Author(s): Peter Bryer
It can be called the Ikea barometer: when the Internet of things becomes embedded in products found on the glossy pages of big-box furniture catalogues, mainstream is close at hand.
Market-making products like Philips' innovative Hue family of connected light bulbs are still special, and they're priced that way. Starter kits cost $200, and individual one-colour Hue bulbs cost $25 — about five times the price of basic LEDs. The connectivity premium is significant, proving that networking ordinary things is still an extraordinary affair.
However, the exclusivity of connected household items could soon begin an accelerated decline. Ikea is providing some solid signals that smart home products are going mainstream, driving up volumes and lowering component costs. The Sweden-based furniture maker has introduced a portfolio of products designed specifically for connected, tech-savvy families. It's time.
At Mobile World Congress 2015, Ikea showcased furniture and desk lamps with built-in Qi stations — probably the greatest endorsement of the wireless charging standard given Ikea's global reach. It was newsworthy in itself that the world's largest furniture maker would make such a splash at the world's largest mobile trade show. Overlaps are expanding between previously unlinked industries.
Last week, Gizmodo reported that Ikea is expanding its smart home strategy to include connected light bulbs. It's already one of the largest sellers of luminaires, so this is a natural development. Gizmodo states that Ikea's goal is to make the technology affordable enough to be adopted by a wider audience. The prices of smart bulbs are already falling quickly as competitors add connectivity components to long-lasting LEDs (see Daily Insight: The Battle of the Bulb). Now Ikea could threaten the exclusivity of connectivity to much greater degree. All things are getting connected.
The furniture company's interest in the smart home isn't surprising. Ikea has long been working with appliance makers to experiment with networked white goods. Connected refrigerators, stoves and counters make for a good technology showroom, but volumes of connected things will start with smaller objects.
Ikea's audience is hip to tech implementations. Smart home lifestyles will become more affordable and less extraordinary as generic versions of previously special products are introduced by Ikea. It's a trend that's likely to be followed by major retailers including Amazon and Home Depot, and will need these big companies to create true global scale.
Ikea is piecing together a smart living strategy based on volume and price, and might cultivate a vital home control point this way. It could make building the connected household a snap for customers, particularly if it aligns to the collective efforts of Apple (HomeKit) and Google (Works with Nest).