Every year I go into CES with a list of what I hope to see, and I walk away with sore feet, some excitement and a couple of unexpected trends that have little to do with technology and a lot to do with poor marketing. And man, those trends bug me! Two years ago, it was AI washing, and this year it seems that tech companies got out of their way to portray the connected home like a magical space where everything that is connected and smart will also be self-sufficient when it comes to initiating complex business transactions. In the connected home of a not-so-distant future, appliances will order supplies like detergent, self-diagnose issues and call for a repair service and more. As I listened to the pitches and watched the beautiful videos, I could not help but think of today’s reality and how much will have to change before what those tech companies are selling becomes true.
Here is a bit of a reality check on my home. Just before Christmas our fridge started tripping the breaker every time we used the water dispenser. We had noticed that the floor around it looked swollen and we feared a leak. My not so smart fridge had not told me anything other than that cry for help by tripping the circuit. The steps I took to solve the situation were many and not straightforward ones:
- I first contacted my home insurance to check on coverage, but the insurance would not say anything until an assessment was made. They advised calling a repair person to establish the cause of the possible leak
- I then yelped an appliance repair person
- I made the appointment
- The repair person found the fridge was leaking which meant that the insurance was not stepping in, so I had to close my claim
- The pipe that takes water from the filter to the water dispenser was compromised, so the repair person took it out and ordered one
- A week later the repair person came back, but the pipe that was ordered did not fit, and a new order had to be placed
- Three days later the new and correct pipe arrived and was fitted but a second pipe was compromised
- So, two new pipes were ordered as to be on the safe side we swapped them all out
- Three days after that the pipes arrived and were fitted.
As you can imagine I would have welcomed AI with open arms if it meant to have my fridge functioning sooner. But the reality is that AI would have only helped to ease part of my pain.
AI Does not Account for Business Models
There is no question that self-diagnose would have helped catch my fridge issue earlier as well as order the right pipe. But the rest of the process involved was quite complex and one that would be solved more by business agreements than technology. How would my fridge know if the repair is covered by insurance? Actually, how does the fridge know I have insurance at all? Do I trust my fridge to call the best repairman for the job?
It seems to me that brands painting this idyllic picture of a home that is basically self-supporting is so far away from reality not because of the technology needed to make it happen but because all the business ties that would bring that picture to market are just not in place. Because of all this background work, but also country-specific requirements related to privacy we will also have a vision that will not be the same across markets. What a brand might be able to deliver in the US, is likely to be very different when taken to European markets or Asia.
Brands understand the need to build these alliances mostly in the e-commerce and payment space. Last year at CES, Samsung announced its partnership with Mastercard and FreshDirect and ShopRite for its Smart Hub Fridge so users can buy groceries directly from their connected fridge when they are running low on some items. Providing integrated solutions able to replicate what the Amazon Dash button does for washing powder or detergent also seems an easy enough answer for connected appliances of today.
Yet, the vision depicted by LG during their press conference was one of pure magic that required not only business relationships but also a great deal of information from the user. Another significant neglect in this idyllic portrait is to recognize that today much of the relationship consumers have with their appliances is through a third party and not directly with the brand that was purchased. Whether that relationship is with BestBuy or another Big Box Retailer or with a home appliance insurance, chances are the brand we bought is the last player we think we will ever interact with. So, the question is: would we trust it?
The Disservice of Painting the Big Picture
While painting the nirvana of the connected home is very tempting, I think that ultimately this picture does a big disservice to the opportunity the connected home has to offer. An opportunity that has a lot of value in the short term in just providing me, as the homeowner, with a lot of information. Going back to my real life example. All I needed my fridge to do was to provide me with information about the leak and the correct pipe number to purchase. That would have been a huge help in saving time and money.
While maybe not as grandiose as the picture these brands want to paint there is plenty of value that can be delivered today that will drive sales and loyalty as well as confidence in the future bigger picture. It might not be as sexy for early tech buyers, but it is certainly much more approachable to the mass market buyers.
Baby steps will also allow these brands to be ready to support customers and most importantly to make sure they are not seen as the weakest link when something does not go according to plan in a chain of events that are out of the brand’s control. I would be expected to blame brand X for a fridge that breaks down but is it fair I blame them for a poor repair service? Well if the fridge initiated that repair and I had no voice in choosing the provider, of course, it is fair. Are brands ready for the extra pain?