Health and wellness technology is a consumer technology category ripe for expansion. Increased awareness and popularity of digital health tools and wellness technologies brought a flood of VC dollars to the sector in 2020. According to research by PitchBook, by 2025, the mobile and digital segment of the health and wellness tech market is set to reach between $350 billion and $400 billion, a meteoric projection from a less than $50 billion market in 2019.
Investors are banking that home technology trends begun during the pandemic — which encompass personalized health care, connected fitness environments, biometric data collection/recommendation devices, and environments optimized for wellness — will persist and grow. Meanwhile, consumer adoption ranges from “all in” to tepid due to the privacy concerns around allowing big tech firms to have access to personal health data.
Innovation, interest, and uncertainty overlap in the wellness space, creating a unique Venn Diagram of opportunity for integrators who can understand the technology, integrate it together, and customize it to suit customers’ needs and allay their concerns.
I spoke with Walt Zerbe, CEDIA’s senior director of technology and standards who also serves as staff liaison to the CEDIA Technology Council, and multiple veteran integrators about how custom installers should define and leverage wellness technology for their businesses. Zerbe and the council are tasked with looking at the future of the channel, including identifying trends manufacturers and integrators should be monitoring and where new opportunities are emerging. Their insights make it clear that making a play for the wellness market is worth the effort.
If Not Us, Then Whom?
The custom integrator is perfectly equipped and positioned to own the future of wellness in the home. Wellness is a broad, holistic concept, encompassing physical health, mental health, and environmental factors. When it comes to supporting wellness through technology in the home, a well-rounded solution could include many different devices, all working in concert to support personalized outcomes. Our industry is really good at that; we’re just used to applying those skills in other contexts, like entertainment. As Zerbe puts it, “Integrators have all the ingredients to make the recipe,” and yet many remain skeptical about the space.
The reason is likely that “wellness” is such a slippery idea. Though we are seeing some dedicated spaces like the Circle Wellness Studio WelPod or CEDIA Propel partner Immersive Gym, for the most part, integrators are not specifying “wellness solutions.” Indeed, “wellness” isn’t strictly a technology category at all.
Some devices are innately healthcare technologies — such as connected blood sugar monitors — but that’s not what we’re talking about with respect to opportunities for AV integrators. The medical industry will largely lead the way on devices tied to specific healthcare outcomes, especially in the U.S., where providing healthcare technology means engaging with the fiendishly complex and opaque health insurance system. No, our opportunity comes from a much broader pool of technologies for which wellness is just part of the value proposition: devices that aren’t “wellness tech” by definition, but can be by application.
A traditional audiovisual device becomes wellness tech when it is used to meet a customer’s health and wellness goals. Now we’re no longer talking about reselling medical devices for in-home care, but a broad range of solutions from lights and loudspeakers to environmental monitoring dashboards and connected fitness equipment. Wellness can be a differentiator for the designs and services integrators are already offering.
This is where our industry is poised to excel. There are a lot of devices out there that serve wellness goals in á la carte fashion; anyone can purchase a whole-home water monitor or air purification system and have them installed, put an app on their phone, and use the devices. The custom install channel, however, can integrate these systems, adding that extra horsepower by connecting subsystems and allowing them to talk to one another through a control system or cloud platform. We know how to build a whole-home system that not only gives users better insight into how the environment relates to their wellness goals, but also incorporates wellness into an overall lifestyle.
Preparing for Purpose-Built Health and Wellness Solutions
Integrators can differentiate their businesses and improve their product margins by incorporating wellness goals into the sales and needs analysis process. “How” boils down to the specific customer because wellness is intensely personal. For some customers, lighting and music systems that help manage stress are wellness solutions. For others, automated doors that reduce mobility requirements, such as those from Autoslide, another Propel partner, enable healthy independent living and support their wellness goals.
Unfortunately, we can’t always address wellness directly during discovery conversations. If an integrator asks a customer, “Are you interested in wellness products?” they’re more likely to get a blank stare than a straight answer. After all, what is a wellness product anyway? In the custom install channel, we’re dealing with products that have wellness benefits, but those are often secondary to functions like lighting the room or controlling the stereo. In any case, asking direct questions about potential health issues could create a barrier. Instead, begin the conversation with open-ended questions like:
- How do you generally feel when you are in your home?
- Where do you feel best and why?
- If we could automate the perfect morning/evening experience for you, what would that look like?
- Are you concerned about the air/water quality in your home?
- How often do you use your home gym? Do you wish you used it more?
- Do you meditate, and if so, where?
- Are you familiar with the health benefits of sleep?
- Is this your forever home?
Zerbe adds that integrators should truly understand each person that lives in the home — perhaps a parent will be moving in or a couple is preparing to welcome a new baby. Know who will be interacting and benefiting from the tech on a day-to-day basis. These questions can help build a picture of the customer’s physical and mental wellness goals and frustrations. With this background, the integrator can begin educating the customer on how technology solutions can help.
This learning process is critical, and it’s a journey many integrators will need to undertake themselves before guiding customers. “It’s going to take a lot of education,” says Michael Cogbill of REV2 Consulting, a former CEDIA board member with more than three decades of industry experience. “The average person does not necessarily relate lighting to sleep to importance to health.” If we connect those dots for the customer, however, we can make the case for high-margin circadian lighting systems. They also may not be aware of the differentiation available from professional products versus DIY solutions. While many big tech customers offer affordable entry-level products with some wellness features, “that comes at the cost of giving up your personal data,” says Cogbill. Integrators can offer privacy-first smart solutions that customers may not even know are an option.
In the process of educating the customer, it is important not to go too far with wellness claims. Integrators need to be incredibly intentional about how solutions are positioned to clients. We are not “prescribing” anything; no wellness technology can “cure” a client’s health condition. If a client is asking about tech helping with a specific health concern, it’s best to direct them to a medical professional. Doctors can speak to patients about using technology for a treatment, but those conversations are beyond the integrator’s domain.
Ultimately, selling wellness solutions is similar to selling lighting: it may not be what brought the client in the door, but might end up being one of the most financially rewarding aspects of the project. Once the integrator asks a customer about their lifestyle and demonstrates how lighting control can add to the overall experience, the conversation shifts from a “nice to have” to a “need to have.” The same potential exists for wellness tech.
Starting With What You Know
The CI channel has a rich history of borrowing technological innovations from other fields and transferring them to residential applications, integrating and installing features like commercial-grade door access systems or irrigation controls long before they became a mainstay. Wellness solutions are the next frontier. With the marketing power of major brands, and the spike in customers’ health and wellness awareness accompanying the pandemic, the time to get on board is now.
But how to get started? Begin with what you know. For most integrators, the most natural entry point to wellness technology is lighting control, something many integrators have within their portfolio. Lighting becomes a wellness solution when it incorporates circadian rhythm, timed events based on location, and external light levels, tying them in with shades and temperature controls to create rhythms that reduce stress and promote healthy sleep. Consistent research has found natural light is the healthiest for people; designing and programming an integrated home that utilizes the maximum amount of natural light and compensating with generated light at the same color temperature can make a significant impact in the lives of those in a home.
Cogbill recommends easing in with manageably sized projects: “Start with just a couple rooms or areas, such as master suite or exercise/rest areas.” By focusing on specific areas — particularly those where the customer begins and ends their day — integrators can demonstrate the value a wellness solution offers without needing to overspec the entire system.
The Places to Expand
Strong allied trade relationships can help integrators expand wellness offerings beyond traditional custom integration channel categories. Those of us in the smart home business likely already have good relationships with HVAC partners. Working with those partners, Bill Maronet, the founder of ETC who has worked in the industry for more than 30 years, suggests that integrators can offer air quality filtration and monitoring as part of overall home automation solutions. Cogbill concurs that this is a hidden opportunity, where again client education plays a role: “In most cases, the air quality inside the home is worse than outside, particularly in tightly packed, energy efficient homes,” says Cogbill. The same goes for partnering with plumbers to offer water filtration and monitoring.
Per advice about starting small and demonstrating value, Maronet advises that there are two approaches here: whole-home filtration or local filtration that targets only drinking water sources. Affordability is often a barrier to whole-home wellness technology adoption. By offering targeted solutions, integrators can make it easier for both customers and allied trade partners to get on board.
Just like integrators should avoid stepping into the role of a physician, they should also avoid encroaching on allied trades’ domains here. Our role is not to be the plumber, the HVAC pro, or the electrician, but to unify and automate those systems and give the users context and control over how they support their health and wellness goals.
The Longer-Term Plays
For seasoned integrators who are ready to take their portfolio to the next level, there are ways to continue to expand in this sector.
Living in place is an under-explored aspect of wellness. Thoughtfully designed technology solutions can have added appeal for those wishing to continue to live independently at home as they age. Integrators are in the best position to help that market understand what is available to enable them to be happier and healthier living at home. These solutions again encompass traditional AV technologies that are customized to serve a new need, such as control systems whose UX is optimized for those with impaired vision or fine motor control. They also include integrating familiar devices with new technologies: for example, integrating a video doorbell into a system with an automatic sliding door for homeowners with limited mobility.
Integrators who develop strong residential portfolios will find themselves with ample commercial crossover opportunities. In the commercial space, there is a new push for well-tech at work. As people return to the office, they are looking for a more relaxed and healthy work environment. This includes cleaner air, more relaxed natural lighting, and amenities they were used to when working from home. At the same time, the hospitality industry is beginning to automate soundscapes, provide circadian lighting, and integrate other wellness features into their properties.
As wellness technology reaches broader acceptance, opportunities to design immersive applications will emerge. “I have often thought that along with lighting, music and video can play an important role in mind/body experiences,” says Cogbill. “I imagine a workout/meditation space with wall-to-wall video that has content that brings the outside in — say a walk through the forest or a bike ride at the beach,” adds Maronet. “This space is as deep — or shallow — as each dealer’s buy-in. It takes an investment, but it can clearly be a differentiator.”
Wellness Trends With Z-Wave
By Mitchell Klein, Director of Strategic Partnerships – IoT, Silicon Labs/Executive Director, Z-Wave Alliance
Following a year of unprecedented challenges, the wellness market continues to see growth. As far as smart home devices go, consumers continue to rely on security systems, voice-controlled devices, and sensors to stay safe, healthy, and comfortable at home.
One sector that continues to experience increases in adoption is security. Security systems that offer 24/7 monitoring and video surveillance both inside and outside of the home are being adopted by consumers. According to Parks Associates research presented by SDM, the growth of security system ownership continues to increase at an average rate of over 12 percent each year. A single camera that can track activity inside and outside and notify users when something is out of the ordinary, gives consumers the peace of mind knowing their homes and family members are safe.
Devices that can be controlled via voice command are also in high demand. After a year of increased awareness about spreading germs, consumers are more frequently opting to use voice commands to perform an action without having to physically touch a surface. Appliances, light switches, and door locks that can be accessed with voice commands give seniors who are aging in place, for example, the ability to turn the lights on and off and lock the door without having to get up and act on their own. These devices also help eliminate the spread of germs in the home for caregivers who are concerned about their elders getting sick.
I have also noticed a trend in the adoption of AI and context-aware technology when it comes to wellness purchasing habits in the smart home industry. Contextually aware devices create a personalized, seamless smart home experience for users as specific information such as the weather outside or the time of day will enable the home to turn the indoor and outdoor lights on or adjust the internal temperature. Sensors in each room of the home provide data that supports devices in taking action based on the person who has entered the room and their preferences. For seniors aging in place, contextually aware devices eliminate the need to manage apps, remotes, or buttons throughout the house, making it easier to live alone happily and safely.
With a huge ecosystem of brands and devices, Z-Wave products stand out as the best in class for consumers and integrators. Considerations such as a wide range of choice, device security, ease of setup, backward and forward compatibility, and interoperability with millions of smart devices on the market, designing and installing a system with Z-Wave enables an “aging-in-place system” that may be tailored to specific homes and use cases.
With more consumers adopting smart home devices than ever before, the security of these devices is a top priority. Seniors who look to Z-Wave devices to help them feel safe at home can be certain that the devices they choose are secure on the network, as all Z-Wave devices require strict adoption of the Z-Wave Security 2 (S2) Framework. Z-Wave S2 mandates a high level of security on all certified devices for the smart home, eliminating the risk of devices being hacked while they are in the network.
The aging population relies on smart home devices to make life easier, which is why product interoperability and simple setup make Z-Wave devices the right choice when installing an aging-in-place system. Integrators rely on Z-Wave devices to easily install new or upgrade existing smart home projects, and using tools like Z-Wave’s SmartStart feature allows for faster setup, as the device can be automatically recognized through the gateway or with the scan of a QR code. Seniors and their caregivers can purchase a variety of devices to protect and monitor the home and easily get all devices set up and ready to go in no time.
The mission and work around interoperability in IoT is critical to the growth and adoption of smart home devices, and Z-Wave has championed this for two decades. The senior population will expect devices to just work and communicate together within the home, and Z-Wave products do just that. A single button or voice command can turn the lights off for the night and turn on the home’s security system to make sure the house is safe and secure. A variety of Z-Wave sensors will work together to allow caregivers to confirm that the home’s residents are okay. The ability to add multiple devices that can all work together in the home is the key to successfully aging in place as seniors and their caregivers can rely on these devices to provide assistance, security, and protection.