Why selling smart home technology is nothing like selling smartphones or computers

Fast Company’s Austin Carr profiles Tony Fadell, the CEO of the smart home technology company that Google acquired for $3.2 billion. Much has been written about the “internet of things,” in which many of the disparate hardware devices in our lives — TVs, lamps, thermostats, refrigerators — begin to talk to both each other and our smart phones. But I was struck by one interesting observation in the piece: Unlike smart phones and computers, which we buy with either the conscious or unconscious knowledge that we’ll be replacing them in two to three years, we don’t replace our appliances with nearly the same frequency:

The company studied thermostat interfaces going back to the 1950s, realizing that even the advances of touch screens in the late 1990s and early 2000s did little to improve the ancient but resilient physical-dial user interface. Whereas incumbents incorporated endless digital features, such as calendars and photos, Fadell and Rogers understood that additional icons confused consumers. Household devices are not upgraded every two years like a phone; more likely, they’re replaced every 10 or 20 years. The design had to be timeless. “We thought about all kinds of crazy animations, background images, even adding a weather [app],” Rogers recalls. “But it’s a thermostat: It’s not supposed to cook you breakfast.”