Why smart must be simple

Giovanni Laporta, inventor of the Smart Ready certification standard, explains why smart has to be simple to appeal to the masses, and how to tell the difference between the smart products that are gimmicks and the smart products that are here to stay.

As the window and door sector gets more serious about smart, with more companies offering up solutions, it’s imperative we understand which products are truly smart and which are playing at being smart. It’s the difference between winning the hearts and minds of the mass market and one-off gimmicks that have a flurry of interest and then never seen again. But what does it mean to be truly smart and how can you tell which is which?

Smart is clearly a profitable market when done well. There are a lot of consumers who love the idea of having a smart home – we already know that we will have spent £10.8 billion on smart home devices before the year is out, and that 30% of people are planning to buy a smart device for their home in the next two years.

However, as the market grows, more complex technologies are developed, and some companies get carried away trying to create smart for the sake of it. It becomes more about one-upmanship to show what their new technology can do, or more about creating smart features they don’t fully understand, to garner any amount of market share. But that’s not what sells. We need to start with the customer and understand how technology can make their life easier.

This isn’t always the easiest thing to do. People often underestimate how difficult it is to get to simple but it is the only way for products to succeed.

The biggest brands today make life simple. Google, for example, cut back on some of the thrills of the user interface to provide a much simpler experience and one of the founding principles of Apple products is that the user interface is intuitive and easy to understand and learn. Steve Jobs was well known for telling his software and hardware engineers to create products they couldn’t live without.

By simplifying the customer experience, these brands have earned customer loyalty, which in turn has driven real business success.

When products are not developed with the end user in mind, they often end up being a fad and not adopted by the mass market. If products aren’t robust or accessible, or they don’t deliver what most people want, they won’t last the distance. Today, in a world where knowledge and data are king, and the estimated value of the entire global smart home tech market is predicted to be $151 billion in 2022, people want information far more than they want smart gimmicks.

Take the automotive market for example. Some of the newest models allow you to get out of your car and, using an app on your phone, allow the car to park itself. It sounds futuristic but is it really useful? It’s the kind of thing you’ll demonstrate to friends and family once and then won’t use again. Because it takes longer to line the car up, get out (possibly in the rain), push the button and watch it slowly, ever so slowly, reverse into a space, than it does to do it yourself. It doesn’t make our lives any easier, quicker or better. Which means unless the feature is developed further, it’s going to be a fad. Something that’s used once or twice and then discarded.

However, on the flip side, if you have the features that are genuinely useful and blend into daily life, they will stay for good. For example, features telling you how much petrol you have left, how many miles to the gallon you’re getting, or when your next service is due. As consumers we are far more likely to keep using easy monitoring features rather than use smart features that mechanically operate our cars. The same is going to be true of our windows and doors.

So, what’s the answer? We need simple smart products that have been designed with the end user in mind and that first concentrate on monitoring and reporting on the status of our homes, not mechanically operating them – for now at least. That’s why Smart Ready promotes simplicity through a simple set of requirements and works with all certified suppliers to adopt mass market appropriate products.

When thinking about smart windows and doors, the entire system needs to be simple; small, not intrusive in the home, easy to use and long lasting with little maintenance required from the homeowner. It’s no good starting with what we personally would like to sell. We must start with what the majority of consumers want to buy. With the exception of the few who will appreciate high tech gadgets that operate various aspects of their home, the mass market for smart is in monitoring, not operational features.

The Smart Ready smart standard ensures the technology companies behind smart windows and doors are delivering simplicity and are not getting carried away with smart tech for smart tech sake. But what kind of things should you look for in a smart system?

The key to smart in windows and doors lies in the battery. You can only have smart features if you have the right battery, and that battery needs to last, because if consumers have to change batteries in their device too often, they won’t keep it for long. The product will then become a fad. There’s nothing more frustrating when you’re told a battery will last a certain length of time and then falls well short of the advertised length. If this happens, products that do then require frequent battery changes will become a fad in the same way as the feature to park your car. Consumers will soon revert to what’s easier.

Developing products with a wireless battery with a long enough life is one of the most challenging technical issues to overcome. The minimum requirement for a battery in wireless smart products should really be no lower than 1,000mA. Making it more challenging still, is the fact long-lasting batteries need to be small enough to fit into aesthetically pleasing units that don’t disrupt the fabrication process and the practical use of the window or door.

The next challenge is the range of wireless connection. A lot of current smart products and their hubs are directly plugged into the router, or at least need to sit close by the router for best connection results. Smart sensors for windows and doors are different because they are spread all over the house, often over multiple floors, and doors are at opposite ends of the house, so the wireless signal from the sensors fitted in the window and door will need to be sent over significant distances through walls and floors.

So, special attention needs to be focused on this area. Hug Technology is a certified Smart Ready technology partner, that has resolved this issue with its new repeatable home hubs that simply plug into any power socket around the home and still maintain a great wireless connection to the home internet router.

The Smart Ready certified system, which was jointly developed by Sac and Hug, is one of the first monitoring system to get Smart Ready approval. The system was launched at the FIT Show earlier this year and offers smart as it should be: simple. However, neither company has rested on its laurels since. In collaboration with Smart Ready fabricators, both brands have been busy behind the scenes since the show. Stress testing smart tech and continuing to tweak and update the technology and designs to stay ahead of the fast-changing technology, to make the products even easier to fabricate and even more sleek for the consumer. As a result, there are now 10 different sensors to cater for all profiles, window and door styles, PVCU, aluminium, timber and options with and without a cable. All sensors offer a robust and sleek system.

Anyone that has seen Smart Ready certified technology from Sac will already know it is a simple reporting system. The system reports on the status of all windows types and of all doors types – front and back and side doors as well as French windows and sliding patio doors – reporting whether they are open or closed, how far open and if key locked or unlocked. This happens when the consumer leaves the property or when they go to bed. It’s Smart technology that blends into daily life and what consumers want. It does not lock or unlock so homeowners still have complete control of their home.

Another feature guaranteed to get smart windows and doors noticed and into the mass market, is smart alarm. As well as a simple alarm, the Smart Ready certified system developed by Sac and Hug has an early warning alarm system that lets homeowners know when a window or door experiences any level of tampering, alerting them before an intruder actually enters the property, rather than after, like with most other alarm systems. If the user is at home, this should prevent the burglary altogether. And if they’re not, the system can send a live text message or call a neighbour to ask them to check everything is OK. It’s an advanced system that meets all requirements of Smart Ready and is going to disrupt the alarm and smart window and door market forever.

Making products simple but useful is never easy, but it is without doubt absolutely necessary to ensure smart windows and doors have a future and reach the mass market in the most effective way. It’s great to see companies like Sac and Hug pushing the boundaries of technology and doing things that have never been done before. Simple systems work. Working with Smart Ready certification standards, consumer data and minimum requirements makes it all possible.