Dubai: Technology companies are betting that consumers and businesses are still willing to pay for smart home technology, even during a global recession.
How much the smart home market is worth in the UAE is hard to gauge, but globally the market is huge according to executives at Gitex.
"Globally, we're into the billions of dollars. In the US alone it's probably $3 to $6 billion," says Tony Leedham, the EMEA vice-president for Control4, a company currently working with retailer Al Futtaim in the UAE.
Retailers are a little more cautious, at least for the moment.
"There's a potential market, which got slightly arrested because of the real estate market. If it hadn't been for that, I would expect things to be more buoyant," said Vishesh Bhatia, director of electronics for Al Futtaim.
The real potential for smart-home technology comes not from the consumer market but from the business to business market. In the region, the biggest potential customers are hotels and utility companies, he said.
Leedham said he was currently talking to hotels in the UAE and was hoping to have clients on the book by next year.
Control4 currently has deals with City Centre in Las Vegas, a residential and entertainment development. Global networking giant Cisco is also trying to break into the local market. For years the company has focused heavily on connected real estate in the UAE.
This year Mohammad Huda, Director of Emerging Markets at the Cisco Consumer Business Group, said the company sees huge growth potential for smart home technology due to the increase in Internet connectivity. He said Cisco wants to bring its knowledge of networking into the home.
Smart homes companies are facing increased competition from the number of companies trying to enter the home entertainment market.
Both Microsoft's Windows 7 and Apple's iTunes 9 both offer the ability to stream media across a home network. Leedham says his company isn't trying to compete with companies like these. Instead of offering proprietary technology that limits what consumers can do, Control4 is keeping an open platform that can incorporate any technology, from Microsoft's Xbox game console to Apple's iPhone and a growing number of other consumer electronic manufacturers. Both companies are also offering services such as lighting and temperature control as well as security cameras that can be accessed through a wall panel, television or smart phone.
Both are hoping that simplicity — in usability and installation — will help encourage consumers to buy.
"As consumer demand is growing and maturing, we're trying not to sell a point product but a solution," Huda said.
At least one smart home retailer in the UAE has gone under this year. Eon recently closed its stores at two local malls. Leon Beuyukian, Chief Executive Officer at EON, couldn't be reached for comment, but in April he claimed that unpaid accounts from local developers had brought the company to the verge of closing.