For the average consumer, the smart home is still a distant dream. While those with the disposable income might have a few connected devices that are either fun (connected light bulbs) or purposeful (a connected garage door) the idea of a fully automated home is still far off for most without a high-end system, or a lot of very time-consuming futzing with today’s DIY kits.
That will change, but in the meantime Philips, the Dutch consumer and medical device company, has built out a strategy around connected devices that it hopes will gently lead the consumer to a better experience and Philips to new revenue and branding opportunities. In a conversation held last month with Antonio Hidalgo, Chief Innovation, Marketing and Strategy Officer at Philips Consumer Lifestyle, we talked about the company’s plans and devices — from smart automatic coffee machines to the ubiquitous Hue light bulbs.
Hidalgo (pictured above) says that Philips has a few principles it focuses on for consumer connected products:
Do what needs to be done, not what can be done. The challenge is to do what makes sense for consumers, not throw popular (or unpopular) technology at a product. This may be a reason Philips doesn’t have a connected toothbrush, despite the innovations Philips made with its Sonicare line: So far a connected toothbrush doesn’t seem to offer much additive value.
Learn to work with others. When it comes to the internet of things, great ideas can come from internal sources, partners, collaborators and consumers. So be as open as you can to capture that innovation much like Philips did with its Hue API.
Is the future digital or analog? This is a fundamental question about what business Philips will be in a decade or so from now. Does it sell physical products or digital services? The answer will likely be both, but understanding the mindset behind providing a digital service that wows consumers will be essential for Philips and other consumer products companies going forward. Given the frustrating and limited Hue app so far, I’m not sure the digital side is fully baked yet.
But the company was showing off some fascinating products at last month’s SXSW event that abided by some of these principles. It had the Hue lights that many U.S. consumers are familiar with, and that really represent how Philips is collaborating with anyone who wants to build Hue-related apps and services via a supported API.
It also was demonstrating a connected cooking appliance that it plans to sell in Latin America called the HomeCooker neXt which is a connected appliance that lets you dump a bunch of ingredients into its pan and then cooks the food following an app. Philips has commissioned special recipes specifically for the device, which is both the pan and the heating element. It looks a bit like a slow cooker but the recipes are designed to cook in 30 minutes or less with the chef able to step away from the pan while the app (and the element inside the pan) minds the stirring and heating. that product is live in Brazil according to Hidalgo.
Another appliance was one that I actually currently have on my counter — a Saeco super automatic coffee maker. The machine makes a variety of coffee drinks from bean to milk froth. The addition of a radio and an app allows customers to program the machine to make a specialty drink from their phone and also opens the opportunity to get recipes from a partner. For example, a partnership with Starbucks might mean that I could get a package of beans and syrups delivered to my home and the recipe on the app that would recreate a Pumpkin Spice Latte. Philips anticipates that being available in the U.S. market in the second half of this year.
Other ideas include a connected air purifier and perhaps some air quality sensors. Hidalgo is interested in products that intersect the consumer and Philips medical device market. So things such as self-learning air purifiers that can improve the health of populations in smog-ridden cities are a product especially close to Hidalgo’s heart. Others that deal with personal health and grooming are also on the table. Hidalgo doesn’t have a connected toothbrush planned yet, but he laid out how shaving might change with the addition of some technology.
He discussed an app that uses image recognition from a person’s face and overlays different beard styles on it, so they can see what styles look good. The next step Hidalgo said, would be adding some kind of laser-guidance to the beard trimmer to help the consumer re-create that style accurately. “We want to digitize these analog experiences,” said Hidalgo. And while Philips may stumble as it adds more connectivity to products, it seems it’s starting with the right idea.