At first, Ikea treated smart home like a hobby, but the company embarked on a journey to change that last summer. This is when Ikea renamed its smart home business to Ikea Home Smart. But has this changed the company’s approach to how it launches its products and does it still feel like a hobby product?
To look at the history, in 2017, Ikea launched the Trådfri series of smart lights. This was the beginning of Ikea’s smart home ecosystem. The low entry prices on Ikea’s Trådfri smart lighting were popular with consumers. But the setup process turned out complicated and unstable. Things have improved since that time, but the complication still exists and this was clear when I recently review the FRYTUR and KADRILJ smart blinds.
Fast forward to 2020, Ikea’s Home Smart ecosystem range comprises lights, blinds, motion sensors, sockets along with controllers. They have also entered the speaker business with the Symfonisk, in partnership with Sonos. However, despite the expanding product range, the Home Smart platform is still behind its competition. This is not only in functionality and range of devices, but a setup process that is far more complicated than it needs to be.
Root of the problem
Ikea has a track record of poor product delivery for its smart home products. Lets take the recent HomeKit rollout as a case in point. Ikea quietly released support for Apple’s smart home platform in the US, with users quickly reporting issues. Ikea then stayed silent for 2 weeks before it confirmed the roll out was halted. Another example is the release of HomeKit support for its Control outlet that arrived 6 months after they promised it.
But the product stability and delivery is only half the battle. You also have to have on-point communication. I can remember when I first contacted the Ikea PR team back in 2018. They suggested to me they “normally only engage with furniture publications.” Then the recent launch of the smart blinds. The PR teams didn’t even know the product was in store following another exchange of emails until I told them.
Yes, Ikea is not a tech company, it is a furniture manufacturer. But while Ikea can get away with miscommunication with furniture. When dealing with Smart home users, it cannot hide and not communicate with them because users will vote with their feet, despite the low price.
Can Ikea fix Home Smart?
My belief is yes, this is down to the fact I have watched the Tradfri product develop and improve. But at its current rate of improvement coupled with its inability to communicate effectively, this could kill its smart home business.
But to move on, firstly Ikea needs to communicate and start working with its user base in a “collaborative” way. For example, Reddit has an active Tradfri community with one user even suggesting that Ikea should have a beta programme. The Home Smart team should engage with this group and use this resource for good, rather than staying silent for it to be bashed and pulled apart.
Ikea also need to ensure the PR message is consistent, yes things have improved over the last year with engagement with publications like the Verge. But it’s clear that they do not have joined up PR and Twitter teams. This needs to change, both for the consumer point of view and people that are writing about the Home Smart products.
Fix the Software
Then we come to the software, Right now, setting up devices like blinds and lights is awkward because you don’t add them directly to the Gateway. Instead, you add them via “steering devices” like dimmers and switches. It is anyone’s guess why Ikea thought this approach would be great for customers. Besides this the software and app is buggy, and the instructions for getting things done is often wrong.
However, some of that may be about to change with suggestion via the Verge that the setup process is getting a major overhaul. According to that information, Ikea is looking to change how users setup devices. Ikea call this new way “onboarding” and it will involve users pairing Home Smart devices directly to the hub. While details are sketchy, it should improve the setup experience and this will help the smart blinds for sure.. But also open up possibilities for improvements to the app user experience later down the line. The new onboarding procedure will launch later in 2020 on new devices and via software update for current products.
It’s plainly obvious that Ikea needs to change its approach to smart home, that’s if it wants its Home Smart range to thrive. If not, it will continue to be a hobby project and not taken seriously by consumers. But only time will tell if they can take that step and compete with the big tech companies, after all they do have the money to do it.