Home smart home: India's booming home automation market – Economic Times
As a habit, Tom Joseph, 50, bathes twice a day. This routine makes him reach for the geyser switch at least four times daily. A couple of months ago, Joseph bought a smart plug and his life changed. Today, he doesn’t have to bother about switching the machine on or off. It is programmed to function for an hour at 7:00 am and then at 7:00 pm. The smart plug also responds to voice commands. So Joseph, based in the National Capital Region, gets hot water whenever he asks for it.
Impressed by the technology, Joseph has now retrofitted his old air conditioner and TV to make them smart. He now uses a voice-enabled remote to control all these equipment, instead of depending on manually operated remote controls for each.
“When I return home in the evening, it is like the devices know what I want — the air conditioner and TV start even before I get a snack from the kitchen to settle down and relax,” says Joseph, president of Tuya Smart India, an internet of things (IoT) startup.
He is excited about getting rid of mundane tasks. “We no longer call it the future. Smart is current.”
Next on his list are smart curtains and locks.
Across households in India, people like Joseph are making a quiet shift to smart equipment as they look for more gear that can take care of routine tasks — operating lights, fans, air conditioners, heaters, air purifiers, door locks, cameras and more.
The smart home market comprises of networked devices and related services that enable automation. It could be a camera that monitors the house or a ceiling fan that increase or decreases speed sensing the comfort of the occupants of the room.
At present, a smart home is about connected things. Devices, each with a unique IP address, are connected directly or indirectly to the home WiFi making it easy to control them. These devices can also monitor certain aspects of a user’s life. Software tracks a person’s habits, like the music they like in the morning and play that, smart mattresses adjust to a person’s back, smart mirrors point out health issues, sensors in toilets check for potential health issues by scanning waste before flushing.
Sumit Padmakar Joshi, vice-chairman & MD of Signify Innovations India (formerly Philips Lighting India), says, “From being a concept, the word smart has gradually evolved. Consumers now have access to intuitive technologies and virtual assistants which can remind them about daily chores, plan their day and operate their appliances.”
Companies are responding to this demand by flooding the market with smart devices capable of responding to voice and the ambience. According to market research firm IDC, 753,000 smart speakers were shipped to the Indian market in 2018. In 2019, this is expected to reach around 1 million.
Boom in Business
The Indian smart home market is expected to be around $6 billion by 2022, a two-fold increase from $3 billion estimated in 2020, according to Statista. Globally, that number is expected to reach $53.45 billion by 2022.
Panasonic, for example, launched an all-smart range of appliances last month.
Manish Sharma, president & CEO of Panasonic India & South Asia, says, “Machines equipped with sensors will be able to comprehend whether an activity in a room is normal or if there is discomfort for the occupants. That is intelligence.” These appliances will create value for consumers, he says.
Customers can operate the devices from anywhere and know how much power an appliance consumes.
The technology also does self-diagnosis.
Let us say an air conditioner is drawing more electricity because of a choked filter. A sensor will send an alert to a technician to come and fix it.
Then comes personalisation — depending on the temperature, an air conditioner automatically adjusts its settings. Smart devices will also call customer care automatically when it is time for service. This almost lifelike behaviour in machines can also help a user secure his home better. A smart doorbell, for example, can send an image of a person outside the door to your smartphone.
You can remotely talk to the visitor and even open a digital lock via the app.
While smart speakers like Amazon Echo and Google Home made users familiar with the concept of using voice commands to stream music and news, it is now light bulbs to curtains that are getting a smart makeover.
Sanjay Gupta, senior VP and business head of consumer lighting at Wipro, reckons that up to 2 million homes in India have at least a smart bulb that can be switched on or off and can adjust the brightness on a voice command.
This shift to smart homes with intelligence in-built in appliances is accelerating.
Google works with 3,500 brands that have 30,000 smart products in the market.
Wipro Lighting gets 3% of its business from smart bulbs in 2019-20 and expects to get 15% by FY22. Delhi-based startup Oakter, which makes smart devices, plans to launch a new smart home product every six months. Philips Smart Lighting has products that can be controlled via a mobile app or voice assistants such as Alexa and Siri. This proliferation in smart devices has led to a surge in data, too. IoT startup Tuya Smart, which processes 40 million voice commands every day globally, in January launched its cloud server in Mumbai to store data from smart home devices.
The starting point to make a home smart could be an appropriate light bulb or speaker.
Surabh Arya, business lead-homes and Nest products, Google, says, “Step one to building a smart house is ensuring connectivity.
After that, it is installing connected devices. If those two conditions are met, it is technically a smart home.”
For Joseph, it was a geyser.
For Shishir Gupta, cofounder & CEO of Oakter, it was a smart lock that he himself made. Cofounded by three IITians, Oakter has three smart home products — a water level meter for overhead tanks, a universal voice-enabled remote and a smart plug.
IDC India says there are four broad uses of smart home devices: entertainment and video, lighting, surveillance and appliances. The first category is the most popular with smart TVs and streaming videos. According to IDC, 60% of the premium TVs sold last year were smart.
Jaipal Singh, lead analyst for smart home and wearables, IDC India, says, “Alexa, Google Home sharpened the users’ focus towards exploring more use cases on voice commands. Music and entertainment remain the top use case in smart homes.”
Use cases could expand as consumers now want their homes to give the same experience they get in a connected car. And domestic manufacturers are also warming up to the idea.
Hero Electronix, which makes digital set-top boxes, started producing smart home products under the brand Qubo in September.
“Demand for home automation solutions is on the rise due to use cases around connectivity, security and entertainment,” says Nikhil Rajpal, CEO, Hero Electronix.
There is demand from tier-2 cities also.
Qubo has six smart products with built-in Alexa — including cameras, smoke & gas sensors and smart plugs.
“We solve practical use cases.
For example, using cameras and voice recognition, parents can get to know when their children returned from school and they can even talk to them from remote locations,” Rajpal adds.
Such systems will work well only if there is seamlessly internet connectivity. As network systems improve with 5G and other such technology, smart homes will see wider and better acceptance.
“5G will accelerate growth of smart homes,” says Anku Jain, managing director of MediaTek India, “as connectivity will be better, lag will be less and capacity will be higher.” A third of chip-maker MediaTek’s business comes from smart homes applications.
Part of the reason for the swift shift to smart devices now is due to the ease with which it can be done and the pace of roll-out of technology.
For instance, Alexa was launched in the US just five years ago and India was the fourth country to have the smart speaker. “There has been a 5X increase in Alexa-enabled smart home users in 2019,” says Puneesh Kumar, country manager for Alexa experience & devices, Amazon India. “The selection of smart home devices has also increased 30X.”
Early adopters struggled to make their geysers, microwaves and bulbs smart. It was a 12-15 step process, with a separate app for each appliance. Now it is a single-step process, thanks to industry aligning to certain standards such as ZigBee and original equipment makers working with companies that make smart speakers. Even if users have products from multiple vendors — like Voltas, Havells, Usha, Philips, Sony, Xiaomi, Syska, Wipro — smart speakers will be able to discover and help control all of these from one device. Panasonic users, for example, can now either use the company’s app to control things or sync with Alexa or Google Home. A user can ask Alexa to “discover my devices” and all devices that can be connected will show up on the app. The same can be done on Google Nest, a smart home platform.
Kumar adds, “It is going beyond luxury to convenience and that is the biggest factor why people are switching to smart devices.
It is also great for differently-abled people as they can control devices without having to move.”
The devices are also getting better and more powerful so routine tasks, like switching on the geyser at a particular time, become hassle-free. Smart speakers like Nest Hub and Alexa help users streamline multiple tasks with a single voice command — a command like “Ok Google, I’m home” can turn on lights or set off scheduled reminders related to a dinner date, a birthday party or bill payments.
Google Nest products like the Mini have dedicated machine learning chips and a processing capability of one TeraOps (one trillion calculations per second). Such computing capability makes the machine translate and act on a simple command in either Hindi or English without lag.
No longer will a family on vacation have to worry if they have left the geyser on or if the front door was locked. They can check from anywhere in the world using a smartphone.
All this comfort comes at a cost that can look like a luxury when compared with regular devices and appliances.
When smart bulbs were first launched about 16 months ago, they cost as high as Rs 2,400. A year ago, the price of a 7-watt bulb dropped to Rs 1,200. But that is still six times more than a similar wattage LED light. Smart doorbells cost Rs 4,000-7,000, while a regular one can start from Rs 50. Smart locks can leave you poorer by around Rs 25,000 against a regular one that cost Rs 500. But the advantages are manifold.
Godrej, for example, has the Advantis range of locks that start at Rs 25,000 and come with fingerprint sensors, can store four unique passwords and ring an alarm on sensing a fire.
Overall costs of smart home products could come down as volumes rise and a local ecosystem develops.
Sushant Bhargava, assistant general manager, Godrej Security Solutions, says, “Lockers have moved from keys to digital PINs to biometrics and, now, operate in a connected world.
In the latest range of lockers if someone tries to break in, it sets off an alarm and sends a text message or an automated call to the owner.”
For security reasons, locks are standalone units and cannot be activated via smart speakers. “At present, we do not see a use case for such devices,” he added.
A customer can start building a smart home for as little as Rs 10,000 and later add more devices that could cost up to Rs 1 lakh, depending on usage. Companies are also offering freebies to spread their reach. For example, customers buying Alexa smart speakers were given a free Wipro smart bulb around last Diwali. This helped Wipro sell more smart lights.
Gupta of Wipro says, “Despite the high cost, buyer response online was better than expected. Around last Diwali, prices dropped to Rs 500 (from Rs 1,200). As prices fall more, smart lighting will take off.” By Diwali 2020, Wipro will push smart products offline as well. The company is also evaluating new products, including geyser sockets, phone chargers, curtain controllers and motion sensors.
The price will come down as volumes go up, says Panasonic’s Sharma, much like it happened with smartphones.
Be Smart, Be Safe
A smart device has to listen, translate and then execute a command as simple as “dim the lights”. Companies insist that devices start recording only after the prompt word is uttered — this could be “Ok Google”, “Alexa” or “computer”, among others.
But are the devices listening to more than what they are supposed to? Also, if you order a book via a smart speaker such as Amazon Echo, what if the order command (and other conversations) lands on the wrong cloud? You might feel secure that cameras installed outside the house are scanning all activities and sending alerts on your smartphone. But what if the system is hacked and a thief gets to see the images to figure out the right time to strike?
“For a device to know what to do, it has to transcribe, translate every word a user utters,” says Saket Modi, cofounder & CEO, Lucideus, a Palo Alto-headquartered cyber risk quantification platform company with clients such as NPCI, ICICI Bank and Delhi Airport. “That is fundamentally the cost of convenience.”
Voice is the primary source of interaction for smart devices that can make life more convenient by taking care of routine tasks. As the use of such devices increases, so is the amount of data that is being shared by connected/IoT devices.
In fact, users aren’t always aware about the amount of data that is being collected and where and how it is being stored. Pramod Sudhindra, partner-advisory services, EY India, says, “It is fine to use smart devices if you are okay sharing some of the data with a cyber farm somewhere.
Otherwise, there is no price you can put on security. At least make sure you buy hardware from reputed makers.”
Anti-virus software did a good job of securing systems when desktops and laptops were the only source of digital footprints. But now that print can be picked from air purifiers, washing machines, microwaves, fans, bulbs and so on. A smart speaker is constantly listening to all conversations happening in the room. Moreover, these devices get better as they listen and learn more about a user looking for smart solutions.
“Anything that multiplies conveniences multiplies threats as well,” says Modi. There is a lot that needs to be done at the WiFi router level to make smart homes secure. A smart way to ensure security is “a combination of technology, control and awareness,” adds Modi.
In an article in Time.com, David Cooley, chief strategy officer at Silicon Labs, says any breach could be catastrophic for the industry. “I call it a mass-extinction event for the Internet of Things.” The rapidly expanding industry faces this onerous task of ensuring smart is safe.