Security, chatbots, texting your living room, and increased regulation: welcome to the world of Fred Potter, CEO of domestic IoT giant, Netatmo. Sandra Vogel reports.
Netatmo makes a range of home IoT kit including security cameras, smart thermostats, and home environment monitors. The company’s new Smart Home Bot lets people control their kit via Facebook Messenger, sending text messages such as ‘turn on the lights’ or ‘set the bedroom temperature to 21 degrees’.
Internet of Business spoke to Fred Potter, founder and CEO of Netatmo, about the growing potential of the Internet of Things in the home, both for users and service providers.
Internet of Business: Home automation through IoT devices has been a long time coming, but it finally seems to be gaining popularity. Why has this happened?
Fred Potter: “The connected home has become a reality due to a few factors. Technological advancements such as the development of broadband, the increased use of the smartphone to control devices remotely, and artificial intelligence, have all gathered pace. This means providers can offer new services, a better user experience, and greater interoperability to make devices interact, so that users can create personalised scenarios.
What about the expense of home IoT devices? Arguably, one factor in the future success of IoT products and services will be their low cost….
“Customers realise that while connected devices tend to be more expensive than their non-connected counterparts, they’re cheaper in the long run in terms of savings. For instance, a smart thermostat automatically saves people money every month.
“In the UK alone, 25 percent of consumers already own at least one smart home device. This shows the popularity and extent to which consumers are adopting smart home automation.”
Yet it’s still early days. What would you consider to be ‘going mainstream’ for this sector, and when do you think that will happen?
“While we see most of the products in the domestic market focusing on light fixtures, air quality sensors, security, and energy ranges, the smart home will expand to all types of device. It’s about interconnectivity and integration. When all devices can be connected and controlled from the palm of your hand, we will really see the market take off, because it’s really about creating an easier, more comfortable, and convenient lifestyle for users.
“Also, as consumers realise the importance and efficiency of an energy-saving household, which is only possible through devices like smart thermostats, we will see a rise in sales over the next couple of years.”
“I expect that, within a decade, connected devices will form the majority of products sold.”
There have been issues with some home IoT equipment, such as doorbells that lock people out. How much do you think this kind of technology is effectively in beta testing with the general public?
“It is not in a company’s best interest to beta test on its own clients. It often leads to situations like you mentioned. It’s the reason why we don’t do such things at Netatmo.
“We carefully design the mechanics, electronics, and embedded software of all our products to the highest standards. We also create the mobile and Web applications that fully realise their potential.
“When developing our products, we aim at making the user’s life easier and simpler. We conceive good products, simple to use and to understand. Yet, they bring something new to our users. They help them save time, access useful measurements and information that they couldn’t easily get in any other way.
“Also, we strive to integrate in our products’ unique features that our competitors don’t have. At Netatmo, we have one major function per product, to ensure having a clear added value for the users. It’s very important for us to propose easy-to-use products, simple to install, simple to set up. Interactions are user-friendly and kept to a minimum to make life easier.”
Home IoT devices aren’t always the most secure. Does the industry take enough responsibility for security, and for users knowing how to manage that security?
“Any company that wants to become a leader in the market needs to be up to date on all fronts. Security is one aspect that needs to be constantly maintained in order to give the users the best product and experience. As mentioned before, Netatmo ensures that the user’s data is protected. This should be the main aim with any company in the smart home industry.”
Do you think the security issues with some products might trigger a consumer backlash?
“Of course. Lately, we’ve seen some brands handle situations unprofessionally. When you let customers down, how you handle that disappointment is very important. Security issues only increase stress levels and damage their faith in a brand, the opposite of what a connected device should do. In such a case, while technological learning curves are still being made, it’s vital to demonstrate that your customers’ security is your number one priority.”
So is there a role there for increased regulation?
“Yes, I think it’s a good idea, and one that’s in the best interests of customers. But regardless of regulation, IoT companies should be taking the security of their products and their customers’ data very seriously, and be making it a business priority.”
Is home security driving the domestic market?
“Yes, the main needs expressed by consumers are security, savings, and comfort. There’s a broad range of security products within the smart home market now that answer to those needs – locks, garage door openers, light bulbs, cameras, and more. Each of these areas has an important role in the future of the connected home.”
What do you see as the potential for voice and chatbots in the home automation IoT sector?
“People can at last interact with a house that understands their needs and habits. Thanks to artificial intelligence, we are now able to provide users with new services perfectly tailored to suit their lifestyles.
“Artificial intelligence marks the transition from the connected home to the smart home, and it’s very exciting.
“We’re heavily invested in voice control and chatbots. Our new Netatmo Smart Home Bot marks a technological breakthrough in the smart home field. Using its natural language processing algorithms, it understands users’ demands, responds to their requests, and can control each connected object in the home.
“Users can manage all their Netatmo and ‘with Netatmo’ products through text, even when they’re not at home. For example, in response to the order ‘I am leaving’, the house will turn off lights, close shutters, and activate the highest level of surveillance for the security cameras.
“It provides a unique smart home experience and provides new levels of ease and comfort. With Amazon Alexa, Apple HomeKit and HomePod, and Google Home, our customers can voice-control their surroundings without having to lift a finger.”
Internet of Business says
While companies such as Netatmo focus on the consumer and home markets, they are in many ways the public face of the IoT, and are helping to define this new market in customers’ minds.
When one considers how fast and how deeply consumer technology, such as social networks, chat apps, and sharing economy platforms like Uber and Airbnb have changed the enterprise computing space, – changing employees’ workflows in the process – the importance of the home market should never be underestimated. Its successes and failures are all of our successes and failures.