First up, Director of Product Management, David Kavanagh. David has been with the business from (almost) the very beginning. Formerly at Sensis and realestate.com.au, he has run eComm and Product Management projects at multiple companies and now at LIFX. He brings a unique perspective to the IoT industry, having been very close to the LIFX customer for almost 7 years.
What is “Smart Home”?
Smart Home is still an aspiration. There is no such thing as a smart home. Yet. Currently, tech forward consumers are still battling with interoperability between devices, cloud services and local protocols. Am I a HomeKit, Alexa or Google house? Do I need a Wi-Fi Mesh router or will my free router from my ISP work? Will my ChromeCast sync with my lights for movie night? How many hubs do I need to plug in and hide in my study? Right now you need to be a very patient, high income, junior programmer to have connected your IoT devices into a semblance of what we think is a “Smart home”.
So, do you think CHIP will succeed?
A collaboration between Apple, Amazon and Google would be an amazing boost to device manufacturers who need to ensure that their products work across each platform. This is currently a large overhead for our engineering team.
You’ll notice a lot more products with Works with Alexa and Google badges on them given their more open nature. Getting products certified as HomeKit compatible has historically been a bigger challenge. So any movement on making things easier is a good step. However, I immediately start to question how this would work for innovation products that are basic and generic in operation. For example, how would they support Infrared security mode on a LIFX Plus light. Would we need to lobby for this as a feature inclusion? And does this restrict innovation?
Smart Home products have been around for a decade and whilst the industry has grown, it doesn’t seem to have reached the adoption levels predicted. Why? And do you think it will?
It all comes back to solving a problem for the consumer. Let’s take lighting for example. For most people, transitioning from incandescent lights to LED was a forced transition through mandated regulations, but for many it was voluntary as it solved two problems. 1. It reduced energy consumption and therefore saved money. 2. LEDs last much longer so they don’t need to replace them as often. So even without the environmental benefits, the consumer was benefiting from the adoption.
Now, if we look at the transition from LEDs to Smart LEDs, the problem being solved is more nuanced and varied. For some people it might be the ability to schedule their lights to turn on in the morning or dim in the evening, for others it might be to improve sleep patterns. So what previously was a commodity purchase, is now a higher cost lifestyle purchase and with that comes a more complex purchase decision. As prices of smart lights drop across the board, this purchase decision does become easier and more commoditised.
What product out there do you wish you’d have come up with?
I recall in my very first week at LIFX meeting the founders and they knew we needed something other than the LIFX App to control the lights. The obvious mechanism for that was a Switch so this is where our focus and partnerships went. Little did we know that Voice platforms would end up playing such a key role in controlling devices and bringing new customers into the “Smart Home”. I wish we had had that insight back then and developed the basics of a Voice platform for our lights. I think that would have positioned uniquely in the Voice wars.
Where do you see smart lighting in 5 years?
Right now, there is a mass commoditization of smart lights at the base level occurring. So expect cheaper lights across all brands to be the norm in all homes. This will increase adoption, so it is a great thing for the industry. In general, we will see greater interoperability, users will be able to have a mixture of light brands and they will play well together. You will be able to buy a brand x bulb at the local store and know it will work.
The challenge for premium brands is to remain relevant and deliver products that solve more problems and add more value. Expect to see more integration fixtures that suit home decor and change with design trends. Expect to see more automation, e.g. under bed lighting guiding you to the bathroom at night at 5% brightness when it senses you wake. These sort of luxury experiences are what will set apart commodity and premium purchases.