Interoperability key to sustaining smart home tech adoption

Nov. 17, 2021
Industry execs discuss the importance of streamlining IoT device control during CONNECTIONS conference

No matter the type of appliance or home technology system you may be in the market for today, there is a source ready to sell you an internet of things (IoT) solution that can be monitored and controlled via an app. This proliferation of connected devices combined with falling prices has given rise to a smart home boom.

In fact, according to research recently published by Parks Associates, 34% of broadband households today own a listed smart home device, which is an increase of 24% from just three years ago. Additionally, the average number of devices owned per household with at least one smart home device rose in 2020 from 6.8 devices to 7.4 devices on average.

However, though consumers may be warming up to the idea of having an ever-increasing number of IoT devices in their homes, mixing and matching this tech is now presenting challenges when it comes to interoperability.

During Parks Associates’ virtual CONNECTIONS conference last week, Jennifer Kent, the organization’s Vice President of Research, pointed out that there has long been a difference in how consumers go about building out their smart home systems. While some have opted for a “curated” approach in which an installer, such as a residential security integrator, will deploy devices designed to work together and tie them together in a single user interface, many others have opted to build their own by buying disparate, do-it-yourself (DIY) solutions from both online and brick-and-mortar retailers over time.

More Devices, Greater Complexity

The DIY approach affords consumers a greater number of device choices as well as the ability to avoid installation or ongoing monitoring or maintenance fees, however; it introduces greater setup complexity. According to Kent, 36% of consumers who set up smart home devices on their own say they experience difficulty and the number who experience ongoing problems with these devices also continues to rise as she noted that recent research from Parks found that 38% of smart home product owners experienced two or more technical problems with a smart home product in the past year, which is up from 11% just two years ago. In addition, 44% of those experiencing a technical problem reported they had difficulty getting the device to interact with other devices in the home.

“The basic value proposition of a home with technology that works together is simply not being met in many cases,” Kent says.

Despite consumers often buying these technologies separately, interoperability is still a key consideration. According to Kent, a quarter of network camera buyers said that the ability of the device to integrate with their existing security system was a primary factor for their purchase and smart lock owners also noted that it was important that it work with other devices in the home. In a recent Parks survey, Kent said 86% of smart home device owners said they want unified control of all their smart home products through a single app.

Tech giants, such as Amazon, Google and Apple serve as the primary control method for many smart home devices, according to Kent, but residential security platforms (14%) and internet service providers (7%), still play a prominent role.

Platforms and Devices Need to Evolve

In a panel discussion held during the event, Ramen Sidhu, VP Product, Xfinity Home and Connectivity, said the Parks research proves that the current status quo among many smart home tech owners having to juggle between a plethora of apps to manage various devices is not sustainable for the market.

“[Consumers] don’t wake up in the morning and all of sudden say, ‘I want a smart home.’ There is a pain point, there is an experience that causes them to go out and add something,” Sidhu explains. “It causes them to add a security system, a [video] doorbell, camera, smart lock, thermostat or garage door opener. The list goes on.”

Steve Herbert, Director of Global Business Development for Samsung, who works with home builders and developers on a daily basis, says that the standard for single-family homes over the past several years has been to install several standalone devices, maybe connect it with a voice assistant and call it a day, but he says they’ve been working to attract business by developing a much “richer experience.”

“The way to think of us is as the conductor of an orchestra,” Herbert says. “It is not just about the ease with which you can control a device, but it is about having a home operate purposely and autonomously on its own and we think that is the true value of the platform. Yes, it is a one-app experience and that’s absolutely better than a six-app experience, but it is also about the automation.”

Wilco van Hoogstraeten, Director of RF solutions provider Qorvo, says their goal is to make smart home devices “just work” and keep working without any involvement on the part of the consumer.

“It just works in that you can buy any product and it works in your ecosystem. This is very much where the platform play is very important and where it is important that interoperability between platforms is sold somewhere on the lower layer that you don’t have to buy brand X when you already have one other brand X or it won’t work,” he explains. “One of the problems today… is people are not always sure they can buy something, and it will work and that is something we want to solve.”

Additionally, with regards to making products that keep working, van Hoogstraeten says that while the smart home market has grown, it perhaps has not lived up to its full potential when you consider startups that have entered the market and folded along with technology that is now essentially defunct.

“Five years from now, the world probably looks very different, but our product should be upgradable in the field to then do whatever is the basic [function],” he adds.

All Homes Will Be Smart?

Aaron Emigh, the CEO and Co-Founder of smart home system provider Brilliant, believes that the homes of the future, much like cars today, are going to be “smart” with computers built into them. But in order for that to come to fruition, he says three things need to happen: unification of devices in the home with a single user experience, accessibility for everyone, and the technology has to be practical for all to adopt at a reasonable price point.

“People see the most immediate pain points first. Right now, you’re having a problem just connecting things so the connectivity layer really stands out, but the user experience layer is ultimately the thing that provides the value and opens the door for every home to be smart. It is not something you have to be a technology enthusiast to appreciate and to use,” Emigh says. “The dirty secret of a smart home is that with most smart home products, there is one person in the house who loves it and there is everybody else who sort of tolerates it. That has to change, it has to come to a point where everybody in the home is getting the full benefit of smart technology across the board because there are real benefits and I think people recognize that, they just get frustrated in trying to figure out how to make [the devices] all work together. That’s the big problem for our industry to solve.”   

Opportunities for the Professional Channel

Scott Harkins, Vice President of Sales and Channel Marketing at Resideo, says that if Emigh’s premise that all homes of the future will be smart is correct, then it is unlikely that DIY solutions will be what gets the market there.

“So often, the DIY solution or the point solution that is purchased by a homeowner today is a novelty item. It’s cool, it’s on a wall, it has an app, they can control it that way and two years later they have five apps controlling different things that don’t work together,” he says. “I firmly believe that the pro – professional HVAC contractors, the plumber, the security dealer – is the organization or person that can bring it together for the consumer.”

Unlike cars today in which the automaker has the opportunity to vet and test the tech that gets installed in their vehicles prior to deployment, a homeowner oftentimes does not have the same ability, however; Harkins says the professional channel can address this gap by sitting down with homeowners and going over their options.

“They can’t figure it out on a website,” Harkins says. “They have to know before they sit at the kitchen table with the homeowner that it is going to work when it is installed, so they’ve tested it, they know what will work, they know what won’t, create service calls, and they know they will likely create a happy consumer and a happy customer.

“They also learn that they can unlock the unknown values that maybe a DIY product can’t,” he continues. “Those unknown or unlocked values are things like… home security monitoring 24/7, 365, which in the smart home is probably the most obvious recurring revenue piece, but there are so many others. There is automated filter replenishment - our HVAC system knows when the filter is dirty and should just be able to get you one, so you don’t have to worry running out and buying a $6 air filter down at Home Depot. It just shows up. All of these wireless devices in your home have batteries in them and those batteries will all fail. Auto-replenishment is an easy opportunity to create an ongoing relationship with your consumer if you’re a pro. These are all services that I don’t believe a DIY solution will be able to bring and that the pro is very uniquely positioned.” 

Joel Griffin is the Editor of and a veteran security journalist. You can reach him at