Pam Smith (@pamksmith) reflects on a recent Silicon Valley Mobile Monday dinner
17 June 2014, Silicon Valley: Around 30 Silicon Valley executives all connected to the connected home ecosystem and pondered the future of that market at a recent Mobile Monday dinner hosted by Telefónica and the Silicon Valley chapter of Mobile Monday. The first notable conclusion is that there were a lot more players, a lot more excitement and a lot more happening than at a similar gathering a year ago. All things “connected” are definitely hot in the Valley. Here are my three key takeaways from the dinner:
The connected home won’t be as clean as the connected car
A key issue for the connected home is standardizing interfaces and access to technology. While the car manufacturers wield a lot of power to dictate terms in the connected car market, there is no overriding “owner” of access to the connected home. Home builders aren’t taking on that role and while some of the superpowers like Google and Apple or the cable/network providers would love to be in that position, no one has yet come up with a good proposition for how, why and in what manner that oversight would happen. Without that role, there will be a myriad of solutions, many of which don’t connect and the home owner or renter is in the often unwanted position to be the systems manager. This is a key limiting factor on the growth of this ecosystem.
The smart phone will make homes smarter
While the standards for interconnectivity are unclear, increasingly, smart phones are emerging as the device that makes connected devices function. Whether it is the smart light bulb or refrigerator or TV, the smart phone is emerging as the controller of choice for all these devices. Together with firmware or software that helps the devices learn, we will be ushered into a new world where the devices start out smart and get smarter over time. They may even take over controlling the smart phone at times, remembering when you are likely to be home or sensing you just walked through the door and it is time to create your mood lighting of choice, for example.
Connected devices are helping put the ‘sexy’ back into the Valley
While Silicon Valley was founded on hardware, over the last few years, it hasn’t been cool. All the attention, excitement and many of the investment dollars have focused on software. However, with the advent of “smart”, the attention is turning back to hardware. From getting the right chip set to prototyping new devices, startups galore are figuring out how to play in this emerging market. It has gotten easier to build a prototype thanks to easy access to the necessary chip sets, but as companies move from prototype to production, access to affordable and functional chip sets becomes a stumbling point.
And distribution remains a challenge. We haven’t yet figured out how to put the “smart” into selling these new devices. Increasingly, companies are using Kickstarter and the likes to not only raise money but also as the first buzz creating, sales channel. This approach reminds people that they need to pay for new technology, and that it has value. It also helps companies get wired to sell from the earliest stages. It’s less about “build it and they will come” than “we better build something that makes them want to come”. If companies score big at that round, they are anointed “successful” and gain momentum that facilitates broader distribution. Supply chains remain complex as well, meaning that scaling hasn’t gotten much easier than it was years ago. Hiring supply chain and operations experts is tough but helps address some key needs as companies scale.
It’s still early for mass adoption of any of the technologies discussed around the table, but the momentum is there and it’s likely that next year at this time, we will see even more accelerated growth of this ecosystem.