FRANCISCO ó Stephanie Palermo wasnít interested in
living in a "smart home" outfitted with
web-connected appliances controlled remotely by phone or
computer. She didnít need her fridge to have Wi-Fi or
her blinds to close themselves.
when Amazon temporarily discounted its voice-controlled
Echo speaker to $99 for Amazon Prime members, there was
"a low barrier to entry," and the 28-year-old
from Belmont, Calif., was willing to take a risk.
started using the cylindrical device as a hands-free
speaker. Then as a kitchen timer and weather checker.
During board game nights, sheíd tell Alexa ó the
artificial intelligence that powers the Echo ó to play
themed music from Pandora. Sheíd ask it trivia
use it every day," Palermo said. "She Ö itís
also weird I just called her a she!"
is how smart home adoption will start, according to tech
experts, who see lower-end devices such as the Echo and
Google Home as important bridges for the average
consumer between todayís "dumb" homes and a
Jetsons-like future. With tech firms and appliance
makers betting that everything in our homes eventually
will get connected, the key, analysts said, is to help
consumers feel comfortable with the idea now so they can
be nudged along to make bigger investments in the
Echo is the smart home Trojan horse," said Patrick
Moorhead, principal analyst at Moor Insights and
Strategy. "You bought it to do a few simple things
and be a speaker, then they get you comfortable and send
you weekly updates to let you know what you can do with
it and ultimately once you go out and get those smart
lights or smart door locks, you will be comfortable
telling it to do things."
was the case for Erik Keto, 35, from New York, who
picked up an Echo because he was in the market for
speakers, and ended up buying Echo-compatible smart
plugs, which let him turn off devices remotely, and
definitely is a gateway," said Keto, who, like
Palermo, also uses the Echo to check the weather, get
news updates and now, turn things off and on throughout
makers recognize the role home assistants like the Echo
play in easing customers into connected living. In one
sense, itís a discovery tool, helping users learn
about tech they can try thatís compatible with their
youíre looking to buy a TV, you can go to Fryís and
choose from a few brands that everyone knows," said
Ankush Tiwari, chief technology officer at software
engineering firm Mobiliya. "Today, if a consumer
wants a connected home, where do they go?"
the multinational conglomerate best known for its home
air filters and humidifiers, believes its partnerships
with the Amazon Echo and Appleís HomeKit have helped
it reach customers who might otherwise not know that the
company also sells connected devices such as
Wi-Fi-enabled thermostats and water-leak detectors.
nice because the Echo is something people use every day,
and through it, you learn about more smart
devices," said Sandhya Rao, senior director of
product development at Honeywell. "Every month, you
might be adding new devices, and over a year or so, your
life might look very different."
Amazon says it has already sold millions of Alexa-enabled
devices, widespread adoption wonít happen until there
is some form of standardization, tech experts said.
Today, smart home technology exists within walled
gardens; some devices connect only with Alexa, some with
HomeKit, others connect to neither and rely on
practical limitation is you need the software program
that lets things talk to each other," said Chuck
Huebner, chief executive of Dacor, a high-end kitchen
appliance maker in the City of Industry that Samsung
acquired in August. "(Software) that lets Echo talk
to Dacor things, or Dacor things talk to Nest," he
said. "How these things connect is not
if that technological hurdle was overcome, device makers
such as Amazon, Apple and Google would have to be
willing to work together, which, in the near-term, at
least, is an unlikely prospect given that they each want
to draw users into their own ecosystems.
wants to know what customers are buying, and it hopes
its home devices make purchases so seamless that it
becomes their default retailer for everything around the
home. Google wants to know what users are asking so it
can learn more about their habits and interests ó
helping it better serve them with advertising. Apple
wants to keep customers hooked on its operating system
so they keep buying Apple products.
it all connects, though ó Moorhead pegs it at two to
three years away ó and itís as easy to set up as
bringing an Echo into the home, thatís when connected
living will really take off, Moorhead said.
now, Palermo is content with having the Echo sit on her
kitchen counter, automating just a handful of things.
is also happy using his Echo primarily as a speaker that
plays music and reads the news. "(But) I might
start collecting more bulbs," he said. "Itís
nice to turn on the lights with your voice."