A mi­crochip off the new Block

Swedish fur­ni­ture gi­ant Ikea is head­ing in a smart new di­rec­tion

Gloucestershire Echo - - TECH NOW - With Justin Con­nolly

IT’S hard to imag­ine there are many homes in the UK that don’t con­tain at least one lit­tle piece of Swe­den. Ikea is, al­most lit­er­ally, ev­ery­where. And since it’s al­ready the first thought in most peo­ple’s minds when it comes to kit­ting out the home, it makes sense for Ikea to go all in on the next phase of in­te­rior fur­nish­ing – the smart home.

Hav­ing al­ready dipped its toe in the water, Ikea re­vealed this week that it’s in­vest­ing heav­ily in smart home tech, and has created a whole new di­vi­sion within the com­pany to trans­form its busi­ness.

“At Ikea we want to con­tinue to offer prod­ucts for a bet­ter life at home for the many peo­ple go­ing for­ward. In or­der to do so, we need to ex­plore prod­ucts and so­lu­tions be­yond con­ven­tional home fur­nish­ing,” says Björn Block, head of the new Ikea Home Smart Busi­ness Unit at Ikea.

Ikea al­ready has a smart home plat­form, and has slowly been de­vel­op­ing it over the last half decade – it now boasts a range of smart light­ing called Trad­fri, which also in­cludes a smart plug.

Fea­tur­ing a smarthome wire­less hub that con­nects to the in­ter­net, the con­nected range of bulbs and plugs avail­able in the Trad­fri range have two killer fea­tures.

Firstly they are cheap

– the plug is just £10 and the bulbs start at even less. There are also wire­less dim­mers and sen­sors to com­plete the sys­tem. It’s far and away the cheap­est way to get into the smart home world.

The sec­ond fea­ture that helps Ikea’s smart home tech stand out is the many ways the sys­tem can be con­trolled.

You can use Ikea’s own hard­ware switches that come with the sys­tem, or the Ikea Home smart­phone app, which, cru­cially, is com­pat­i­ble with all three of the ma­jor play­ers in the world of AI voice as­sis­tants – yes, you can con­trol the Ikea smarthome sys­tem with Alexa, Siri, and the Google As­sis­tant.

Even these prod­ucts are not Ikea’s first foray into the world of high-tech elec­tron­ics – as far back as 2012 the com­pany has been in­cor­po­rat­ing wire­less charg­ing ca­pa­bil­i­ties into some of its bed­side ta­bles. And just this year a col­lab­o­ra­tion with high-end speaker-maker Sonos has seen the re­lease of two Ikea-branded wi-fi speak­ers – Sym­phonisk. These, sadly, are not smart in the strictest sense (they have no mi­cro­phones to in­ter­act with a voice as­sis­tant), but show the di­rec­tion in which the com­pany is trav­el­ling.

And now the whole of the Ikea world is set to be trans­formed. Block says: “By work­ing to­gether with all other de­part­ments within Ikea, the busi­ness unit of Ikea Home smart will drive the dig­i­tal trans­for­ma­tion of the Ikea range, im­prov­ing and trans­form­ing ex­ist­ing busi­nesses and de­vel­op­ing new busi­nesses to bring more di­verse smart prod­ucts to the many peo­ple. We are just get­ting started.”

So, what’s next? Ikea has al­ready said it’s work­ing on smart blinds – mo­torised roller blinds that can be con­trolled by voice, and sched­uled to open and close at a time of your choos­ing. These should be with us by the end of the year.

Be­yond that, if what the com­pany is say­ing now is to be be­lieved, we can ex­pect a rapid ex­pan­sion in smart tech from the com­pany – and at a price that will make rais­ing the IQ of your home more tempt­ing than ever.

The Trad­fri Smart Light Bulb from Ikea

Ikea’s Sym­fonisk range: A ta­ble lamp with wi-fi speaker, right, and a wi-fi book­shelf speaker, left

Bjorn Block, head of the new Ikea Home Smart Busi­ness Unit

The Trad­fri gate­way and app links up Ikea smart home ac­ces­sories

The Trad­fri smart plug

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