Smart home usage increasing, Sonnen plans to slide on in

Consumers are getting more comfortable using voice assistants in their homes, and linking smart home devices to these hubs, according to a survey from Adobe. It’s a sign of a changing marketplace, and companies like Sonnen are planning to use this growing acceptance as a vehicle on which to slide on into a home with their core product offerings.

The survey polled a thousand US adults, and concluded that 76% of smart speaker owners reckoned their usage of these devices had grown in the past year. For those that didn’t own one, 38% said their use of voice assistants had grown anyway, thanks to their presence in phones and computers.

It’s pretty reasonable to conclude then that, among US adults at least, voice is becoming a more natural interface to interact with computer systems – be they for making reminders, setting timers, creating calendar invites, or controlling devices within the home.

Habit-forming has always been a problem in the smart home, with users quickly halting their interactions with devices if they fall out of the habit of using it. This is why such emphasis is placed on creating a need to interact with the system, to reinforce the behavior. This helps keep the thing, whether it’s a physical object or a smartphone app, in the user’s repertoire.

To this end, it will be encouraging to see that 71% of smart speaker owners said they used their voice assistants daily. This represents a strong way in for a smart home application, to help enmesh itself in a user’s daily routines. Only 4% of smart speaker owners said their usage had decreased in the past year (11% of non-owners said the same), and 20% of owners said their usage had stayed the same (51% of non-owners said this).

Again, this suggests that once a consumer starts using these voice assistants, they are going to increase their usage. To this end, smart home developers will want to ensure that their applications are easy to find and use, but also that they have room to grow. Reaching the limitations of a smart home function, such as setting timing routines, will feel like running into a wall for these users – they need to have room to continuously tinker and increase their interactions.

As for ownership, 32% of the 1,000 interviewees owned a smart speaker, which is up from the 28% that owned them in the January version of Adobe’s poll. Adobe estimates that this will hit 50% after the holiday season, where both Amazon and Google will be heavily discounting their cheaper devices – as they are proving great ways to drive traffic in their core retail and online businesses.

However, Adobe thinks that voice-based shopping has stalled somewhat. Only 30% of smart speaker owners use their devices to place orders – although the devices do help people buy things at later dates. The most popular usages are music (70%), weather forecasts (64%), asking fun questions (53%), online searches (47%), checking news (46%), and setting alarms or reminders (46%).

Notably, 31% of owners said they used their speakers for smart home commands, and we’re particularly interested in Adobe’s post-holidays survey to see what sort of attach-rate some discounted smart home devices have achieved.

So, it’s a limited snapshot of the US market, but that market is the strongest. The rest of the world is catching up, and it’s reasonable to conclude that most western markets will end up like the US. APAC seems more islanded, and the Middle East and Africa are not as advanced and face the same language barriers to adoption. However, it’s clear that homes are going to find themselves with voice interfaces.

That conclusion brings us to Sonnen, a German battery storage firm that is hoping to quietly slide into homes that adopt smart devices – pitching them a vision of the future where their home can dynamically interact with the energy grid, in order to save money or be more environmentally friendly.

Hence, Sonnen’s new ecoLinx smart energy management system, which the company was showing off at the CEDIA Expo. The system combines solar panels and battery storage, which can be made available to the utility as a distributed grid asset (for both generation and balancing).

Key to this is software in Sonnen’s system, which is responsible for the demand response side of things – reducing the home’s energy consumption when needed. Sonnen says that this capability “has been rumored for years throughout the energy industry, without any serious demonstration of a full system in action.”

You can see that Sonnen is pretty confident in ecoLinx then, boasting of its ability to factor in weather forecasting with the generation potential of the solar panels and the capacity of the battery, to ensure that the home has sufficient backup reserves to survive a weather-induced outage.

Eaton and Control4 are named in the announcement, using their intelligent circuit breakers and weather systems respectively, as well as Crestron thermostats and Lutron lighting systems. Integrations with Pacific Gas and Electric (PG&E) are mentioned, as examples of how the system would accommodate EV charging, and in high-carbon periods (1700-2100), Sonnen notes how the thermostat or window blinds can be pre-triggered to avoid the home demanding unnecessary power – by pre-cooling or blocking the sun.

This is the vision of Home Energy Management Systems (HEMS) like those Riot explored way back in 2014, at Panasonic’s Fujisawa smart town project, Honda’s HEMS as well as Tesla’s Solar Roof. New-build homes that need to meet environmental regulations are a big opportunity for these sorts of technologies, but retrofits for environmentally conscious consumers are going to be pretty lucrative. However, the main crux of this problem remains making the user feel like they are in complete control of the home – nobody wants a HAL experience.