CES 2018 wrap up: Tech trends and the next of smart home industry

CES 2018 wrap up: Tech trends and the next of smart home industry
CES 2018 (Consumer Electronics Show) unveiled industry’s new year with focuses on voice control, artificial intelligence and ecosystems.

Google Assistant found a great spotlight at the exhibition, replacing Amazon Alexa which shined the last two years. Companies including Vivint Smart Home, LG, iHome, and One Link from First Alert showcased their technologies controlled by the Google voice assistant.

Most smart home companies presented their applications working with voice assistants this year – the majority have worked with Amazon Alexa and many announced to support Google this year. This natural way to control home appliances via speakers seems to change the smart home scene which used to require users to control devices via various mobile apps.

And, just like how Alexa and Google Assistant connect smart home devices across manufacturers, forming an ecosystem has become many companies’ focuses.

Samsung, for instance, said to launch a new “SmartThings app” in Spring 2018. The new app will enable users to control every SmartThings-support gadgets via one single portal and combine the current Samsung Connect, Smart Home and Smart View apps together.

Samsung’s voice assistant, Bixby, will start to support its smart TVs and smart refrigerator Family Hub this year. The assistant might be integrated into the SmartThings app and create an ecosystem similar to Amazon Alexa and Google Assistant.

Home-gadget ecosystem across brand

In addition to ecosystems that go across manufacturers, companies are also starting to create home-gadget ecosystem across its brand. Nest went from thermostats to home security system and smart doorbell; and Ring began with smart doorbell and entered security cameras. Home companies aren’t making one single device, but creating a home appliance ecosystem for customers to strengthen the brand.

Kohler, the American kitchen and bath appliances maker, attended CES for the first time and showcased its series of connected products on the platform called Kohler Konnect.

The company presented a smart mirror, smart touchless faucet, smart shower system and smart toilet. All devices above will be controlled by a mobile app or via major voice assistants. Users can, for instance, ask assistants to adjust the temperature of the toilet seat, turn on the faucet and pour 6 cups of water, dim the light around the mirror and set up a preferred shower scene.

Looking into chips

As for chip makers who support all smart technologies to happen, integrating artificial intelligence (AI) will be the next highlight. Ambarella’s imaging processor integrating AI capability can recognize objects locally; and NXP aims to focus on AI to empower behavior prediction in the connected home.

Multiprotocol will also become an important industry goal to support devices across various communication standards. Silicon Labs, one of the chip makers that dig into multiprotocol, expects to see devices supporting Bluetooth mesh networking to grow.

“We are seeing manufacturers ask for Zigbee 3.0, proprietary products, and we expect the growth of Bluetooth mesh networking within few years,” said Tom Pannell, the director of IoT Marketing at Silicon Labs.

‘Cool-to-have’ to ‘Must-have’

Walking around the smart home exhibition area at CES 2018, most companies presented similar product categories, but, the differentiation in between wasn’t big. The smart home companies are competing harshly in a few product categories. And, what’s the next?

“The ‘must-have’ feature in the smart home market hasn’t yet been found,” said Avi Barel, the business development director at ULE Alliance.

Most smart home features and product value are ‘cool-to-have’ but not ‘must-have,” therefore, it will still take few years for smart home products entering the mass market.

Creating a “must-have” value might take time, however, some companies are already trying new services in order to add value to smart home devices.

Vivint Smart Home, one of the biggest smart home service provider in the U.S., announced a new service called Streety aiming to utilize the smart home devices and protect the whole neighborhood.

Even though homeowners have installed a security camera at the front door, some intruding and stealing behaviors might not be fully seen via their own cameras. Sometimes the camera from neighbors help recover the original crime situation. That’s where Streety came in.

The Streety app allows homeowners in the same neighborhood to share the footage from their security cameras and helps the ones who got a dead spot on their cameras. It uses third-party verification for identity and address check. More, it creates a platform environment so that security cameras which aren’t provided by Vivint Smart Home could also join the platform and help create a secure neighborhood.

Smart home product manufacturers, meanwhile, are seeking different business models other than selling through retailers in the market. Hive offers subscription plans in UK and the U.S., and small-scale companies such as Senses from Dension and startup Sensative are bringing their smart home devices into commercial buildings in order to create a bigger revenue.

It will still take a couple of years for smart home products to become mainstream. But just for this year, “how Nest entering home security market with lower price products and how serious is Amazon towards the smart home market will make significant influences in the industry,” said Colby Winegar, the vice president of Strategic Business Development at Vivint Smart Home.

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