An industry marches toward smarter homes

The home automation industry is expanding rapidly. It’s projected to be worth more than $5.5 billion in 2016, according to Companies & Markets — and it’s not just the early adopters who are recognizing the appeal of the technology.

According to a 2011 Home Security Source study, interest in home automation went up 8% and 11% in 2009 and 2010, with buzz around home automation expanding an impressive 300% in 2011. Today, a Consumer Electronics Association (CEA) study found that 47% of online households in the United States are equipped with a programmable (42%) and/or smart (12%) thermostat.

As Winston Ledet, COO of Premium Retail Sales, put it, “Staples is going into home automation — I think it shows you just how hot-topic it is.”

If it’s any indication, Lowe’s and Home Depot have been attempting to set standards for the burgeoning market with an extensive product selection for the DIY market, with Amazon chiming in on the e-commerce side. In addition to providing educational videos and buying guides for consumers, its Home Automation Store features more than 1,000 smart home products, including lighting, security, temperature control, energy management, entertainment and general home monitoring.

Thanks to “the launch of several new, innovative products that solve consumer pain points and simplify the way people use home automation technology,” said Mike Strauch, director of Amazon Tools & Home Improvement, “every major retailer is now offering home automation products, as they are becoming easier to use and more practical.”

None of this is to say that it hasn’t been a long time coming, but it’s possible that the ball may really be rolling now.

“It’s been the next big thing for the last 20 years,” said Ledet. “The predictions have outpaced the actual outcome, but the time has certainly come. What has plagued the industry has been a lack of interoperability and a lack of standards.”

What Ledet is referring to is the extent to which home automation systems are designed to work with other products. Positioning oneself to be the standard-bearer in the industry is certainly more lucrative, but there’s always the risk of alienating potential customers who are already “locked in” with another suite of products.

Then again, Ledet doesn’t seem to think these trials will last. “You have early adopters — the enthusiasts — who are willing to overlook a lot of flaws. The enthusiast will spend the weekend figuring out how to make it work. The mass market wants to plug it in and have it work. Same rings true on safety — [most people] don’t want the next door neighbor’s baby monitor to come across their music streaming. I think there are products out there that are relatively high-security, and the serious guys are most likely working on that.”

Tunnel Vision Technology found that security is overwhelmingly the motivating factor for homeowners interested in home automation systems — with 62%. In comparison, 20% were interested in the energy savings, and 14% desired the convenience factor.

It may be growing in fits and starts, but it’s certainly ballooning. If Ledet’s guesses are accurate, we’ll see triple the growth for the foreseeable five to six years.

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