The “network effect,” commonly referred to in the context of social media, is the value gained when more and more people use the same product or service. For instance, dating sites would lose all of their value if there weren’t enough users to connect with. It can seem kind of tautological—if a product needs users to have value, then what’s the best way to cross that initial threshold of obscurity? This is a question that app developers have been asking themselves for years, and many, many social apps have lived or died based on the network effect.
Here, however, we’re using this principle to examine another concept—the smart home. We exist in the early days of the smart home, and it remains to be seen how fast the idea will catch on. For certain, the concept behind it, the Internet of Things (IoT), has already flourished and is one of the major emerging technologies to pay attention to in the near future. IoT devices are designed to work in tandem, revolutionizing how data is gathered, processed, and delivered.
Smart homes are but one byproduct of the Internet of Things. Strictly speaking, smart homes aren’t about the homes themselves, but rather the devices that included within them. Many of these devices are versions of common household items—locks, lights, and thermostats. What makes them “smart” is their internet connectivity and ability to be remotely controlled.
The centerpiece of the smart home is often a device such the Amazon Echo and the Google Home. Both are competing to work with as many smart home devices as possible, making it possible for users to use voice commands to control house functions. This is where the network effect comes in, in a way—the smart home becomes better the more devices are included and controlled through it. To ensure brand loyalty, companies such as Samsung are offering lines of smart home products that are capable of communicating each other, and making potential customers less hesitant to commit to installing multiple devices at once.
So, as technology advances, it has become a struggle between several companies to convince homeowners to adopt their products. However, in the midst of this competition, many common device manufacturers have opted to avoid the debate completely and make their products compatible with multiple smart home platforms. Alternatively, if consumers choose, they can use a service such as IFTTT to link their smart devices together through a series of commands.
In any case, given that smart homes are mostly unexplored territory, it pays for any potential adopter to do their research on product compatibility. After all, having separate controls for each device wastes time and detracts from the convenience that smart homes ostensibly offer. For smart homes, the network effect works best with more devices—as long as they’re controlled by one app and not twelve.
So what products are available for your smart home? I’ve already mentioned the Amazon Echo and the Google Home—both offer voice-controlled music, news, and organization updates. But, as previously mentioned, smart homes are only as good as the devices that comprise them.
One of the most popular smart devices, and one that, surprisingly enough, has been on the market since 2011 is the Nest. The Nest is a thermostat with the draw of adaptability—after some usage, it begins to adjust itself, warming and cooling based on the user’s schedule. It even learns times that the user isn’t home and attempts to save as much energy as it can in this period. In many ways, the Nest is the ideal of what smart home technology should strive to be. Given its emphasis on learning homeowner habits and benefit of saving energy in the long term, it has set a standard for smart home devices that has lasted its years on the market.
Lights and smart outlets seek to accomplish similar goals. The latter is quite versatile, giving users the ability to control the flow of energy to certain devices with the touch of a finger, making it easy to ensure that your home’s lights and appliances are turned off and not wasting energy. Smart lights are an extension of previous energy-efficient lighting systems, but with added functionality of being controlled remotely. Some smart bulbs can even change color to affect the ambience of a home.
The beauty of these types of devices is that, even outside of all of the other options available on the market, they can still provide some value to the consumer. Again, the more you’re able to control at once, the more you can be considered to have a bona fide smart home, but with a plan and a budget, it becomes easy to gradually adopt and integrate this technology into a home as it becomes available. The Internet of Things isn’t just a shadowy, technological boogeyman—it’s a new reality for individuals wanting to improve the functionality of their homes.