As of 2019, smart home technology as we know it has been around for decades, although it took products like Nest and Alexa to make it popular.
Nest – the original smart thermostat – was created in 2010 by iPod designer Tony Fadell as an alternative to clunky home automation gadgets. Two years later a company called SmartThings raised $1.2 million on Kickstarter and launched a hub that connected every Wi-Fi enabled gadget in the home. These devices launched a revolution in home automation and made nearly every home appliance controllable with a smartphone app.
Today, people are wondering if smart home technology is losing its appeal.
Smart tech sales aren’t living up to projections
Gartner predicted the number of connected devices would reach 8.4 billion in 2017 and 20.4 billion by 2020. Many of these smart devices were predicted to be launched in specific industries like manufacturing, process sensors, and healthcare. Gartner also predicted that from 2018 on, cross-industry devices like LED lighting and security systems would be the most widely used connected devices.
Sales data from Amazon doesn’t support Gartner’s predictions.
Smart technology was all the rage in the last few years, but sales data from Amazon suggests consumer demand is declining. Smart home products from all brands are losing rank, and are falling beyond the top 100 products. Once-popular products like Philips Hue and Nest are seeing sales drop as they become “nice-to-haves” rather than must-haves.
Sales for hubs designed to get smart devices to talk to each other are also declining. By November 2018, Logitech’s Harmony Hub dropped off Amazon’s ranks entirely. In 2019, Samsung’s SmartThings Hub disappeared from Amazon’s ranks as well.
The exception to this decline seems to be smart home security systems and doorbells. For example, the Ring Video Doorbell and alarm systems are doing fairly well. These and other smart home security systems are being implemented by homeowners and landlords across the United States. According to Green Residential, landlords love smart security technology and are implementing everything from smart locks to facial recognition software.
There has to be a reason sales for convenient smart tech is down while sales for smart security devices are up.
What’s really going on?
Perhaps consumers aren’t as uninterested in smart home technology as it seems. The most likely scenario is that consumers have already purchased their smart home devices and don’t need to buy more. Another possibility is that people are becoming aware of the potential privacy violations from owning smart home assistants; these devices have been caught eavesdropping on (and recording) private conversations.
After rumors circulated for a while, Amazon finally admitted that its Echo devices record audio clips and send them to contractors to transcribe in order to help the company improve the accuracy of how it responds to voice commands. Employees responsible for transcribing and annotating snippets of audio admit the recordings are often made when no command was given to the device. Some employees report hearing potential sexual assaults and other possible crimes. This is alarming to many people and is a reasonable explanation for the drop in sales.
Another possible explanation is the affordability of generic smart home devices that are being purchased off of Amazon. Honeywell’s smart home thermostat, for example, costs half as much as Nest and Ecobee. It’s possible that people are buying their devices directly from the manufacturer rather than from Amazon’s website.
Some say consumer interest in smart home tech is soaring
In a detailed IoT timeline, Mashable outlines the history of smart technology, including a handful of smart gadgets produced all the way up to 2015. The excitement of a connected home seemed to peak around 2015, but is that interest still going strong? Some say yes.
Despite the fact that many smart home devices have fallen off of Amazon’s top 100 list, some say 2019 will be a record-breaking year for smart device sales. The sale of smart speakers, for example, is apparently still growing. According to the Consumer Technology Association (CTA), 35.2 million smart speakers are expected to sell in 2019.
Those who say consumer interest in smart home tech is on the rise also say that home robots are pushing the trend in smart home tech. Automated lawn mowers, mops, and vacuums are selling like crazy and the CTA projects 2019 will see 3.6 million of these units sold.
Is smart home technology a fad?
Fads come and go and are often recycled. It’s possible that smart home technology is a fad, and we’re just seeing a resurgence each time a new device is available. For example, if people became bored with their smart coffee pots and thermostats, they might become interested in smart security systems.
It’s too early to tell whether smart home devices are a fad or not. It’s hard to tell when new smart devices are still being launched. Perhaps we’ll know in a couple of years when consumers have had the opportunity to test out a wide range of devices and the novelty has worn off.