Siri, make it cozy!

The heating system listens to your word, the security camera reports visitors on the smartphone: The connected home is a big topic at IFA – but not yet for many consumers. How the providers want to convince you.

Summer is not ideal for the tests. Who wants to turn on the heating when it’s more than 25 degrees outside? Christian Deilmann grins when he thinks back to the last few months – the sweaty work has paid off: His company Tado has developed a new heating thermostat just in time for the IFA electronics fair and for the approaching autumn. It can be controlled via the app and by Apple’s voice assistant Siri. It is an important step for the start-up from Munich to conquer the mass market.

Tado is not alone in these ambitions. At the IFA in Berlin (September 2-7), numerous manufacturers of home appliances and home surveillance products will focus on the networked capabilities of their new devices – in the hope that a gimmick will become a must for the average user. Whether heating, stove or washing machine, door lock, security camera or smoke detector: Everything becomes smart.

The market for the connected home has been small so far. According to figures from market researcher GfK , the market share of networked home appliances in Europe is just three percent, for example. However, this is only a snapshot: “In five years at the latest, all devices will be networkable,” says Peter Schnaebele, who heads the Bosch Smart Home division. Because that is technically feasible and, in view of falling component prices, will soon no longer be expensive.

Five terms about IFA

In competition with the technology giants from overseas, German companies such as Tado, Bosch and Elgato see themselves as having good opportunities. However, you have to convince the customers in several ways: that it is easy to use, that the investment is worthwhile – and that privacy is preserved in view of all sensors and cameras. What they are working on and how they argue: a tour of the fair.

Tado for all of Europe

Tado is one of the pioneers in smart heating technology. Co-founder Christian Deilmann did research on fuel cells during his studies and learned that the efficiency of energy generation is already largely exhausted. Together with some friends, he developed the idea that saving heating energy would bring more to lower emissions. They founded the company eight years ago.

First, Tado developed a control that is installed directly on the boiler. The start-up claims that heating costs can be reduced by up to 30 percent. Now, in autumn, a device will be added that can regulate the temperature of individual radiators, regardless of whether residents have access to the burner or not.

“Starting this week, all households in Europe can use Tado, unless there is a charcoal stove there,” says Deilmann. This is the prerequisite for selling the product in the mass market – and becoming profitable. A financing round of 20 million euros, completed in April, should help with the expansion.

Waiting for Apple and Google

With the new software version, which should be available to all users, Tado is also introducing a new type of control: the heater listens to voice commands. Siri can receive commands on the iPhone, and the start-up also wants to support the networked audio player Alexa from Amazon when it is available. The command sounds something like this: “Siri, heat the bedroom to 21 degrees.”

It is not yet clear which standards Tado will support. “We believe that there can only be a few platforms worldwide,” says Deilmann. After all, the effort for technical development and marketing is high. The start-up will observe which these are.

Bosch wants to build a platform

Bosch wants to set up one of these platforms. The Swabian group has developed its own smart home standard. Now he is looking for partners who can adapt their devices to this. There is great interest, assures Peter Schnaebele, managing director of the smart home subsidiary. Bosch initially wants to win partners for all important fields, such as entertainment, shading and mobility, and later expand the range.

Schnaebele sees this networking of various manufacturers as an important sales argument: “So far, the smart home has not caught on because more than 80 percent of the products are individual solutions,” he is convinced. Bosch wants to establish the connection with its own software – and guarantee with the familiar name that the technology will still work in a few years.

Many of your own devices can already be integrated, from security cameras to extractor hoods. However, this has its price: the new smoke detector costs a hefty 150 euros. Even if it can measure air quality, many consumers will think twice about whether to spend the money. The same applies to the Eyes outdoor camera.

“The great benefit arises from the networking and multiple use of the devices,” emphasizes Schnaebele. The smoke detector can be used as an alarm system – if a window sensor detects unexpected movement, the device can emit a warning tone. And the camera doubles as an intercom that can be operated from anywhere, provided there is an internet connection. “There is no such thing as one killer application, diversity makes it.”

Elgato is hoping for the new iPhone system

The Elgato company focused on networking the house early on. When Apple announced the Homekit platform, the developers immediately got to work. Some devices have been on the market since 2015, such as a room thermometer and a socket. At the IFA, the Munich-based company is showing, among other things, a smoke detector that can be combined with other devices to form a network – if, for example, the window sensor detects a break-in, it emits an alarm.

However, the early investments have only paid off to a limited extent. The smart home business contributes at least ten percent to sales. “But there is much room for improvement,” says company boss Markus Fest. For this, however, stronger support from IT companies such as Apple and Google is required . They are not only able to build and maintain a platform over the years, but also to make it known with their large marketing budgets.

So far, however, this has been lacking. The Google Nest system is technically advanced, but it takes a comparatively long time to develop, Fest observes. Apple left itself behind for a long time after announcing the Homekit platform. And you hardly hear anything from the Samsung subsidiary Smartthings.

Score with low prices

But something could happen now: In September, the iPhone manufacturer will be launching the new iOS 10 operating system, which contains its own app for the connected home. “We hope that Apple is now beating the drum and the demand increases,” says Fest. “But it will take a while until the topic reaches the mass market” – for example, until Google is ready.

In addition to powerful marketing, lower prices could also help spread the technology. Medion, for example, relies on this: The Lenovo subsidiary is launching three packages, the cheapest one costs around 200 euros. “When you think of the term smart home, you think of techies and people with money,” says Medion manager Sandro Fabris. “But we believe that the topic is suitable for the mass market.”

The five big trends of the fair

The company offers various smart devices, such as a door sensor, a motion detector and a security camera, as well as a heating thermostat and a radio-controlled socket. The connection is established by a radio module, the control runs via an app. Medion markets these devices in three packages, called “Security”, “Comfort” and “Energy”.

Fabris does not want to comment on the prospects. But: “With our prices and our distribution channels, we can sell a relevant number of devices.” The Aldi partner initially sells the packages through its direct sales force. A short time later, the sets should also be available from other well-known e- and retailers.