Ikea's latest offering could make smart lighting go mainstream

As more households adopt devices like Amazon Echo and Google Home, we move closer to the Smart Home Era, or an age in which we live surrounded by connected devices that optimize themselves – and arguably our lives.

But we’re not quite there yet. In fact, it could be argued voice technology and digital assistants are what are actually picking up steam and connected in-home devices remain the purview of early adopters and aren’t exactly top of mind for the average consumer.

At least not yet, as it could soon change with the news this week home furnishings brand Ikea is reportedly expanding its line of smart lighting to consumers beyond Sweden.

Say what you will about the frustrations of assembling flat pack furniture – this is a brand with a reputation for user-friendly and affordable products and its line of smart lighting is no exception. And that, in turn, may very well spur more widespread adoption of this and other smart technologies around the home.

Ikea US said it will add the smart lighting line – called Trådfri – in April.

True to its brand ethos, Ikea said its smart lighting yields good lighting in an easy and affordable way with wireless, plug-and-play products that allow consumers to adapt the lighting in their homes. In other words, consumers won’t need to rewire their homes or hire electricians.

“For Trådfri products, all it takes is replacing a standard light bulb with the LED bulb included in the kit and you can immediately start to change lights using the remote control,” the brand said in a press kit.

Ikea also has a Trådfri app that the brand said gives consumers the ability to control their lights with customizable settings, as well as to access timers and to reset, change, delete or add lighting.

The Trådfri line is also relatively inexpensive as smart lighting goes. A single Trådfri LED bulb will start at $11.99 in the US. Various kits will also be available, including the Gateway Kit, which includes two white spectra LED bulbs, a remote control and a gateway that enables connectivity to the app, and will sell for $79.99.

By way of comparison, single bulbs in the Philips Hue line – arguably the gold standard in smart lighting to date – start at $14.99.

However, Jason Snyder, CTO of brand experience agency Momentum Worldwide, said, Philips Hue is best in class and allows consumers to play with colors and sync lights to music, TV and games, as well as to integrate with Amazon Alexa, Apple HomeKit and Google Home. However, he said it also requires consumers to buy separate components, get software for their phones and “fiddle…to get [the lights] the way [they] want.” And while that may be child’s play for the tech savvy, it’s “not something my mom could do,” Snyder said.

“There’s a significant DIY aspect to [options like Philips],” he added. “Why Ikea has an advantage is they’re already starting from a place where they do a bit and you do a bit. Philips is super expensive and great and works well, but the effort for most people is significant.”

What’s more, Ikea locations have in-store installations where consumers can see smart lighting in person.

Snyder said it’s also clear Ikea understands there’s consumer motivation to start using these technologies, whether they realize it yet or not. He pointed to the money consumers can save, but also an environmental factor as he said US consumers are terrible at monitoring and managing their energy consumption.

“The sad reality is most of us forget to turn the lights off when we leave a room or we don’t unplug our phone chargers when we aren’t using them,” Snyder said. “The result is unnecessary consumption – and it is insanely costly. According to a study done a few years ago at [federal research facility] Lawrence Livermore Laboratories, we waste about 60% of all energy created.”

In fact, a single year of wasted electricity in the US could power the UK for seven years, he said.

“That’s pretty mind blowing. Once consumers figure this out, adding smart lighting and smart outlets to a home is a no-brainer,” Snyder added.

Coincidentally, the move also provides an opportunity for Ikea to remain top of mind throughout the day.

“Smart lighting products can make a significant impact on unnecessary consumption, helping save our environment and reducing our cost of living. Ikea understands that a smart home, which is set up with light switches, plug sockets and extension cables working together, can control not only lighting but begin to monitor real-time consumption via an app,” he said. “From a marketing perspective, that’s a brand impression every time the lights go on and off.”