Here’s an interesting conversation with Samsung’s Sriram Thodla, ahead of Smart Home World this June…
IP&TV News: Hi Sriram. Tell us about your role at Samsung?
Sriram Thodla: My role is to make use of the acquisition of SmartThings, to figure out the Samsung smart home strategy, and figure out how we use the open platform we’ve acquired. What do we bring to market? How do we move it from being a very niche, early-adopter product, to being mass market?
I think the basic idea of home automation doesn’t motivate a lot of people that are not early adopters to go out and buy these products. Even the basic categories of home automation – energy efficiency, convenience, peace of mind – these aren’t really powerful motivators.
So you’re trying to temper expectations?
Well, just set the stage in a way. I think we can absolutely develop things and build things and deliver things in what you would consider the classification of smart home today, but I don’t think it’s a mass-market, broadly appealing product like the smartphone is. I think it’s got a very specific user segment and user needs, so let’s acknowledge that and build for that, while trying to prepare for a larger acceptance that’s probably a few years away.
How do you think Samsung’s approach is distinguished from Apple’s or Google’s – and what advantages does Samsung have in this area?
We come from a very different place to Apple and Google. We’re a consumer products company, a smartphone company, and so we’re using that as a way to drive our strategy.
If you ask most people – folks that perhaps aren’t in technology – what company they expect to deliver a smart home, a lot of them actually look at Samsung, a company that has been building home appliances, to deliver it. For the people who buy, but are not perhaps early adopters, Samsung is a brand that absolutely resonates with the idea of a smart home, and they may not be able to express exactly what that means, but they have a sense that, all the things that Samsung makes, from TVs to appliances, they all work together in some meaningful way.
What are the main obstacles you’re dealing with?
Price is a huge deal. Now we have what I call the value/price equation challenge, where the value that is derived from the kinds of basic things you see out there, and the price required to buy into that solution, is pretty high for most people. When a smart plug costs $45 and you need 10 in your home, or a smart bulb costs $50 and you need to have 15 of them in your home – that’s a pretty daunting price map for adoption.
And installation is always something that comes up. People fall into two camps, the ones for who Home Depot is a regular stop on the weekends, and those for whom it is not. For a lot of the things we’re talking about, the installation can get pretty complicated
Do you expect the growth of the smart home to be incremental, or suddenly fired by some as yet unknown of innovation?
For the next couple of years it will be incremental, and then set the stage for a proper, disruptive innovation. But right now, I think a disruptive innovation would unfortunately fall flat on its face, because the context doesn’t exist for it to be disruptive yet. Smart home is at a really early stage – you can’t disrupt something at its infancy, you have to wait for a little bit of development.
That doesn’t mean that, in specific user segments where there are some interesting pain points, you can’t find some disrupting technologies.
What will you be looking out for at Smart Home World if you make it to London?
There’s a lot of hype around smart home and a lot of talk about platforms and standards. And those are all the right conversations to be having. But my focus is much more about, where is the smart home market today from consumer adoption – how do we drive mass market adoption and make it something really compelling.