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Sweden-based home retailer IKEA is collecting its various smart home efforts into a single new business unit, according to The Verge.
The company plans to invest in the new unit and expand its range of devices, which currently includes smart light bulbs, smart plugs, and other connected devices to automate home control. IKEA’s large retail base and low-cost smart home options could put the company in a position to establish a presence in the connected home market and supply a variety of devices consumers will actually use.
Here’s what it means: With increased investment and a dedicated team, IKEA will likely broaden its range of smart home offerings while also leveraging its retail channel to challenge the likes of Samsung, Philips, and Nest.
The retailer’s current scope of smart home devices is fairly limited, with its initial forays confined to well-established paths within the smart home. Its first entry to the market was its Trådfri smart light bulbs, which followed the mold of products like Philips’ Hue smart bulbs; Trådfri bulbs likewise require that a hub be set up to control the lights through IKEA’s app or by voice.
IKEA also followed much of the market in adding support for all three major US voice assistant ecosystems — Amazon’s Alexa, Google’s Assistant, and Apple’s Siri — so that consumers could easily change settings. It followed up with a smart plug and smart blinds, the latter of which will make their long-delayed US debut in October. With its new unit, we expect IKEA’s smart home portfolio to move into new areas of the home.
But unlike many of the companies that offer smart home products, IKEA has its own massive retail presence to lean upon. The company’s stores hosted 957 million visits globally in 2018, and they display products in sample rooms that let visitors see goods in context.
IKEA can use its retail space to present consumers with a tangible example of the smart home, offering it a marked advantage over competitors like Samsung and Google-owned Nest, which sell their devices either online or through partner retailers that don’t offer the same experience. A retail opportunity isn’t a guarantee of success in the smart home, though; see Lowe’s shuttering of its Iris smart home platform for an example of such a failed venture.
The bigger picture: IKEA could take advantage of its widening smart home presence to carve a niche in the middle of the smart home ecosystem, superseding smaller device manufacturers and providing the hardware to pair with speakers and tech from the likes of Amazon and Google.
IKEA’s smart home products compete with those of other discrete device manufacturers — they are meant to slot in the smart home market alongside devices from other companies that develop the AI to power and automate the voice-enabled smart home. That falls in line with the sort of developments that Amazon sought to engender with the introduction of devices like the Alexa Wall Clock and its Alexa-equipped microwave.
Companies like Amazon and Google (to a slightly more confusing degree, given the broader range of its Nest devices) are looking to automate the home, but not to sell every device that will do the automating. Similarly, a company like IKEA isn’t going to move to providing a full tech stack for smart home devices.
Therefore, IKEA’s expanding smart home lineup could challenge Samsung and other competing vendors and become the dominant lineup in the device market, leaving the companies focusing on AI to improve that aspect of the smart home experience rather than fretting over the quality of the devices consumers use.
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