Steady growth in home automation points to changing lifestyles and the vital role of technology in design

By Carol Ferrao

Design always aims to make life easier and comfortable — even sustainable and energy efficient. Home automation and smart switches are among the many components that make this goal achievable. While it still holds a certain luxury status, basic automation, especially when it comes to security and surveillance, is being considered an essential by today’s consumers. The fact that most of everyday life is linked to the Internet these days, the need to manage your home efficiently by smart devices doesn’t seem as daunting. Times are changing, and that is a good sign for the home automation market.
People are allotting a dedicated budget for automation these days, points out Alok Hada, director, Anusha Technovision Pvt Ltd. As for other positive factors enabling this sector, he mentions, “The younger generation (in their 20s and even 30s) are forcing the elders to accept the use of automation in the home. Giants like Amazon and Google are virtually growing the automation market by leaps and bounds through the active promotion of devices such as Alexa and Google Home. Energy savings is also helping in making the controls acceptable.”
When it comes to obstacles preventing automation’s widespread application, Hada suggests that it is because of lack of experience centres, high initial costs, and resistance to change among a few influential specifiers like architects. It doesn’t help that, in some cases, installers tend to make automation too complex and difficult to use.
“In India, the barriers to large-scale adoption of smart homes are high prices, lack of awareness, security concerns and absence of a complete home automation ecosystem. While products such as smart lighting and digital assistants have made inroads into Indian households, there is still a wide gap in the market with regard to other products and technologies,” agrees Sumit Joshi, vice chairman and managing director, Philips Lighting India. Additionally, there are also concerns about data security as well as customer privacy in relation to automation solutions.
On an optimistic note, Joshi says, “The rapid strides in technology have made smart homes available to a wider audience, largely due to innovations that allowed for the development of smaller and lower-cost sensors and actuators that gather information from devices in real-time. In addition to sensors and hardware, the digital home has become accessible because of the further development of inexpensive, cloud-based hub services through which those automated devices are able to communicate in a seamless manner.”
The reason automation still manages to gain traction, in the midst of many apprehensions, is because consumers have become more aware of their energy consumption. Vivek Yadav, senior vice president, Havells India Limited, explains, “Energy saving and safety features are major selling points for home automation products, apart from the convenience and comfort factor. The home automation concept is also gaining rapid acceptability in India due to luxurious and fast-paced lifestyles, increasing consumer awareness, higher disposable incomes, and product innovations like smartphone apps.”
Technological fragmentation and misplaced perception are some of the reasons that are preventing widespread adoption of home automation in the country, Yadav notes. “There is a misconception regarding the cost and efficacy of home automation devices, and it is believed that the product is suitable only for certain types of homes and wallets. Home automation products also require uninterrupted connectivity for optimal performance. However, even today, the Internet connectivity and availability of required connection bandwidth are still a major challenge in India.”
The most common application of home automation has been in the areas of security (CCTV) and lighting. Gagan Verma, executive director, Crestron, shares, “Burglar alarms are increasingly becoming popular; while in the case of lighting, it’s showing its presence in a smaller way. However, customers who are aware of home automation have been upgrading their gadgets. Probably, the cost factor is the biggest element that is a deterrent for widespread adoption.”
Verma also specifies that the challenge, in some cases, is that Internet access is still tardy and costly in most areas. We also lack platforms to integrate all the home automation products, because of security protocols followed by each device. “System integration still remains a challenge, which needs to be overcome if one has to use devices of different brands,” he adds.

Accessible & Universal solutions
Given the luxury status and affordability factor, customers who come under the high-income bracket remain the early adopters of home automation. Since cost still plays a big role, stakeholders are trying to bring in a certain level of universalisation in their product offering. Experts feel that the need for industry standard protocols and designs, which they hope will evolve over a period of time, will help in making automation more accessible. Verma believes, “Smart IoT-enabled devices could be the key to impact this market positively. An invention should not be for the sake of invention and should look at wider use. There is also a lot of education exercise needed to expand this market. Ease of use and interesting design on a smartphone can lead to further advancement. We still have a long way to go in that direction in India, and it is something desirable for the industry.”
With smartphone technology becoming increasingly common among the masses, simpler automation solutions could soon become just as common in households. Hada also notes, “Integration of lighting control systems and automation systems with voice commands through devices such as Alexa and Google Home is a new revolution. Voice-over control, clear connect RF Technology, wireless sensors, wireless keypads, reduced wiring cost and simple-to-use technology have all helped in increasing the size of the market.”
Integration of the digital light source with the Internet of Things (IoT) concept is slowly gaining traction in the industry. Joshi mentions how the Philips Hue range enables users to create and control the lighting brightness and colour through an app on their smartphone or tablet. What’s more interesting is that, in addition to creating personalised lighting, Philips Hue is also compatible with more than 600 lighting apps on IOS and play store, and seamlessly integrates with several modern Smart Home Systems – such as Apple Homekit, Google Nest and Amazon Echo. Both, the simplicity as well as the universality of such products can augment the application of automation by a wider consumer base.
“With the advent of IoT, home automation solutions across the spectrum are becoming more interconnected, and interoperability of different devices has improved,” Yadav asserts. “Such interoperability also enhances scalability, as more devices operate on the same platform – which leads to an overall improvement in customer convenience and delivers an enhanced experience.”

Start-up Impact
Though automation is still seen as a niche offering, local innovators are changing this dynamic through their start-up enterprises. Over the past two years, there has been an upsurge in the growth of the home automation market in India, Joshi states. “The key growth drivers for this demand are increasing consumer awareness and financial ability, product innovations (like smartphone apps), builders’ requirement for market differentiation, and an increase in the preference for energy-efficient systems. We are glad to see innovation in the sector, with local start-ups coming up with new concepts.”
What this trend could indicate is the possibility of providing a vast range of consumers with more accessible devices and solutions. Though this could diversify the market and create innovative concepts, Hada warns that – in the long run – they should not compromise quality and technology to capture the market. “The segmentation of the market will be clearly demarcated between the lower segment for the mass market and the upper segment with premium on features, quality and, more importantly, service,” he adds.
Over the years, these mushrooming innovators have captured the market with their competitive offerings, generating interest among consumers as well as established companies. Yadav believes that such start-ups in the home automation space not only deliver a fresh perspective, but also enhance the competition within the sector. “Consumers are the real gainers of the competition, as they benefit by way of more innovative products, lower costs and better services. The competition also works as an incentive and a source of motivation for market players as well.”
But the real challenge, experts believe, is not merely lowering the price points through cheap knock-offs – but providing truly inventive solutions. “Any innovation that enables the growth and expansion of the sector is always welcome. We need more revolution in the market, in order to become mature. But, at the same time, the idea should not be to replicate an existing product at lower price points. Innovations should be path-breaking, trend-setting and something that will change the face of the industry,” Verma ssums up. As the year unfolds, it will be interesting to see how the tech space continues to evolve and engage with a wider audience.

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