A lot goes into designing a new smart home device. Among obvious considerations, like connectivity and compatibility, there are less obvious considerations that sometimes get overlooked. One such consideration is ecosystem support. It is extremely important to smart home design as evidenced by so many product failures.
For a home to be truly smart, you need more than just a smart speaker sitting on the kitchen counter. You need multiple devices that are smart enough to be automated, accessed remotely, and fully integrated with other devices in the system. Otherwise, you just have a few electronic trinkets that do not offer much value.
All of this is to say that a truly smart home is what it is because of its smart home ecosystem. If any part of that ecosystem fails or simply goes away, key components of the system could be significantly impacted. The entire system could ultimately fail under the most extreme scenarios.
The Amazon Echo Connect
If you are not clear on what ecosystem support is, the principle can be easily explained by looking at Amazon’s Echo Connect device. First launched in 2017, the device was intended to bridge the gap between landline telephone service and smart speaker integration. With the Amazon Echo Connect installed, you could use your Echo smart speaker as a wireless phone even while using your landline or VoIP service.
Ecosystem support in this case was landline and VoIP service. Back in 2017, Amazon apparently felt that there were enough landline and VoIP users to make the Echo Connect worth producing. Yet the device was utterly useless to people whose only telephone service was cell service.
It turns out you can no longer buy the Echo Connect from Amazon. No surprises there. If you are surprised, ask yourself how many people you know with landline or VoIP service. I cannot name one, actually. I am sure they are out there. I just don’t know who they are and where they can be found. That is not good news for Amazon. Thus, they pulled the plug on Echo Connect.
A Fine Line to Walk
None of this is meant to knock on Amazon for selling a product that ultimately flopped. Companies in the smart home space have a fine line to walk when it comes to ecosystem support. They need to take a certain amount of risk with new products because they never know in which direction the market is going to move. Things in the smart home space can turn on a dime.
Another case in point is the motion sensor. As explained by Vivint, motion sensors are interior security sensors designed to monitor for motion inside of a designated space. If motion is detected when a security system is armed, an alarm is triggered.
Vivint still sells motion sensors with their security systems. But ecosystem support for the sensors is quickly collapsing. Why? Because homeowners can rely on three other devices to detect unauthorized intrusion: video cameras, window indoor sensors, and break glass sensors. An intruder would have to get by all three undetected before a motion sensor would do any good.
The Perils of the Ecosystem
Developing new smart home devices reveals the perils of the ecosystem model. There is no other way to do it in the smart home space given the fact that devices need to be integrated to be worthwhile. Nonetheless, a lack of ecosystem support can doom a new product to failure before it ever really gets off the ground. Designers who do not account for ecosystem support are only hurting themselves.