CES 2022: Smart Home Insights
We made it to Las Vegas for our first in-person Consumer Electronics Show since 2020. We’ve been attending CES pretty regularly since 2015, and it remains the best place to see all the latest technology products – things that are here now and ready to buy as well as others that are still just great ideas waiting for a partner or an investor to discover them.
Last year, CES 2021 was virtual, which was easier to attend but lacked the energy and excitement. We had our target list of companies but it was difficult to find the right people to talk to in the digital booths, if there was anyone there at all. We spent that week on Zoom calls and watching presentations online and while we were surprisingly tired at the end, we really missed being there in person.
The Consumer Technology Association, who produces CES, announced early that they planned to go forward with CES 2022 in person, with extra safety protocols to encourage people to attend. They announced requirements for attendees to be vaccinated, and once the US started opening up to more expanded international travel in November it looked like it would be a moderate success.
Then Omicron appeared on the scene and by mid-December big companies started canceling their CES presence and almost every major tech news organization pulled out too. As we watched the news over the holiday season, we became more and more concerned and wondered if the live event would get canceled, and if it didn’t, wondered if we should just sit this one out.
Even with the cancellations, CTA insisted that they could hold a safe event. They sent out multiple emails to attendees promising enhanced safety measures, and a couple weeks before, they announced that they were going to give everyone two COVID test kits to encourage folks to test themselves before they entered the event.
After some debate, we decided to go ahead and go to the show in person with some risk mitigation. Instead of flying, we drove to Vegas, about an eight-hour drive each way. We figured this way we’d avoid flight cancellation issues and avoid being stuck in Las Vegas ordering room service if we caught COVID during the week.
Two shows – Virtual and Live
Even from the beginning, CES intended to have both a live and virtual event. They live-streamed a lot of the keynotes and talks, and many companies who decided to pull out still made announcements and held press conferences virtually. In the smart home space, Kohler, Eve, Schlage and Masonite are just a few of the brands who announced products without any CES physical presence, which is too bad because we really wanted to see the Masonite smart door.
We listened to two different takes on the drive home: one from one of our favorite smart home channels, Smart Home Solver, and the other from industry expert Stacey Higgenbotham, Stacy on IoT. Reed from Smart Home Solver was at the show in person and he highlighted a lot of the most interesting smart home and other cool tech that we saw too. Stacey and her co-host Kevin Tofel attended virtually and did phone interviews with companies, but it sounded like they attended a completely different event.
As our world continues to change and adapt, it will be interesting to see how CES evolves. This year they did manage to keep it alive, but with only around 45,000 people in attendance. I can imagine it will be difficult to convince companies to continue to pay for space for a hybrid event.
In the smart home space, Matter, the new smart home connectivity standard backed by Apple, Amazon and Google, continues to gain momentum and plenty of companies announced that they would be supporting Matter during CES. Though at the show, companies we talked to rarely brought up Matter, although virtually everyone had a statement ready if asked.
Matter promises to make it easier for consumers to use different brands of smart home devices together in their home but we are still quite some time away from seeing actual compatible devices in the market.
During CES, Amazon, Google and Tuya Smart, a large Chinese smart home development platform, all made announcements of developer tools supporting Matter, and NXP announced a new tri-band chip that will support Wi-Fi 6, Bluetooth LE 5.2 and Thread, which will make it easier for companies to build compatible products.
The actual Matter standard is scheduled to be released this June, and if that stays on track, we should expect to see new devices at next year’s CES. There is some promise of existing products, like some of the newer Amazon Echos, being able to work with Matter via a firmware upgrade.
In the meantime, if you are a consumer wondering if you should hold off buying new smart home devices to wait for Matter, we’d say no. Technology standards are always messy and take time, especially when big players are involved, and we won’t know how well everything really works together for some time.
If you want to make sure you can jump on the Matter train as soon as it leaves the station, look for products that use Thread, one of the main connectivity protocols it supports.
Home Connectivity Alliance
Not wanting to be left out, a group of major home appliance manufacturers and HVAC companies announced the Home Connectivity Alliance, with the goal of creating cloud connectivity standards across different brands.
The group includes Samsung, Haier and GE Appliances, Electrolux, Arcelik as well as HVAC providers American Standard and Trane.
At first we were surprised to see this group formed on its own rather than as part of the Matter group, but when you think about it, buying a new washer and dryer, refrigerator or heating and cooling system is not the same as buying smart light bulbs and video doorbells.
None of the large appliances we have at home are smart yet, and the ones we do have are from different brands. When we finally do replace these, we will want to make sure they have connected features and that those features will continue to work for ten years or more. We look forward to learning more about this group and seeing compatible products at a future CES.
Expanded Smart Home Product Lines
With and without standards, we saw plenty of companies continue to build out their smart home product lines and showcase them at CES.
Cync, GE Lighting’s connected home line, has continued to grow over the last two years since their acquisition by Savant. At CES this year, they announced a new smart thermostat and outdoor camera, as well as filling out their already impressive lighting line. They also announced that they intend to support Matter.
In 2020, we visited the Hampton Products booth and saw lots of different prototypes of new smart home tech, expanding on their successful lock and security business. They have some great brands, like the BenjiLock fingerprint padlocks and the Brinks Push, Pull and Rotate door locks.
This year, we were happy to see a lot of the prototypes and even more products working together at CES. Array now includes locks, cameras, sensors, lights and more, all using Wi-Fi and controlled by the Array app.
Another brand that was new to us was Vesync. Vesync is actually three different home brands, Etekcity, Cosori, and Levoit, for distinctly different solutions but all working with the Vesync app. Etekcity has traditional smart home plugs and switches, Cosori makes sleek and connected kitchen appliances, and Levoit has air purifiers, humidifiers and vacuums.
Evidently Vesync has been around since 2015 but this was the first time we’ve noticed them at CES, perhaps because they had such a big presence among empty spaces left by Ring and others. The products look good and we’re curious to try them, especially the connected kitchen devices.
What do Vesync and Hampton have in common? Neither one of them are currently supporting Matter. It seems they are more focused on creating products consumers want and less about the underlying technology – and that’s not a bad thing.
Speaking of Vesync, the Levoit brand has had a lot of success recently with their line of connected air purifiers. Not surprisingly, there were air purifiers everywhere at CES this year. We saw all shapes and sizes, some on wheels, some beautifully designed like the Mila and the Aura Air that mounts on the wall. Whether they are connected or not, air purifiers now seem to be a must have appliance for every home or small business in the COVID era.
Connected Home Gym
We usually see a lot of fitness products at CES, but after getting our own Peloton last year we were surprised how many companies had really big booths with such a similar model.
There was the Hydrow rowing machine, the CLMBR climbing machine, and Echelon which has bikes, treadmills, rowing machines and fitness mirrors. All these nice fitness machines have some version of a connected touchscreen with instructor-driven content.
If there’s anything we’ve learned about Peloton, it’s not the quality of the equipment – it’s the community, and building communities is hard. With people starting to return to gyms it will be interesting to see how many of these fitness brands can continue to keep members paying month after month and how many will be at CES in 2022.
Health and Food Tech Grow Up
Both Health and Food Tech used to be smaller niches within CES, interspersed with all of the smart home tech in the Venetian convention center. This year both grew enough to get their own dedicated areas.
Health Tech moved over to the main Las Vegas Convention Hall and Abbott Labs CEO Robert B. Ford did the first ever CES health keynote. We imagine that distributing the COVID testing kits was part of Abbott’s sponsorship.
FoodTech also had its own dedicated area and featured CES sessions, curated by Michael Wolf of the Spoon. We missed the energy of the old FoodTech Live events from CES 2019 and 2020, but we were glad to see the new space and even got to taste some mushroom-based milk.
Sustainability and Climate Tech
Sustainable meat and dairy were just a small part of the focus on climate and sustainability at CES. Electric vehicles, including cars, bikes, motorcycles and scooters were everywhere and Sony even got in the game with their concept SUV.
We were happy to see lots of unique home-based solutions. Lasso, one of favorites from last year’s CES, is rolling out their self-contained home recycler starting in San Francisco, and will be starting formal pre-orders in February. More than just a product, Lasso Loop wants to overhaul the existing recycling system and eliminate all the unnecessary steps and reduce miles traveled to process your household recyclables.
Clear Drop’s soft plastic compactor hopes to eliminate plastic bags from the landfill, the Rain Stick lets you recycle and recirculate the water in your shower, and the Reencle allows you to compost food scraps easily in your own kitchen. We look forward to trying some of these and seeing how the space continues to develop.
Technology to Save us from …. Technology
One of the most fascinating trends at this year’s CES was the anti-tech solutions.
We loved the Toniebox, a sweet interactive speaker without a screen or internet connection for kids. The box comes alive with individual Tonies, different characters that tell stories and sing songs.
Morphee makes beautifully-designed, portable meditation speakers for both kids and adults to help you relax and sleep.
And if your kids (or you) need a time-out from screens, you can secure them in the Tech-Break and avoid them for meals, homework, or bedtime.
One of the most unusual things we saw was Pozio – a device that “blocks” Siri and Alexa from listening to you. Put your phone in the Pozio charging stand and Siri won’t respond, unless you turn off the Pozio with, you guessed it – your voice. Pozio also comes in two versions to block two sizes of Amazon Echos.
Just a suggestion, if you don’t want a smart speaker listening to you, don’t buy one. Seems like an easier solution.
Smart home technology has firmly established itself as an evergreen theme at CES and it’s grown far beyond connected light bulbs, doorbells, cameras and locks. There are solutions to keep us safe, entertained, healthy and fit at home and the devices continue to improve and evolve.
With new interoperability standards and continued advancements in artificial intelligence, hopefully at next year’s CES we will really start to see these things work together more effectively and move from novelty to necessity.