TFD #1: How smart home companies are wasting billions of $$$

I chatted with TechSee CEO Eitan Cohen about how smart home tech … isn’t very smart. In fact, there’s a long way to go to make it smart enough to be simple.

Here’s the video interview. The transcript and links to the audio podcast are below:

The Forbes story will come … I’ll update later!

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Audio transcript: TFD #1

And here is a rough audio transcript, provided by Descript (a very cool podcasting tool) and lightly edited for readability:

John Koetsier: Good morning and welcome to Tech First Draft. This is the news before it’s news, so I’m trying something new right here. I’m going live with people that I’m interviewing for stories and Forbes, and we’re going live on LinkedIn. We’re going a lot of on Twitter and we’re going to have some fun with it.

See how it goes, see how it works. I’m with the CEO of TechSee today, and we’re talking about smart home tech that isn’t very smart. So my name is John Koetsier. I write for Forbes. I consult with tech companies, and you’re with me … along with me on an interview for a story. We’re doing it live. Welcome to Tech First Draft.

This is the first one, so be being a guinea pig here and the CEO of TechSee is a Guinea pig … Or pioneer. Uh, and we’re having some fun here. We’re talking about smart home tech that’s not always so smart. So I want to introduce our guests and our guests is a CEO of taxi eight and Coleman. A taxi does customer experience and support with AI and AR.

Very interesting stuff. Welcome.

Eiten Cohen: Thank you, John. Take me first ever live, dropped, die, be happy, and I’ll do a to B, the torch for the next guys to gum.

John Koetsier: Excellent. Excellent.

You released a report … you surveyed a lot of people about smart home tech. A lot of our experiences with smart home tech are “interesting,” right? We don’t always have the best experience with smart home tech. I had it recently. I had to redo my router. My internet router where everything comes in … you have no clue how many items are connected to your WiFi until you have to redo that. And I’m still fixing stuff that hasn’t been reconnected. Our garage doors, for instance. And so my wife is on my case to get it done. But you did a survey about smart home tech and some of the usage problems like installing it, getting up and running.

What did you find?

Eiten Cohen: Well I guess a lot of people feel like that. And, uh, in fact, you know, people vote with their feet as we say, and, uh, take a lot of these purchases back to the store or returning them.

And, uh, in fact, you know, the driver for this, uh, survey was. Really trying to find out why people, uh, return, uh, this product and why, you know, it’s like the adoption that everybody predicted to be four years ago is not there yet. I mean, smart speakers are great, and I think every second home in the U S right now, has smart speakers.

But it’s almost all about that, right? I mean, all the others are trailing way behind. And the question is, why? So what we found is that really, the real issue is simplicity of use and install for consumers. And it’s in fact, you know, 51% of the survey responded that they view this critical to be able to use and install it appropriately.

And 74% of them said they were returning it and figuring it out. So, you know, how many is out there? Most of us, you know, just want to push the button and get it to work right.

John Koetsier: Absolutely.

Eiten Cohen: So that’s actually, you know, it’s like the key finding is there is like set up and installed, got to be simple.

And I mean there are a lot of data, there is a lot of data behind it. What kind of problems people run into, what are the challenges? But the key factor is, it better work, work quickly, and we want to be able to see it. Live.

John Koetsier:. I have the same thing. And it’s not just the installation, right? But it’s the ongoing experience. So we have a bunch of Wemo switches in our house. My friend used to be the CMO of the company, and, and it’s great when it works. But I’m constantly having to reconnect them and other things like that.

So there’s an ongoing challenge. Talk to me about some of the devices or classes of devices that you found in your survey were the hardest. The most challenging to install, the most challenging to maintain.

Eiten Cohen: Well, you’ve got right into the meat!

Well, you know, it’s, uh, I think the immediate aspects, uh, are there all the time.

And we all know it. I mean, every, anybody that has the smart thermostats in their home, very hard. I mean, Nest thermostats are all over the place, but how many people install it by themselves? Very few. And you should see the manuals out there, how to install it. So, there is smart thermostat and not just Nest … I’m just picking up on Nest because they’re the biggest one … but everybody out there is pretty difficult.

And security systems, right? Which is traditionally been a sector where you had to have a technician. And there’s been a lot of good work done to simplify that and getting to the point where you can place your camera, but guess what? The problem occurs when it’s not about the device itself because it has one button and one cable.

It’s when you have to connect it with other devices or you have to connect it to an app. This is where people kind of fall short: okay, why doesn’t it work?

I think smart speakers are the most mature in the category. And, Amazon did a great job on simplifying how to install it.

And in fact, you know, they put it as something that they really put it as a main design goal to make those things, you know, of all, and you see it on the penetration rate. But when it comes to connecting other devices to Amazon, then it’s becoming a little bit more tricky there. So definitely things like, uh, smart bells or Ring doorbells.

It’s much more complicated, but if you look at it, there are not a lot of devices out there in terms of category, like smart speaker.

Um, so nothing is really simple and this is where, you know, it’s like we’re trying to see what can be done when we work with our customers. What can, what can we do differently that hasn’t been done so far? To help customers, not only, you know, set up an install, you mentioned it before. It’s also a kind of finding out the experience right.

I mean, experiences with those devices, it’s like if you don’t read the manual and nobody explained to you, so how do you use what they give you. Right. Um, and, and it’s really, uh, for a lot of the smart home, uh, a product manufacturer is their instrument and a lot of design work and, and, uh, hardware they put in to be able to do much more than you actually use it for.

Most people have Alexa, just, you know, to find things in the internet.  Or play music. That’s what they do, by the way. But then, you know, it’s like when I come to connect it to my doorbell and my door lock and a few other things, I spend a lot of time doing it.

Then I’m a techie guy, so it’s like, ah, that’s where the challenges.

John Koetsier: I can totally see that. I’m, I’m fairly technical as well, so I manage to do a lot of that stuff, but it’s a pain in the butt every time. And fortunately, my son is a third-year engineering student. So I get some help on the hardware, which, you know, it’s not my favorite area.

Eiten Cohen: You have an unfair advantage over us!

John Koetsier: Exactly. So, I just talked last week with the VP of smart home for Amazon. A great conversation. Haven’t posted the story yet. But what’s the economic impact of smarter, easier to use home device, smart home devices?

They built a program which, you know, they want you to be able to install … they’ll certify products that will install simply by voice … simply by talking to Alexa. What’s the economic impact? If we can make it really, really simple?

Eiten Cohen: That’s a very good question. And I think one way to answer that is to look what is the cost of not doing it right, because what customer tells us they, you know, the survey shows that many of the people would return it. So out of the a, um, I would say over 70 million worth of smart home devices are returned. And over 70% of them have no fault found, which means, you know, people return it because it’s not simple to use, and they couldn’t figure out to get the value that they were hoping to get from it.

That’s one element of it. The second element is think about these smart home devices. I mean. To get an echo dot. It’s cost you 29 bucks, right? I mean, if you had to call three times for support, you already killed them on the commission.

You killed the model, so there are more than 10% of the people calling about the smart home devices and the economy to support that it’s not there. It’s like the technology is commodity and labor costs a lot, right? I mean, you still have to pay minimum wage for people to answer the phone.

Uh, this is where, you know, it’s like the economic impact is truly adoption of consumers. So it means not having it simple enough, slowing the growth rate, and not only that, it’s making it heavy on the books of the manufacturers.

Uh, in turn by the returns earned by the support, the support cost. So, uh, this is where the pain is, and this is where, you know, uh, we feel the driver from the manufacturer to fix this is why, you know, we work with many of them about the experience, about the ease of installation and support to make it ready to take it to a more simplified way or more humanized way, I say, because, you know, we look at each other and now we do a live broadcast. It’s much more natural communication than any, they just, you know, look through the wall or talk on the phone, right? Yes,

John Koetsier: yes, exactly. And, um, and, and much easier as well.

If I can ask you a live question rather than hunting through it documentation or something like that. So that’s what you do. That’s how you help. You use, you’re talking about using AI and AR. Can you talk a little bit about how you use those technologies and and what you use them for?

Eiten Cohen:  Great question. The way that, you know, when we founded the company our vision was, it’s like, look, technology should be accessible to anybody, right? Anybody would be able to use technology by themselves without needing someone to help. So what is the way. Experience that you can imagine.

It’s like if you had your personal technician, you know, over your shoulder, whispering in your eyes, do that and do that. It would work. You would be the genius guy in the neighborhood. Right? And that’s what we strive to develop. If you want to look at it, it’s a simple way. We built smart eyes for Alexa, smart eyes for Siri, and we leverage any mobile device.

It could be, you know, your smartphone. Or it could be your portable Echo Show or anything that, you know, can give you access to the visual. And we use AI really to extract the information, what you are looking at in terms of what the device is or what kind of model. And we use AR to overlay information in interactive manner to help you actually interact with it.

Push this button like this and look at the app. And you know, it’s like: go to setting and click here. And it sounds like magic, but it actually works. And we have a lot of videos out there in the web that shows, you know, kind of different devices even, you know with Nest thermostat, with Amazon Echo, and with Phillips, you can see a lot of how you can simplify things.

John Koetsier: You know, you know what’s really interesting about that? What’s really exciting about that? There’s a lot of development in AR, for manufacturing for very high end things like aircraft engines and stuff like that. And so you’ll see uses for, uh, Google Glass enterprise edition version two overlaying, and there’s some aircraft technician, they’re fixing something that’s super technical.

There’s a million details going on, high end, high stress, high value industry. Right, and you’re actually bringing this to the low end and making it available to anybody, which is very, very cool. Uh, good to see.

Eiten Cohen: Yeah, thank you. You’re right. I mean, for the enterprise world, there is a lot of expertise in people themselves, right?

The technician: you learn, you go to engineering school, you do a lot of things. They still need help and we try to provide it, but the pain really is with us, you know, in every day. I mean, everybody has someone calling them for help on something they don’t know. And in fact, you know, for somebody that knows, it’s a simple thing.

It’s not like rocket science, right? And that’s why that’s a problem with trying to do not solve the rocket science problem for, you know, that requires very high skill. But anything that is, you know, most of the people fall through the cracks. It’s like this is where we are to help. And we are unique in leveraging computer vision to service the eyes, you know, into the problem.


John Koetsier: It’s been great chatting with you. Thank you so much for spending some time with us. I really appreciate it and appreciate your time. You’ve been the pioneer, not the Guinea pig, and you’ve done a great job. Really appreciate it

And this has been Tech First Draft. Thank you so much.