​Why Samsung didn’t crack the hotel lighting market

I had meeting a few years ago with Samsung about their strategy to enter the lighting market, and hotels was one of the entry points they believed they could attack. They had high-level relationships with hotel owners and operators due to the fact that they already supplied them with TVs, door lock mechanisms and air conditioning units. Why shouldn’t lighting be added to that list?

Their view of the future was that you would check in to the hotel with your smartphone, which would then operate the door lock, and upon entering the room would set the lighting, air conditioning and TV to a profile it knows you like. I’m a big technology fan, and I could see this glimpse of the future as very compelling, but I am also a frequent traveller and know that hotels – and more importantly people – don’t work that way. For instance, what if I have an Apple phone, will I not be allowed to use key features in the room? What if I need to update my software or app to get into the room? If I’ve been out for the evening and my phone’s battery is dead, I’d have to sleep in the corridor. In theory this techno approach sounds great, but in reality it simply wouldn’t work.

The other reason it wouldn’t work is that there is a rule book about hotels, and it states that all hotels shall be the same. The core product of bed, bathroom and silly card about saving the planet by reusing towels, is a constant. Spend a bit more money and you get Molton Brown toiletries, a well-stocked mini bar and a pair of slippers that don’t fit. Spend a bit less, and you get a bottle of Dove welded to the shower wall and a vending machine in reception. The internet connection shall be patchy, whether or not you paid for it.

“There is a rule book stating that all hotel rooms must include a baffling array of switches. Under no circumstances should any of them be labelled”

The one grey area of the hotel rule book is controls. That’s because the aim of controls in hotel rooms is to confuse, disorientate and infuriate the guest. Let’s start with the kill switch, the one you have to put your keycard in to have the remotest chance of anything working. When you enter the room, every single light will turn on, along with the TV. So the big question on the kill switch is, if you leave the room will you still be able to charge your laptop and mobile devices? The answer is usually no, meaning you have to keep the spare key or a business card in the slot when you leave the room, defeating the object. The kill switch is from a time before smartphones and laptops existed.

A few rules from the book on lighting. The room must be fitted with an excess of light fittings, which the visitor would probably not have in their own bedroom. The room must include a baffling array of switches near to the bed, and at least one light must not be able to be operated from bed, making sure the user has to search all corners of the room to switch it off before going to sleep. For maximum confusion the switches should be distributed at either side of the bed, with different functions. Under no circumstances should any light switch be labelled.

I realise that lighting hotel rooms can be a challenge, as the room has to function for many different uses: office, dining room, TV room, pleasure dungeon. You would think that in all these years someone would have come up with a control scheme that delivers. I’ve seen attempts to use conventional controls, but this defaults to the control industry standard of a panel with eight unlabelled buttons, which is badly commissioned. 

I stayed in a hotel last week that had an emergency light in the room, and with the green light from the tiny charge indicator, I could actually see my way around the room at night.

So there we have it, hotel room controls are crying out for innovation. Simple, easy-to-use stuff that delivers, in all parts of the world for all users. One day someone may solve it, but it has passed Samsung by.