Smart home automation is a worldwide trend that is getting red hot at this moment with companies like Amazon, Apple, Google and Microsoft putting in lots of effort for creating useful digital assistants across devices. In Asia, Chinese players like Baidu are also creating their own digital assistants for the local market.
IDC sees the smart home device market in Asia Pacific growing from $45.5 million in 2017 to $81.2 million by 2022 with the biggest contribution coming from the video entertainment category like smart TVs, followed closely by other smart home appliances like automated vacuum cleaners and connected washing machines. Smart home appliance manufacturers like Samsung and LG started the home automation journey a few years back before the influx of AI assistants. However, the timing was not right with only a few applications useful enough to justify their high prices.
Now, the scenario has changed. With the support of better digital assistants, many such appliances are getting more useful and the price points have dropped tremendously. The adoption trend is very different for various regions. For example, apartment dwellers in mature Asian countries are strongly adopting smart TVs and automated vacuum cleaners that prove useful in city apartment living.
While in countries like Australia and New Zealand, adoption of smart thermostats, garage door controllers and home surveillance cameras are showing good growth, as more users stay in landed houses.
While more players are getting into the smart speaker market, current offerings are targeted mainly at English-speaking users, which is a barrier to greater adoption in Asia. Even if the user speaks in English, the different accent and slang in this diverse region is often a problem for the digital assistant that the smart speaker uses. Amazon and Google are improving on their digital assistants to work better with local accents as they target countries like India and Australia as key places for growth. For other languages like Korean and Chinese, local players are gaining. Players like Kakao in Korea and Baidu in China are building their own digital assistants that are localised. Not only do they have applications that are commonly used by locals, the ability to program digital AI assistants to understand the local lingo gives them an upper hand.
Languages aside, applications and usefulness are also key barriers for strong adoption in the region. There are simply not enough applications in the ecosystem that the digital assistant is able to perform, thus making only smart speakers useful enough for the majority.
For now, the growth of smart home devices will continue to be strong in Asia but it will mainly be in the home appliances category that can be controlled or monitored through mobile applications on users’ smartphones instead of using a digital assistant. But that is likely to change in the years to come, as the AI space progresses rapidly.
By Kenneth Liew
The author is senior research manager — devices, IDC APAC