The Fine Line Between Smart And Foolish

After all the fanfare early this year heralding the arrival of the age of “smart” housewares, we’ve reached a turning point as the surging wave of app-driven, smartphone-synced household solutions begins to hit  mainstream retail. 

Only now, as more concepts become reality, can we begin to assess how valuable (and necessary) smart technology is to products whose primary functions remain largely independent of such software.

Internet Intelligence

There is a cautionary tale here amid the rush to embellish products with a higher level of Internet intelligence. Already some early generation, app-connected household appliances and tools are getting panned in social media and online ratings by consumers because of flaky apps, spotty Bluetooth or Wi-Fi connections and other digital performance shortcomings that have little to do with the products’ basic purpose. That can stunt the progress and reputation of a product, a brand and an entire category.

That shoppers have become numb to the swift obsolescence cycles of bug-prone personal electronics in constant need of software updates doesn’t mean they’ll tolerate a coffeemaker short-circuited every other day by a downed server.

Remember the first wave of networked home products more than a decade ago connected by household circuitry and radio frequency? Lots of PR buzz. Few sales. At the time, the proverbial solution without a problem.

Get It Right

Things are different today. Most consumers are all in on the idea of smart this and smart that, creating a market ripe for the implementation of wireless connectivity in virtually every consumer product sector. The opportunity in housewares, however, comes with a caveat: Get it right from the start.

It’s challenging enough under tight deadlines and budgets to make a product that brews or chops or cleans or measures at a reliably high level. The insight and effort required to develop and deploy a useful, reliable Internet-synced platform can be a daunting diversion beyond the core competencies of many companies in this business. 

It’s time-consuming, expensive and risky in an unforgiving retail housewares business that seems to prefer faster, cheaper and risk-free. Yet such development can’t be rushed, and marketers and retailers need to exercise patience. Otherwise, everyone will be frustrated, especially the consumer.

Cost Of Entry

While there are significant hurdles to clear, the opportunity for smart housewares is legitimate. And it is widening in a market whose next consumer generation will demand the Internet of Things as a birthright. It could become cost of entry for many products.

The industry has reached a critical turning point, indeed, when perfecting an app that interfaces with an air cleaner is becoming as important as perfecting the product’s ability to clean air.

In the rush to make housewares smarter, though, it would be foolish to neglect what makes most housewares so valuable in the first place.