I’m skeptical that the IoT products, specifically around the smart home, are going to make it mainstream. Of course it’s difficult to predict the future, but let me share one obvious but important situation that’s missing from all product communications.
Who lives in a home?
Sometimes it’s a person.
More often, it’s a family. Or at least a bunch of different people operating in concert.
The Nest thermostat and the August smart lock can now communicate. Lock your door and the Nest goes into “away” mode. Which is great, except if the rest of my family is still home!
Why am I skeptical?
I think about my joint bank account. I’ll never forget when my wife set it up at the bank. She came home frustrated. It’s a joint account but the bank needed to know who the primary was. There isn’t a primary. It’s joint.
Guess what happened when I tried to add our joint credit card to Apple Pay? Yep. It would only communicate with the primary. I had to have access to her email account in order to enable my credit card on my phone.
I think about my health insurance. Why am I getting notifications about my wife’s doctor’s visits? Or, said differently, why can’t my wife get notifications about her doctors visits so she can deal with them. Why am I in the middle of every transaction because our healthcare happens to be provided by my employee?
I think about my home entertainment system from Sonos. They’ve made incredible improvements to the software and experience in the last few months. They still can’t rationalize music across multiple computers (owned by different family members) seamlessly.
I think about photo management (a lot!). I have my photos under control (more or less), but there’s no way to control my wife’s family photos in aggregate. I have to manage her photos in parallel to my own and move files manually if I want a single family photo repository.
I think about my doorman. Yep, something as pedestrian as my old doorman who had a list of phone numbers to call when a guest would arrive. There wasn’t a thought of each person in the apartment having a separate phone (that they kept with them). My wife could be at home waiting for the cable guy, while I was asleep (with my phone off) on a west coast business trip and we’d be totally screwed if I was the one whose name was on the cable guy’s bill. We had a lot of trouble with Fresh Direct deliveries too.
The missing persona
Persona development is important. Not only after-the-fact for marketing, but importantly during product development in order to understand how to deliver a great experience.
Understanding the dynamics of a family (operationally, not emotionally!) is important for solutions in healthcare, home automation, and even personal finance. It’s an area with a lot of potential for innovation.
It’s going to be increasingly obvious where product gaps are as more solutions go mobile because it’s no longer “a family computer” and the services provided, but each family member with a computer (in the form of a mobile phone) and a smart home to which they’re all connected.
In fact, I’d argue that until the family persona is nailed, home automation is going to remain the domain of single people with too much time on their hands.