CES 2020: Smart Home Insights
2020 marked our fourth consecutive year at CES in Las Vegas. Year after year, it is still the best place to see what is new in the technology world and we found plenty of new innovations for in the home, the kitchen, the garden and beyond. We noticed several trends this year related to the smart home as well as the future of CES in general.
CES Attendance declining
This year, the show definitely felt smaller and less crowded than it has in the past and it looks like CES has acknowledged this – their site references that there were more than 170,000 attendees versus 175,000 last year – quite a bit down from the record attendance in 2017 of more than 184,000.
Fourteen thousand less people definitely feels more comfortable – over the four days we didn’t have trouble getting a bus, a rideshare or a spot for dinner. We only encountered an insane bus line one evening we happened to be at the convention center right as the show closed, and since we are CES veterans we figured out how to take a different shuttle and get dropped off across the street without too long a wait.
A few people mentioned to us they thought the decrease was due to the trade war with China – and sure, we noticed fewer Chinese companies, at least in the Sands Convention Center with most of the smart home, health and fitness tech. But that’s not the whole story.
We noticed that more and more companies skipped exhibiting altogether and instead just booked meeting rooms or private suites in the nearby hotels. Two companies who had some of the biggest booths in the smart home area over the last few years – Vivint and ZModo, were noticeably absent. It costs quite a bit to come to CES, and even more to get noticed, so it seems that many companies are just opting out of the spectacle and just trying to focus on meeting customers and doing business.
But we think it’s wrong to assume that Chinese tech companies are not coming to CES. If you look at the top three prime spots near the entrance of Central Hall, which used to belong to Intel, Microsoft and Qualcomm, those enormous spaces are now occupied by Konka, Hisense and Huawei.
CES is definitely changing and it will be interesting to see what happens next year. While the show has been shrinking in attendance, the city is expanding its convention space by 30 percent. Caesar’s plans to open the Forum this year, with 550,000 square feet of conference space and another 100,000 square feet of outdoor event space, and the Las Vegas Convention Center is in the middle of a major expansion that will add 600,000 more square feet of space in time for CES 2021. Will the place look half-empty next year, or will more exhibitors come back, lured by renovated venues? It will be interesting to find out.
Smart Home Going Mainstream
Every year it seems we say something similar – smart home products are becoming more commonplace and mainstream. This is certainly true, but that doesn’t mean there are less of them. Smart home technology was everywhere at the show.
We remember five years ago when it seemed like there were 100 different fitness trackers at CES – this year it was smart locks. Everyone is trying to distinguish themselves with different tweaks and innovations – incorporating fingerprints, using Apple HomeKit, even adding a camera with facial recognition. Together with video doorbells, it seems like smart locks will soon be as commonplace as flat screen TVs in everyone’s home.
Beyond smart locks and video doorbells, we also noticed some companies trying to deliberately skip the tech early adopters with full lines of smart home products for regular consumers.
GE Lighting has expanded their C by GE line of smart bulbs and switches with products that anyone should be able to confidently pick up at the store, bring home and install without wondering if they have the matching set-up at home for them to work. All the products use Bluetooth and some add WiFi in order to bridge the devices to your router and Internet, both technologies that most adults have and understand. GE Lighting thought through the pairing and set-up to make these products simple to use and pair with a smart speaker.
On the hardware side, GE Lighting took the time to design smart switches that homeowners can retrofit on almost any age of home – all the way back to homes with knob and tube wiring. After being laughed across the Internet just six months ago after one of their factory reset videos went viral, it seems that GE Lighting has genuinely taken the regular consumer to heart and worked to create products that almost anyone can use.
Hampton Products was another example. Hampton has more than forty years of experience in security and locks that include the Brinks home security brands. They knew their customers are interested in securing their entire home including locks, video doorbells, security cameras and garage doors. Instead of just trying to make their locks work with everything else, they created their own line, Array by Hampton, with their own app and everything connected via Wi-Fi. They believe this will make it easy for their customers to buy everything they need and have it all work together, with something they understand.
In addition to the Array line, Hampton has also licensed the popular BenjiLock fingerprint technology. At CES, they were demonstrating BenjiLock for padlocks, bike locks, drawers and door locks. Hampton has also recognized that while consumer love easy-to-use locks, they may not want them connected to the Internet – and today the BenjiLock only unlocks via your fingerprint or the back-up key.
Collaboration and standards
The biggest buzz pre-CES in the smart home world was the new Project Connected Home over IP or CHIP for short. The project is being led by the big three players in the market – Amazon, Apple, and Google, together with the Zigbee Alliance that already has thousands of smart home manufacturers around the world using its standards.
The project was announced mid-December so there is not really anything to show yet, but it is an important acknowledgement from these big three players that this industry will never really move forward unless consumers can easily buy and use products that work together.
Meanwhile, before CES began on Monday, another organization, the Open Connectivity Foundation, showed real progress solving the problem at their IoT Breakthrough Event.
OCF was formed in 2016 by combining two other organizations, the Open Interconnect Consortium, and the AllSeen Alliance, who had already been working on the problem of making connected devices work together through standards and open source software.
At the event, representatives from member companies Samsung, Haier and LG showed their products not only working together, but actually able to control each other. For example, you could control the Haier air conditioner using the LG television and the Samsung television using the LG remote. Outside of that room, these three companies compete aggressively for home consumers, but they recognize that no one realistically will buy everything for their home from just one company.
All of these companies made this work using open source software developed through the OCF IoTivity project, so manufacturers who want to make these kinds of products don’t necessarily have to start from scratch, they can use this code as a reference to build these connections themselves.
Connectivity continues to improve
Beyond making products work together, smart home manufacturers also continue to look for ways to create connected devices that consume less power, so we don’t need to keep charging and changing batteries in everything we use. There were even companies showing off smart home products that charge wirelessly. All the connectivity standards have continued to improve in reliability and power consumption and vendors are shipping new products.
Most every wireless router vendor now has a Wi-Fi 6 version promising better coverage, higher speeds and more power efficiency, and dozens of smart home companies are now shipping products with the Z-Wave 700 series chipset, that will enable simple sensors to last for ten years or more on a coin-cell battery.
Last year at CES was the first time we heard of LoRa in a smart home device, and this year we saw it several places, in vendors as diverse as Nice, a leading European automation company, and Smart Mimic, a bay area start-up building tracking products. LoRa promises not only low-power consumption, but miles of range – so your products can talk to each other from really far away. So far, the only practical home application we can really think of for LoRa is a remote gate on a really big property, but there are many other possibilities we probably can’t even imagine yet.
CES getting personal
Now that technology is such a big part of our lives, companies continue to search for ways to use it to solve all of our problems.
At CES this year, one of the biggest areas of focus continues to be sleep. There is an entire section of the Sands Convention Center dedicated to sleeping better – with a dedicated Sleep Tech section on the show floor and many other companies showing off products designed to help you relax, meditate, or even use aromatherapy to create a better sleep environment. One of the most popular products at the show was the Motion Pillow, with what seemed to me a simple and uncomfortable concept – a pillow that automatically tilts your head to keep you from snoring – but people were waiting in line to try it. Ironically, blue light from our phones is probably what keeps most of us awake, but maybe all this other tech will help us overcome that and sleep better.
Beyond sleep, there were plenty more personal technology innovations on display to help measure, track and improve all areas of our lives. We saw multiple digestion trackers, some that kept track of your food coming in and going out, adult diaper sensors, connected Kegel trainers, and a Charmin fart detector and TP “RollBot.” (those last two were a joke, but still. Maybe next year?) Rather than keep your DNA private, DNA Nudge wants you to swab yourself and use your DNA to shop for products. And after much controversy, CES allowed vendors to display sex toys at this year’s show, with some guidelines. Some booths were more tasteful than others.
It seems there’s no limit to using technology and the Internet to make incremental improvements in our lives. As smart home enthusiasts, this shouldn’t surprise us. We can only wonder what we will see next year.
Smart Home technology continues to evolve and companies seem to be thinking through how to make home products smart instead of just shipping technology.
During the show, we discovered 30 of the best smart home technology products we think are worth exploring in 2020. Some of these are available now while others will be coming throughout the year. Watch our video to see these in action, and please subscribe so you won’t miss our more detailed CES videos and new product reviews coming soon.