Smart home sales growth has stalled in 2021 – Fast Company
A couple of weeks ago, the tech industry group Consumer Technology Association (CTA) released a predictably cheery report on the state of consumer technology. It forecasted record-breaking revenues of $487 billion this year, with laptops, wireless earbuds, personal fitness devices, and 5G phones singled out for especially strong growth.
Yet tucked into that upbeat forecast was a spot of dreariness: Smart home devices, once hailed as tech’s next big computing platform, would experience flat revenues of $15 billion in 2021, with unit sales up 11%.
The CTA says its stagnant forecast is merely a function of competition, as an influx of device makers drive down the cost of hardware. But as someone who’s been living with various smart home gadgets for several years now, I have a different theory: They’re just not worth a big investment unless you have a limitless supply of time and patience.
An airing of grievances
When you press a button on your phone—say, to make a phone call or take a photo—you probably expect that button to work every time. But that’s not the way things work with smart home devices.
Just this week, for instance, the two Alexa-connected blinds in my bedroom failed to roll down at their scheduled time, and this morning, only one of them opened back up again. I have no idea what went wrong, because Alexa doesn’t offer any feedback when things fail, so all I could do was try again until the routine triggered properly.
Those kinds of misfires are common in the smart home world. I’ve had Google Assistant refuse to set alarms or read upcoming calendar events for several days in a row, only to fix itself without explanation. My Ecobee thermostat occasionally gets stuck on a single temperature, requiring a reboot. I’ve had light bulbs inexplicably fail to connect to their hub device. And I’m pretty confident that every Echo speaker owner has experienced Alexa playing the wrong music at least once.
The problem, says Creative Strategies analyst Carolina Milanesi, is that smart home devices haven’t gotten much better at avoiding these problems even as the market edges toward mainstream users. Instead, a proliferation of new devices and use cases has multiplied the ways in which things to go wrong.
“At the beginning, you obviously had early adopters who usually have a higher level of patience,” she says. “But now that the market is somewhat mature, you’re not going to stand for that. You’re not going to be happy if you can’t rely on it. If your alarm doesn’t go off, there are consequences.”
Too many choices
Making sense of what to buy in the first place also brings its own challenges. Chaos reigns at every step in the smart home purchase process, and you can easily end up with a pile of devices that don’t work together. The SmartThings lights in my bedroom don’t work with Apple’s Siri assistant, and my Tilt blinds only work with Alexa. To control my Liftmaster garage door opener by voice, I must first connect it through a third-party service called IFTTT. The Philips Wiz smart bulb outside my office don’t work with Apple’s HomeKit system (though Philips’s separate Hue lighting brand does).
Even the relatively simple act of playing music across multiple smart speakers involves a mess of proprietary protocols. The Sonos Beam soundbar responds to voice commands from …….