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Smart homes can be hacked and the privacy of smart devices can be compromised.
Smart homes can be hacked and the privacy of smart devices can be compromised.

Pandemic gives an urban push to smart devices

A quick dip stick among people residing in the housing societies of the Delhi-National Capital Region shows that many households have still not re-employed part-time helps

Shashi Arora, president and chief executive of Lloyd, Havells India’s consumer durables business, is an earnest brand ambassador for connected homes and Internet of Things (IoT) devices. He uses smart bulbs and plugs (made by his company, of course) at home which take voice commands via Alexa. “It’s easy to switch on and switch off the garden lights without venturing out," he says. His air conditioner, too, is tuned to Alexa. Arora says Lloyd was among the early advertisers of connected products when it used Amitabh Bachchan to promote its ACs that could be operated via a mobile app.

He firmly believes that Indian consumers will fast adopt IoT appliances, especially after the pandemic, which forced them to do household chores. “You can start your washing machine when you are about to leave office, or if it’s work-from-home, then schedule it to automatically start every day after the meeting," he suggests, adding that the sheer convenience of connected products will drive their acceptance.

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A quick dip stick among people residing in the housing societies of the Delhi-National Capital Region shows that many households have still not re-employed part-time helps who were initially prohibited from entering gated complexes during the stringent lockdown.

Such families continue to manage household chores on their own along with office work. This boded well for consumer durable companies, which have been vocal about improved sales of white goods and kitchen appliances. Once the lockdown was lifted, retailers and companies reported a jump in demand for washing machines, dishwashers, large-screen TVs and kitchen appliances.

Market research firm GfK, which tracked consumption of white goods between June and September, found Indians bought more front-loading washing machines, food processors, microwave ovens and larger refrigerators, according to a Mint report. GfK said, with changed lifestyles, consumers wanted products, solutions and services that make their life at home simple.

Consumer durables firm Voltas, too, said that in the ‘new normal’, it is likely that consumers will invest in IoT-based technology to ease the burden of household chores. “The latest developments in the area of IoT have provided comfort and convenience to consumers, leading to growing traction for smart appliances," a Voltas spokesperson says.

Manish Misra, chief technology officer, India Innovation Center, Panasonic India, acknowledges that the pandemic has impacted lifestyles and consumers are gravitating towards contactless solutions, creating a huge potential for intelligent products in the market.

“We foresee an uptake in demand for AI- and IoT-enabled products which can be controlled from anywhere, at any time. We believe that India’s smart home market is poised to further grow and scale," he says.

Panasonic forayed into the connected home living ecosystem with the launch of its IoT- and AI-enabled platform MirAIe. In India, it sells connected ACs, smart doorbells, plugs and switches that leverage Google Assistant and Amazon’s Alexa to offer hands-free operation and control through voice commands.

Voltas has Alexa-enabled ACs, smart dishwashers and washing machines that are connected through an app that tells people how to clean the appliance and allows remote monitoring from the mobile phone. Misra says Panasonic, too, plans to extend its connected product portfolio to include washing machines, refrigerators and fans. The demand for smart products, accelerated by the pandemic, will triple in the next 4-5 years as consumers continue to consider home as their safety hub, he adds.

On one hand, a connected experience indicates ease of usage, automation and multi-tasking; on the other, its aids energy efficiency leading to cost saving and safety as the devices require minimal touch.

Yet, penetration of such products will take a while. According to Voltas, while IoT-enabled home appliances is a fast-growing category, it currently caters to urban consumers who have easy access to the internet. “Hence, it’s still a niche category catering to only a limited audience. Going forward, it will be crucial to educate the masses about the usage and relevance of these IoT-enabled appliances, as currently there is a lot of interest but a lack of information," the Voltas spokesperson adds.

Arora agrees that for now, urban affluent homes with broadband connections and tech like Alexa will adopt IoT appliances. Yet, he believes that once broadband penetration and adoption of voice assistants increase, the future is IoT.

Shuchi Bansal is Mint’s media, marketing and advertising editor. Ordinary Post will look at pressing issues related to all three. Or just fun stuff.

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