stopping many from seeing consumer IoT’s true potential in the first place. Shared capability platforms are a direct challenge to that problem – enabling product suites to be built under a single ecosystem which hides the intricacy of the technology from the customer and creates a simplified, truly connected experience.
As the market continues to grow and become more sophisticated, cross-device intelligence and multi-user functionality will become an essential part of consumer IoT solutions and have a central role in mass adoption. With their scalability and potential to be deployed across new markets and categories, shared capability platforms will be a real investment for the businesses that want to lead the charge.
- Lutfu Kitapci, Global Managing Director, Vodafone Smart Tech.
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