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Electronics Manufacturers Failing to Recognise that Consumers ‘Switch on to Switch Off’, According to Author of Inside the Smart Home

4 September 2003 – British people are turning their backs on technology in the home as manufacturers fail to recognise that consumers want to use technology in the home as an aide to relaxation rather than be stimulation. This is the claim of Professor Richard Harper, director of User Understanding at Appliance Studio, the Bristol based innovation firm, and the author of a new book called Inside the Smart Home.

According to Prof Harper, manufacturers of electronic goods should radically rethink products targeted at the home market if technology is to make further inroads into the domestic environment.

In Inside the Smart Home, he claims that technology has reached saturation point in the workplace and the mobile environment, leaving the home as a potentially lucrative untapped market for manufacturers. Yet most existing product designs universally fail to exploit this opportunity.

“Traditional broadcast TV is one of the few technologies that has been gloriously successful in the home, because it recognises the fact that consumers want to relax at home – they switch on the TV to switch of,” said Prof Harper, Director of User Understanding, Appliance Studio.

“The majority of households in the UK work pretty hard at being idle. The key issue that manufacturers need to recognise it that consumers want to use technology to help them relax and not as a source of stimulation. Manufacturers need to pause and assess how people live and how technology fits into their lives”.

Inside the Smart Home challenges the notion that consumers want constant access to broadband Internet or multiple interactive cable TV channels.

“There is no question that consumers do want to access the Internet at high speeds and access interactive TV, but most importantly they want to control the flow of information into the home and switch on these services as and when they want to use them,” said Prof Harper.

Harper also calls on manufacturers to address the ergonomic aspects of product design when developing products for the home.

“Home PCs look like work PCs with very few exceptions. The interface is almost certainly the same. This may be okay if the PC is locked away in a study, but is useless if the PC is to become a tool within the main household,” he said.

Inside the Smart Home concludes that despite issues with user experience and design, UK consumers still have an appetite for technology irrespective of household income, if only the products were better targeted at their needs.

Harper identifies a distinct split in the type of technology products that households are prepared to purchase depending on income. Households with a low income spend money on entertainment products such as DVD, hi-fi or flat panel television, whilst high-income households would rather buy devices such as washing machines or dishwashers that are likely make life easier, or save them time.

In a separate exercise, Prof Harper’s firm Appliance Studio, has developed a series of ‘applianceness’ design principles that guide the design process towards simple, helpful devices that exploit the potential of technology, rather than applying technology as an end within itself.

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1. Review Copies
For review copies of Inside the Smart Home, contact Stephen Waddington or Alia Ilyas at Rainier PR on 020 7494 6570.

2. About The Appliance Studio
The Appliance Studio is a Bristol-based company that provides innovation, technology, and design services for customer facing companies. It combines in-depth understanding of user behaviour with state-of-the-art technology know-how to enable its clients to explore, define and implement new solutions.

With world class expertise in pervasive computing and communications The Appliance Studio is pioneering the emerging field of information appliances. It works in strategic partnership with clients to create business and product strategies for everyday information technology products, whatever they might be.

Its 1220-strong team comprises experts in sociology, psychology, software and hardware engineering, design, and business.

The Appliance Studio was awarded a coveted US Industrial Design Excellence Awards (IDEA), sponsored by Business Week in 2002, for its work in developing of Steelcase’s RoomWizard product.

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