Each year, IKEA conducts hundreds of home visits in multiple countries to gain a better understanding of its customers—in 2019, the company spent about 300 hours in homes, and it bolstered its insights with 33,500 interviews for its annual Life at Home report. This research is part of what makes IKEA so influential—and now it’s leveraging that influence to improve the home through smart technology.
While IKEA isn’t an expert in tech, it doesn’t really need to be. The company’s global business area manager Björn Block brought on Frog Design to help develop the hardware and software for IKEA’s Trådfri smart lights, which launched in 2017. Frog Design also ensured that the products would be compatible with Alexa, Google Assistant, and Siri.
Earlier this year, IKEA launched a Trådfri shelf and lamp that were co-developed and co-branded with Sonos—a partnership that flexed the strengths of each company by offering Sonos’ sound expertise with IKEA’s svelte packaging and affordable pricing.
IKEA is now taking those successes—along with some failures—to launch a new smart home ecosystem called "Home Smart." Currently on offer are lights, blinds, chargers, motion sensors, sockets, and a variety of controllers like dimmers and switches. The company is making continual improvements to the ecosystem’s software, and it’s planning to launch a much wider range of tech-integrated products in the near future.
The reconfigured "Home Smart" title might feel awkward, but it’s IKEA’s distinct take on the future of smart home tech: "It means the life at home is more important than technology," Block told The Verge. "The technology is a tool to make things work, but we’re not launching things just because it’s cool technology."
Home Smart designs will follow the same "make space, don’t take space" philosophy that defines IKEA products. For example, its Symfonisk speakers are discretely integrated into shelves, while its Qi chargers are built into bedside tables and desk lamps. Block wants you have the benefits of smart tech, but only as part of the stuff you’d already have in your home. "A customer doesn’t want the toaster," said Johanna Nordell, business leader for Home Smart hardware. "They want the toast."
For now, IKEA will continue working with tech giants like Apple and Google as necessary—or as it did with Sonos to integrate Home Smart into a speaker. As experts in product development, IKEA will be able to move forward at a pace not unlike a tech company, but its growing pains with the software will be it’s biggest inhibitor. "In Ikea, we have the formula of democratic design where we have form, function, sustainability, low price, and quality," Block said to The Verge. "And obviously here, we’re not living up to quality and function in that sense, and we’re on it."
Read IKEA’s 2019 Life at Home report here.
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