CES 2015 Smart Home Wrap-up
The Consumer Electronics Show is the place for companies from all over the world to show their latest products and ideas with the hope of capturing the imagination of the press and the industry visitors who walk the show floor and visit their corporate suites. The last time I was at CES, in 2013, we had some Phillips Hue light bulbs, some WeMo switches and our Harmony One Remote. During that visit I was able to see everything meaningful for the home in about two hours of browsing.
Fast forward two years and the CES smart home market has exploded. This year the majority of the home vendors were in a separate hall from the main event, at the Sands Expo “Tech West” with hundreds of displays. There were some other important companies in the larger main convention halls and adjoining hotels that I am sure I missed. CES is so vast it can take more than an hour to move between convention halls and hotels, not to mention the long lines waiting for busses and taxis. In order to see everything I wanted to see and actually talk to people, I could have easily stayed the full five days.
Thinking about my trip a week later, here are my key takeaways:
There were dozens and dozens of platforms, ecosystems, hubs, controllers on display from companies large and small. I personally visited and talked to more than a dozen different vendors, and while they have different strategies and implementations, everyone of them wants the consumer to pick them as the center of her home universe. There are many “old” trusted brands to choose from, Lowe’s, ADT, Honeywell, companies who partner through other trusted brands like iControl and Vera, and completely out of the box startups like WigWag. There were cheap copycat products from all over the world on display showing the same wi-fi connected hub with a set of switches and lightbulbs.
Samsung is an example of a “newer” trusted brand – well known in the home for TVs and appliances and, of course, for smart phones and tablets – who is trying to convince homeowners to choose their platform with large screen TVs showing a connected home vision, while Google (through Nest) didn’t display anything on the floor yet quietly let everyone else say they work with Nest. Competition is exciting and good for consumers in the long run, but I believe it will be years before any of these platforms really dominates, and inevitably many will be consolidated and shuttered.
As a smart home consumer, seeing all of this is both invigorating and soul-killing – on one hand there are so many exciting new platforms to try, on the other I know we will keep trying and changing for a year or more before we settle on the very best one.
Out of what I saw last week, the three new platforms I’d like to try are WigWag because of their elegant way of dealing with keeping things connected without the Internet, Fibaro for their high-end user experience and elegant application, and Insteon, which I think we have overlooked and seems to have a nice app and a large catalog of compatible devices.
It was nice to see so many connected cameras that offer more than just a camera, Withings home camera has motion detection, temperature and night vision, Netatmo’s camera offers facial recognition for security, and the Sengled Snap is not a camera but a lightbulb with a camera and motion sensor built in. If we are going to hook up new devices in our house, they should be smarter than the ones we remove so it’s nice to see companies moving in this direction.
There were a lot of neat looking appliances from the major vendors at the show, but very few that actually made sense to me. Both the LG and Whirlpool washers had a feature that allowed you to look up a wash cycle on your phone, then “send” it to your washer for a one time load. Not very exciting, especially since it only saved one cycle at a time, so if I downloaded “bike shorts,” then “silk blouse,” the next time I wanted to watch the bike shorts I’d have to download it again. Frankly, it is way easier to just read the label. Being able to remotely turn on and off my oven is a nice feature, but is still not readily available on the products on display. The most clever feature I saw was the Bosch refrigerator, that takes photos inside your fridge that you could access on your phone from the store, to see what you are missing. Maybe Bosch will also help us solve that mystery – is the light still on when you close the refrigerator door? The Bosch appliances will be available in Europe first later this year.
Out of everything I saw, the home gadget I most want right now is the Big Ass Haiku Fan. It is an absolutely gorgeous design, it has a light and a motion sensor that integrates with Nest, and it has the coolest product name ever. Unfortunately it’s also ridiculously expensive for a home ceiling fan. But just a couple of years ago we bought two ridiculously expensive beautifully designed home thermostats we can’t live without now. So maybe there is hope.