Innovation of the Boring and Mundane Product

Innovation is defined as the application of solutions that, 1) provide new requirements, 2) address unarticulated needs and, 3) improve existing products in the marketplace. For most innovators it seems easier (read: less confined to previous product decisions) to innovate a concept that is both new and fresh.

But… what about innovating a mundane product that’s been around for 40+ years with few significant changes? And more challenging; what if the consumer considers the product mostly invisible and doesn’t really want to buy it. Now that’s a product challenge!

The Nest Protect (www.nest.com) is an interesting case study. Nest has addressed all three notions of innovation with their new smoke and carbon monoxide detection. The Nest Protect is an intelligent Wi-Fi aware, network and smartphone-app-linked smoke and CO2 detector. This innovation shouldn’t be in the same category as those annoying and dysfunctional hockey pucks now stuck on your ceiling.

In short, this is a not your grandpa’s smoke detector.

The Nest Protect innovates in a number of ways. The first is that it’s “location aware” and will provide feedback through a number of channels as to where a problem is detected. It knows there’s smoke in the basement and tells you that.

In short, it’s smart. Wicked smart. (Yep, I live in Boston.)

Let’s say you are making (ah-hem, more accurately “burning…”) toast in the kitchen. The Nest unit won’t simply blast that annoying emergency alarm, but will instead provide a friendly nudge and flash a yellow light. A voice will say “Heads Up, there’s smoke in the kitchen!” And to acknowledge that your cooking skills are deficient which can’t be solved with the local fire brigade, you simply wave your arm fully within 2-6 feet of the unit until it speaks, “Alarm Hushed…” No more throwing open doors and windows in a January snow storm coaxing the blasted thing to stop blaring and the dog to stop barking. Eventually. (We’ve all been there.)

And in case you aren’t home, you’ll receive a notification of any activity on your smartphone, so that you can take action before an issue becomes a problem.

That intelligence carries forward into monitoring the health of the unit’s sensors and remaining battery life. And how much would we pay to stop that incessant but undiscoverable ping in the middle of the night from a battery slowly dying? (We’ve all been there too…) The Nest Protect sends an alert message to your smartphone whenever the battery is getting low, and will continue to remind you, so that you can change the battery before your midnight ride around the house on the step stool searching for the culprit.

And whenever you are roaming around the house in the dark, the Nest Protect senses your presence as you approach and will turn it’s green “all okay” glow to a white light in order to light your way in the dark.

And if the emergency is more than just burning toast… the Nest Protect will flash red, announce where the fire is located and will provide clear instructions on all attached smartphones as to steps to take as well as place an emergency call with a single button press.

The Nest Protect addresses a number of annoyances with “modern” smoke detectors while responding to a number of unarticulated needs such as the ability to shut down non-emergency situations, identification of WHERE and WHAT issues have been detected, and remote notifications and system health monitoring via a simple smartphone interface.

Nest has taken the boring and mostly annoying home emergency detector and created a much more useful appliance. Don’t think that Nest is marketing a smoke detector, they are selling greater peace of mind.

So who says you can’t build a better mousetrap?

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One response to “Innovation of the Boring and Mundane Product

  1. Agreed – they have managed to spice up both their smoke alarms and their thermostats – and the thermostat is another interesting pitch. by speaking to power saving and learning routines that save the consumer money, and again all connected to your smartphone and geo-aware.

    Its a job well done.

    As a PM I hadn’t even thought of the job they had in doing this… all I thought was that I wanted one :)

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