Four years ago someone asked: “How would people feel about IKEA products becoming more digital?” (Wait, what? IKEA furniture and technology?) You bet! It turns out that the answer to the question was the start of something bold: IKEA Home Smart the idea of incorporating technology into IKEA furniture. Business Leader, Björn Block, together with a curious team, unfold the innovation and thinking behind the vision:
“It’s not at all about pushing out new technology, we want to know what peoples’ frustrations are, and from there create solutions solving problems in the everyday life. It has to make peoples’ lives at home simpler,” Björn enthusiastically explains.
We don’t want people to have to think about the technology when using the product.
Okay, so maybe a digital BILLY bookcase is a bit far-fetched, but what about a wireless charger for your smart phone, a wireless dimmer for your favourite lamp, or your must-see TV-show seamlessly integrated into your living room storage? “It’s about making individual pieces at home smarter, one by one, for a more convenient everyday life,” Björn continues.
The first two months of the project were intense, but enthusiastic. The team went from exploring exciting techniques, to numerous testing of products, and constant development and questioning. “It took us a while to navigate ourselves in this vast field. We had to understand what IKEA’s role is in all of this,” Björn says. The cool part is that the ideas and smarter products were developed simultaneously, thus resulting in the first launch of IKEA Wireless Charging in April 2015. Unusually fast!
It’s about marrying a new technique with an old one. “Our mission isn’t to provide people with a wireless charger. It’s when we integrate it into our furniture that we’re able to offer something unique.”
IKEA isn’t actually interested in developing technology, they’re interested in smart solutions – whether those are digital or analogue happens to be irrelevant.
The biggest difference between IKEA and what some of the other large tech-players are doing, lies in the simple fact that IKEA isn’t actually interested in developing technology, they’re interested in smart solutions – whether those are digital or analogue happens to be irrelevant. “We’re challenging the furniture business, and are appreciated by the tech-industry,” says Björn. “We are grateful to be amongst the tech-players with good reviews.”
But of course, with an ounce of success also comes a dose of learning. “We’ve all matured along this journey. No one really understood what this initiative would result in. But today, we have a completely different dialogue internally. There’s a newfound understanding, and results can be visualised. We’re learning constantly as we go. I think this is a great example of IKEA showing its entrepreneurial spirit at its best. One thing we noticed – it’s a lot about removing features, and not adding them. The simpler a product has become, the more loved it is too. We want this to feel simple and playful for the customer.” Product developer, Rebecca Töreman, agrees: “We were really ambitious to begin with, but quite quickly found out that less is more. We don’t want people to have to think about the technology when using the product.”
So, is the future bright? Technically, it’s just about as bright as you want it to be. That’s because the next explored area is lighting. Curious about why? Well, for starter, lighting affects our wellbeing; it sets the mood, and allows us to perform both daily and nightly tasks. And, it can also make us feel safe (aren’t we all a little afraid of the dark at one point or another in life?). The development team found that although most people have on/off solutions at home, they actually prefer a dimmer. With Smart Lighting, the needs of easy dimming, creating the right atmosphere and feeling safe are top priority. The solution? Wireless dimmers. “It’s about providing the customer with an array of choices. We think that lighting is an area with great potential to improve peoples’ every day,” Björn says.
We were really ambitious to begin with, but quite quickly found out that less is more.
The team wants to show how the right lighting can make a big difference, while also allowing for a smarter, more fluid life at home; you’re cooking in the kitchen while adjusting the “perfect dim dinner glow” for the dining area. Or, how about when you need that bright “inspect my blemishes” -light while your partner wants a cosier soft reading light before bedtime? Wirelessly controlled bulbs allow you to set the mood from wherever, for a specific spot at home, for different needs, in the same time and place (so many frustrations solved at once?!) The best part: It won’t require professional wiring or support. It’s as easy as a light bulb and a remote control.
Smart Lighting will launch globally in April 2017, with the exception of Sweden, Italy, Belgium and the Czech Republic. In these four countries, the launch took place in October 2016. But that’s not all. The coming years will see a continuous development around smarter products, with the goal of making life at home more seamless (Think: Apps, media integration, and products supporting a more sustainable life at home). “We’re constantly seeking improvement, and although we don’t necessarily believe that we’ll change the world, one thing remains true: by understanding the challenges that people face at home, we can create smarter products.” So, maybe a digital BILLY bookcase isn’t such a bad idea, after all.