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Smart home in Taiwan moving forward from IT to IoT for the masses

Smart home in Taiwan moving forward from IT to IoT for the masses
Taiwan is one of major manufacturing sites for global computer and electronics products. We interviewed leading Taiwanese companies in the Information and communications technology (ICT) sector in terms of manufacturing scale, product innovation, and inventory turnover. They are competitive in rich sub-manufacturing experiences that provide fast delivery, reliable quality and cost competitiveness. They shared their perspectives toward the future of the smart home and introduced product design trends that may shape the future.

In every industry, there are bound to be ups and downs. The IT industry is no exception. In recent years, the global PC market continues to face the aspect of declining shipments, hence spurring local industry veterans from all walks of the PC, consumer electronics and peripheral sectors to actively seek new business opportunities amid the industry transformation.

The smart home is viewed as a promising industry to help them move forward with new revenue streams. To some Taiwanese companies, the smart home is expected to become the new cash cow in the coming years.

While the smart home is a relatively fragmented industry. It is still at the early stage before entering the mainstream market. To cross the chasm, it still needs time and effort to tackle the challenges like lack of interoperability and consumer awareness. It’s essential to nail down perfect price points to boost market demand and maximize profit.

With regard to business models, the Taiwanese companies provide off-brand, private-label and cobrand services, and some of them promote their own-brand business only for the retrofit market. A number of industrial computer (IPC) companies provide control panels and connected sensors to the system integrators for the whole home installation market.

Interoperability remains a major challenge

Interoperability and open platform support are essential when it comes to product designs. According to a research firm Gartner, the IoT is a highly fragmented long tailed market. Take the smart home gateway for example, Gartner indicated that a system that locks homeowners into one specific operating system limits their opportunity, as consumers will want to exercise their preference in terms of the IoT products they choose.

Neo Yin, R&D Technical Director at ADATA Technology Co., Ltd. explained, “We believe it’s crucial to make our products compatible with most popular platforms. It’s feasible to join alliances like AllSeen and Thread Group which facilitate reliable network and enable interoperability.”

The companies face a dilemma whenever they are choosing a proper communication standard for their products. It’s essential to be open to multiple communication protocols.

Generally speaking, Taiwanese companies provide products based on multiple open standards like Wi-Fi, BLE, ZigBee and Z-Wave technologies. In addition, the cost of ownership is decisive when choosing different wireless communication technologies.

“I think low power Wi-Fi and BLE that feature power-saving are ideal for home use even though Bluetooth mesh technology is still not mature right now. The technology will become more prevalent when Bluetooth SIG ratifies the mesh technology. Every technology can find its market. For example, we choose BLE technology which requires much less power than traditional Wi-Fi on light products or the sensors on doors or windows that transmit low data rate,” Yin Added.

BLE technology has been adopted by several companies for its indoor positioning capability. For example, smart plugs from Powertech Industrial Co., Ltd. support Bluetooth beacon technologies.

In addition, Honeywld Technology Corp. adopts BLE technology because the technology features strong indoor positioning capability and lower power consumption than Wi-Fi. Charles Tseng, Sales Director at Honeywld said, “We successfully increased the number of supported devices up to 30 devices for each sensor node. The traditional mesh technology is not mature that the connectivity speed gets lower when there are more connected devices. Therefore, we develop our software to enhance the range and number of connected devices as well as the connection speed.”

Abeltech International Co., Ltd. specializes in wireless consumer electronics products. The company started its business by designing and manufacturing audio and video products. Joe Yang, Sales and Marketing Director at Abeltech indicated, “Wireless is key to smart home. We focus on Wi-Fi and BLE enabled products.”

Voice command devices on the rise

The voice-assisted services like voice command are considered as a new driving force behind smart home market. Some companies like CviLux Corporation and Powertech are Apple MFi manufacturers who released HomeKit-compatible products and they believe Apple’s HomeKit will make a hit in the coming years; other companies are also developing products that are compatible with Amazon Alexa.

CviLux Corporation, a leading manufacturer of connectors, entered the smart home by offering HomeKit-compatible smart plug, light bulb and baby diaper. “The HomeKit compatible smart home and IoT lineups will drive business growth to our company,” said David Chou, Assistant Manager at CviLux Corporation. Chester Hsieh, CEO at EQL Technology Inc. said, “Echo has terrific speech recognition capability and robust ecosystem. That’s why we are going to support the services.”

The voice control technology provides convenience and easy-to-use experience for end users. “Voice control will be a necessary feature for the smart home products. It doesn’t make sense to swipe your phone, open the app, and then touch some buttons to control smart devices, maybe for just turning on and off the light. Also, the voice control technology makes it easier for the elders to control the smart devices without learning or installing any new apps,” Hsieh commented.

Powertech Industrial Co., Ltd. is a leading smart power solution provider that offers sub-manufacturing services to global well-known brands. To ensure in-house production quality, the company also owns a safety certification lab. The company used to have an acoustic lab and has design and manufacturing experiences in audio products.

At present, it can design and manufacture HomeKit-compatible smart plugs. Frankie Chen, Sales Director, Sales Division I, Power & IOE BU at Powertech said, “The U.S. is the largest market for smart plugs. While, the smart plug is an accessory that still needs to go with a platform like Apple’s HomeKit for hitting sales numbers. Besides Apple’s HomeKit, the company plans to launch voice-activated products supporting Amazon Alexa and Microsoft Cortana in Q2, 2017.

Home security, smart lighting and power management at the forefront

Home security, smart lighting and power management solutions are three major categories that the Taiwanese companies put much effort on. Healthcare and home care, including elderly care and baby monitoring solutions are popular products to be released this or next year.

To push the smart home to the masses, it’s necessary to make the smart home products to be must-haves instead of nice-to-have items. Taiwanese companies put smarts and make it in a realistic way. They make the “necessities” that are necessary to every household like smart plugs and light bulbs more intelligent, affordable, useful and human-centric. Hsieh of EQL said, “The smart light bulb costs more than the traditional light bulb, but it will save more money in the long run. It’s an irresistible trend and that’s why we are confident that the market will be more and more prosperous.”

Home security can be easy to use but not costly. Jim Yeh, Senior Director, Smart Home Department, New Product Planning Division at ASUSTeK Computer Inc. takes the temperature and humidity sensors as an example. “User can use a gateway, temperature and humidity sensors, and siren as a home safety system. The sensor can be used to detect temperature change before the smoke sensor detects the smoke from fire.”

In Q3 2016, EQL plans to launch a set that includes a smart lock and multiple sensors. The lock supports BLE technology. It connects to Ripple Control, a smart home gateway, which can control smart devices like security sensors, smart plug and light bulb, and work with the smart locks. “Currently, most smart home devices are nice to have. While we believe home security like smart locks are must-haves. The smart locks can manage visitors that has more value than the traditional locks,” said Hsieh of EQL.

Good Way, a leading company of output devices for computer peripherals, positions itself as a home safety expert. Starting to design and produce smart home products, the company now offers Z-Wave gateways, motion sensors, door/window sensors and smart switches. The company focuses on energy-saving and home safety product lines that are used for the retrofit market. This year, the company will release a Wi-Fi HomeKit-compatible smart switch that provides overload protection and scheduling, and sends push notification to the mobile phones when events are triggered. The company plans to release water and flood sensors in 2017.

“We emphasize on products like energy management and homecare solutions that provide universal value to benefit every household,” said Kenny Lin, Vice President, PM Division at Good Way Technology Co., Ltd. When it comes to the design concept, Good Way takes a different approach from others. The company focuses on the niche market, providing value-added features. “We plan to add G-sensor into our smart plugs to detect earthquake.” The company designs its products to fit the demand of the masses. “We try to understand user behavior and satisfy their needs before designing our products. Human-centric design is vital,” added Lin of Good Way.

ADATA, a leading memory module supplier, started to develop LED lighting products in 2010, and smart lighting products in 2014. The company’s smart light bulbs can be remotely switched on/off and dimmed. The company will add scene and group setting as enhanced features this year. Besides lighting solutions, the company plans to launch gateway and bridge product in early 2017. Yin said ergonomic design is the key to ADATA product development. “Human beings may have different feelings under different lighting ambiances. For example, people feel energetic and refreshed under the white light with 6000K daylight color, and feel relaxed under the warm yellow light with 3000K color temperature.”

At the end of 2014, Abeltech launched wireless smart light bulbs, and the light bulbs with built-in IP camera for home security. Currently, its products are shipped to Europe and the United States. The company provides not only hardware but also customizable easy-to-use mobile apps for its customers. The company can also offer smoke and motion sensor for project-based cases. He believes the market will boom in the coming years and sees increasing market demand from buyers. “The consumers are getting used to using mobile app to control everything, including the smart home system. The rising consumer awareness helps to drive the market.” When it comes to the design concept, Yang said in Europe and the United States, it’s essential to make products not only easy to use but also aesthetically pleasing.

Homecare and home appliance control gaining attentions

Smart home appliance control and homecare, including smart healthcare or connected health are two fast-growing sectors. Smart healthcare is quickly becoming the new buzzword in the smart home market.

CviLux launched Opro9 SmartDiaper which can record baby’s urinary frequency and detect the humidity through the smart algorithm, preventing diaper rash. The company plans to launch smart aroma diffuser and smart air washer. The smart aroma diffuser, to be launched by the end of this year, incorporates voice control, and detect temperature and humidity changes.

The smart air washer will purify the air automatically when detecting the dangerous level of air pollution. Those products support remotely monitoring via a mobile app on the smartphone. Chen of Powertech indicated that it’s necessary to avoid price war by creating value on the smart plug besides providing convenience and safety features to end users. Chen also believes that safety features are currently being neglected and should be one of the most important features that needs to be incorporated into smart products.

“This is because without safety and reliable power protection, remote access products increase the chance of unpredictable human negligence causing unsafe environment for your home or office,” said Chen. The company also provides power management solutions via its cloud platform.

Oftentimes, elderly care is related to personal safety and healthcare. Powertech provides a smart plug that comes with a remote control that is ideal for the elderly care. When the smart plug turns on and off by the parents, their children will get the push notification. Honeywld launched BLE enabled home care systemthat supports indoor positioning and emergency call service. The company started its business by providing set-top boxes, and now provide IoT related products for homes, factories, hospitals and offices since 2014. In the future, the company plans to release enhanced version which incorporates fall detection for the elderly care, and physiological measurement like heart rate and blood pressure to the long-term care center and hospitals.

“We think great growth potential in the smart home and B2C market. We believe the market will start to boom after mid-2017,” said Tseng of Honeywld. The system can also be used for personal safety like female track service. Tseng indicated, “We expect the personal safety, especially the elderly care, to have a prominent growth. At present, most of the service is based on monthly subscription. Unlike others, we sell the solution and service via B2C business model, providing a more affordable solution to the masses. We believe it’ll be a fast-growing business model.” Though Honeywld sells the hardware, the company indicated that its expertise is on the software side. It strives to differentiate from its competitors with affordable prices and customizable software services.

Honeywld is expanding its business to Japan and China. Having perceived the ageing society in both countries, the company will begin selling its homecare system through e-retailer channel, and hopes to work with property management companies. Tseng mentioned, “In China, the ageing population has been accelerating rapidly. The Chinese government has initiated the 9073 Plan—90 percent of the elderly living with the family, 7 percent being cared by the community care center, and 3 percent in the pension institutions. Therefore, we see the potential growth and market demand from the elderly care at home.”

Controlling smart home appliances can be fancy. However, not all the households have such luxury goods. Therefore, there are several innovations to make it become a reality. This year, ASUSTeK launched a smart dongle, supporting ZigBee technology to control smart home appliances. “Unlike the traditional IR remote controller that supports only one-way control of home appliances. Our products can support two-way communication,” Yeh of ASUSTeK explained. To further boost the market development, Yeh believes it’s important to form an alliance. “We believe the home appliance suppliers should work together and set up a unified standard. We start to realize the concept in Taiwan by gathering several Taiwanese home appliance companies to launch products compliant with the Taiwan Smart Energy Industry Association (TaiSEIA) 101 standard.” The more devices are connected, the more value it delivers at the smart home. The connected nodes can multiply the value of the IoT and smart home.”

Kingmax Semiconductor Inc., a leading flash memory product supplier, believes IoT products can drive new revenue stream and business transformation. The company is working to integrate sensor technology into the USB drives, and plans to release one to two new products per year. The company launched AirQ Check GS-01, a mobile air quality monitoring device, which can detect TVOC and CO2 in August 2016. The company also offers the embedded solution that can be built in the home appliances like air conditioner and air purifier. It also provides big data analysis through the cloud platform. At the end of this year, the company plans to release alcohol detector and Breathalyzer. The breadth analyzer can monitor users’ health conditions. “Our product is popular in Europe. The sensor supports Android OS right now. For entering the U.S. market, we will develop iOS-compatible models,” said C.L. Huang, Assistant VP, Operation Division at Kingmax.

“Sensors will become ubiquitous in a connected home. In the near future, we can see connected sensors all over the world, most of them are the built-in type,” said Huang of Kingmax. He indicated that the sensor has to be small and low-cost, and provides high-precision measurement. “Therefore, we use semiconductor-type gas sensor to fit in the compact size,” he added. As a pioneer in mobile health devices, Huang said, “The market still needs education. It’s essential to raise the consumer awareness and interests. While, I believe the market will reach mass adoption in three years,” Huang exclaimed excitedly.

EQL believes the IoT is a mega trend, and the company enters the industry by providing own-brand products like Ripple for home comfort, convenience and security. EQL released Ripple Control that can control smart home appliances via IR technology. With the built-in temperature sensor, the hub will detect the outdoor temperature, and then notify users to open windows if necessary. Besides, the product supports machine learning, providing two-way communication. It also provides ecommerce service that recommends users if there is any new air conditioner for the replacement. In addition, the company EQL provides PM 2.5 detector (detect real-time PM 2.5 particle), air purifier (effectively removes 99 percent of particles), blood pressure monitoring device (manage historical data in cloud services) for healthcare. The PM2.5 can trigger the air purifier if detecting harmful airborne particles. The company launched Ripple Control in Taiwan first, and then plans to distribute the products to the other countries in Asia and Eastern Europe.

The smart home is the new and uprising product line to most of the interviewed companies. They are vying to grab the market share and seeking company transformation. No matter how long does the journey take, they will have a place and exert influence in the smart home industry.

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