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Why don't you rent your electronic wireless doorlock, asks man selling doorlocks

Smart home technology adoption requires fresh thinking, says August's Jason Johnson

Collision 2015 We should rent our Nest thermostats, Sonos speakers and August smartlocks, according to Jason Johnson, the CEO of internet-of-doorlocks upstart August.

Speaking at the Collision conference in Las Vegas earlier today, Johnson bemoaned how difficult it was to get smart tech into the home and challenged the industry to come up with more innovative solutions.

"I've been dreaming of smart homes for years," exclaimed Johnson, bringing up the ubiquitous picture of The Jetsons. "To have things about the home that make it more convenient but which are also cool."

The problem is that, even with much hype and excitement around things like the Nest thermostat and the Sonos multi-room wireless speakers, adoption remains very low. Multi-room audio has made it into just 5 per cent of US homes in the past 12 years; Johnson's baby, smartlocks, are in just one per cent of homes.

"How do we make adoption grow faster?" he asked before providing his answers. And they were: risk-free purchasing; faster delivery; easier returns; and renting the equipment rather than buying it.

Johnson does have a point: most home owners see things for the first time in a retail store - either online or more usually in a box store like Home Depot. But, as he points out, the retail experience is usually awful: at best some colorful cardboard and a few paragraphs about how it works. People want to test out new equipment, he argues.

And to do that, people need to believe that they can return it if they don't like it. With most smart technology costing between $100 and $300, it is not an insignificant purchase. If companies can expand the return window for use, making it more risk-free, more people will try the products out.

Likewise, the home improvement industry can take a leaf out of Amazon and Google's books and get the product to your home much faster - maybe even same day - it will push people to try something out Johnson argued.

People should also rethink the returns model they use now. He highlighted a company called Shyp that will come to your house and take away a product and send it back to manufacturers for you, taking a lot of hassle out of returning goods.

Low rent

But the main argument Johnson put forward was that getting a lot of new smart-tech was beyond the reach of many households. For example, a Nest thermostat, Hue lightbulbs, a Sonos speakers and LiftMaster garage door opener would set you back $830. Why not make it possible to get them all for just $50 a month.

He used the example of mobile phones, which are increasingly sold in monthly installments and often with free or cheap upgrades. People could, for example, get the latest upgrades to smart-tech hardware as part of their monthly fee.

Unfortunately at this point, Johnson announced that his company August has just partnered with Comcast and its Xfinity product to bring his company's smart-locks to the millions of Comcast customers. He highlighted that many cable companies provide you with a modem and/or router when you buy broadband service with them.

And that's where the idea came crashing down. As anyone who has experienced renting equipment from a cable company will be able to confess, it is a horrible experience. You are provided with out-dated, clunky hardware and then charged a monthly fee that bears no relation to its actual value. And that rental fee has a terrible habit of creeping up over time from $7, to $8, to $10 a month.

Then if you want hardware that is even mildly comparable to what you can get on the open market, you have to pay a premium that borders on extortion.

That's why most people who care about their home broadband buy their own modems and routers: there is a higher upfront cost but it is worth every penny. And as for the hardware that you can't purchase around, the cable box...

Plus of course if you decide to end your service, cable companies force you to return "their" equipment that you have typically paid for several times over to their store in a certain period of time and if you don't, or you forget the charger (or sometimes even the Ethernet cable) you will be charged another huge fee.

The idea of the cable company hardware model being stretched all across your smart home? That's not The Jetsons, that's the Munsters. ®

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