The pandemic may have rerouted the smart home’s trajectory from entertaining the kids to maintaining the elderly.

The obvious assumption was that the pandemic would supercharge consumer demand for touchless technologies. A smart home outfitted with automated devices and powered by voice interfaces makes a lot of sense when disease transmission is top of mind. That remains true, but it seems economic and supply chain factors have stopped the industry capitalizing. A new study from advisory firm ABI Research found that smart home revenues will reach $85 billion USD in 2020, just a four per cent increase over 2019. Pre-pandemic, 2020 smart home revenue growth was forecast to reach 21 per cent. ‘The pandemic is a double-edged sword for the smart home industry,’ says Jonathan Collins, smart home research director at ABI Research. ‘While the immediate impact may be negative, many of the long-term and structural changes to consumer lives initiated in 2020 will have a lasting positive impact that will help to drive adoption in many areas of the smart home space.’

This is backed up by findings from a survey of US households’ attitudes to in-home technology by consultancy EY, which projects an 80 per cent increase in average smart home device ownership over the next five years. Its research shows that today’s most popular devices, such as voice assistants and smart speakers, are approaching a saturation point. The next wave in smart home tech will focus on security and environmental controls, such as smart locks, video doorbells, lighting and heating systems. ‘The impact of COVID-19 is not only accelerating the uptake of these established products; it’s also creating new applications and use cases,’ write the report’s authors. ‘Providers should therefore consider enhancing their offerings in areas such as contactless home delivery systems and health monitoring services.’

This last point is particularly instructive – as we covered a few weeks ago, the pandemic has placed the concept of the technologically enabled ‘hospital at home’ at the centre of many healthcare experts’ plans for building more robust health systems. During a period in which the viability of nursing-home networks has raised further questions about how we think about assisted living, an older consumer demographic is also likely to reappraise the potential of smart home technology. ‘This is a critical segment but we don’t really see it being addressed by anyone yet,’ says Bharat Chadda, SVP of technology at constants Sutherland. ‘It will become even more critical as baby-boomers age into this group. Many in this generation have embraced smart phones and smart home devices and will be looking to leverage them for independent living in their senior years. Innovations in this area will create a strong market for in-home installation and white glove support services.’

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