The connectivity bandwagon needs to make a move on homes. Even now, most devices operate in standalone format, and that's what Internet of Things will need to change. File picture shows a smartphone being operated in front of GAFA logos (acronym for Google, Apple, Facebook and Amazon). Image Credit: AFP

While the internet itself has become as ubiquitous at home as a microwave, the Internet of Things (IoT) has so far struggled to make a serious dent on the home market. Our latest research shows overall spending on IoT in the Middle East and Africa (MEA) reached $9.52 billion last year.

However, the majority of that stemmed from enterprises, with consumers accounting for just 13 per cent of the total. But, while the home IoT market is still in its relative infancy, demand is undoubtedly growing.

Indeed, IDC expects consumer IoT spending across MEA to increase at a compounded annual growth rate of 20.8 per cent between 2019-23. This is in stark contrast to the -1.3% rate that is forecast for the region’s consumer IT market as a whole.

Need for standalone solutions

The current challenge is that consumers haven’t yet bought into the idea of a truly connected home. An inherent complexity in installing and operating smart home devices is putting off many consumers. And this is exacerbated by a general lack of awareness around the benefits that an integrated IoT system can bring to the home.

The majority of today’s consumers are purchasing their connected devices as standalone solutions to address discrete needs. Being able to tell Alexa to turn the volume up to 10 as The Beatles soars towards the end of “Hey Jude” is an obvious example.

But, as undeniably satisfying as that may sound, it misses the underlying point of what the Internet of Things is meant to be about.

Age of assistants - the smart ones

As the recent holiday season can attest, smart assistants like Google Assistant and the aforementioned Amazon Alexa continue to grow in popularity.

And as consumers increasingly interact with these smart assistant platforms, we can expect to see a subsequent boost in demand for other home IoT devices.

Whether they take the form of a smart speaker or are embedded in a thermostat, fridge, TV, or microwave, smart assistants are quickly becoming the cornerstone of consumer IoT. Used properly, they enable access to a wide range of services — from video and audio entertainment, information, communications, and online shopping to calendaring, reminders, and booking hotels, to name just a few.

They are also uniquely positioned to ease complexity and enable new levels of inter-operability and automated experiences throughout a home.

Wrist experience

Another driver of the smart home experience will be the proliferation of smartwatches. Improved sensors and features, more sophisticated operating systems, and the availability of smart assistants are increasingly enabling smartwatches to rival smartphones in terms of functionality.

As the rate of innovation gathers pace, smartwatches will begin to integrate with more and more home IoT systems. Already, smartwatches can communicate with some home IoT systems. Google’s Nest thermostat, for example, can be controlled by a smartwatch application.

Passive roles too

But the real value of integration is the passive management of settings for home IoT systems through the smartwatch’s sensors. Let’s imagine for a moment that a smartwatch wearer falls asleep in his favourite chair while watching television.

The in-built accelerometer and gyroscope note that the user is not moving and that his heart rate has slowed. This information is then transmitted to the home IoT systems to dim the lights, activate the security system, and adjust the thermostat and any other systems that need to be modified.

The key here is that the experience is entirely passive to the user; the smartwatch detects behaviour and communicates to the rest of the home.

This is the crux of the home IoT concept – systems that communicate with each other and act in concert to deliver richer, personalized, and contextualized digital experiences throughout the home.

The additional convenience, cost savings, and energy efficiencies that smart home devices can provide mean we’ll all get there eventually. But until then, we’ll just have to keep asking Alexa to turn the volume up to 10...

- Jyoti Lalchandani is regional Managing Director at IDC.