CES 2007: Making Consumers Aware of Home Automation

Best Buy Connected We attended the Mass-Market Home Controls panel discussion today, to hear 5 leaders from 5 different and in many cases, competing, home automation companies. The companies represented were Instamatic, Smartlabs, iControl, Superna, and Control 4. Major competing technologies and/or alliances not represented were Zigbee and HomePlug. The main theme of the discussion was whether home automation was being adopted by consumers, builders, and retailers and what could be done to improve awareness, and as one of panelist put it, have folks understand that they need HA.

With the opening self-introductions, the panelists came out sounding like politicians as they plugged their products and technologies and mostly ignored the question. However, later on in the session, they improved and stuck to the questions. While they did not all agree on most things, they were civilized and did not attack any of their competitors’ approaches. They did agree that the uptake on HA needed to improve and that consumers simply were not aware that there are low-cost control systems available today. To paraphrase Control4’s Eric Smith, “For much less than the price of a Plasma TV, you could be up and running with a smart home today.”

Currently only an estimated 7-9% of homes have some home automation, while only 4% have control systems. One of the keys will be pushing home automation products into more conventional retail outlets, like Smartlabs is doing with Best Buy. HA is still seen as the DIY geek‘s domain, and not necessarily simple.

We say: They need to up the marketing push. If lossless digital audio can have a CEA-driven marketing push with the “HD Audio” name, then HA can have one too. Consumers need to see ads, and info in stores, etc. in order to start believing that it’s ‘real’ and they can have it. One way we think in which there could be huge uptake is if they aligned with Microsoft and got some kind of HA application built into the OS. If consumers already had a start on HA, they may be more inclined to take the next steps.