2017 IFA and CEDIA Smart Home News Highlights
It’s been a pretty busy last few weeks in the world of the smart home, from Philips Hue’s Fifth Anniversary to Control4’s new “DIY” features, all of us here at Smarter Home Life are looking forward to this year’s holiday gadget season.
Let’s start with one of the big stories. Philips made major headlines as it announced new Hue products, new features and new integrations at the annual IFA technology show in Berlin at the end of August. For the big fifth anniversary—can you believe Hue has been around since 2012?!—Philips is rolling out several new smart lighting products, including a track light-like fixture called Buckram and new four-packs of its color-changing bulbs. But wait, there’s more! The legendary lighting company announced—to a virtual standing ovation by Apple fans everywhere—that its existing Hue accessories like the Tap Switch, Dimmer Switch and Motion Sensor would become compatible with HomeKit. Those products will soon be able to activate scenes (and perhaps individual devices?) within HomeKit that include non-Hue devices, a feature that HomeKit users have been requesting since those accessories hit the market.
But wait, there’s even more. Philips introduced a brand-new feature called Hue Entertainment, a new way to directly integrate Philips Hue smart lighting with movies, TV shows, music and even gaming. Up until now, if users have wanted create special effects with Hue lights they’ve needed to use third-party apps. But soon—Philips says it will launch in December—you’ll be able to have an immersive experience in your home with not just sound but sight as well, no special effects apps required. Philips is opening the new Hue Entertainment platform up to partners in October to use its EDK to integrate with the new platform. Based on initial details, it appears that streaming devices and game consoles will be part of the mix. Philips has created some incredible new technologies to enable fast streaming of light commands, and it sounds really promising. Read more at the Philips site.
Also at IFA, HomeKit product maker Elgato announced an update to their Eve Thermo radiator control valve for the European market, Eve Smoke (a smart smoke detector seen at CES 2017), a window security sensor called Eve Window Guard, Eve Aqua (also seen at CES) for controlling irrigation and a smart lock co-developed with Yale called Eve Lock. Like the rest of the Elgato Eve line-up, all of these products are based on Bluetooth LE for long battery life and secure connections with HomeKit devices. All Eve products work “out of the box” and don’t require a special home automation hub, or even Wi-Fi to operate.
Eve Aqua is the very first HomeKit irrigation controller to hit the market. Elgato displayed it at this year’s CES but wasn’t sure when they could bring it to market since irrigation and water control wasn’t one of the HomeKit categories (yet). But now that irrigation is an official category, the product will become available later this year. Along with Eve Smoke, Eve Window Guard and Eve Lock, Eve Aqua does not have a price or official release date yet.
The new Eve Thermo, developed with EUROtronic, has capactive touch control, a beautiful, integrated temperature display that glows right through Thermo’s white plastic shell and a new architecture that supports enhanced Bluetooth LE communication. Eve Thermo can event detect open windows to adjust temperatures accordingly, along with presence detection and automatic valve maintenance. Eve Thermo will begin shipping on September 26, priced at £59.95 / 69,95 Euro. Learn more at the Elgato Eve site.
Here at Smarter Home Life, as we’re fans of smart locks, we’re keenly interested in Eve Lock and its capabilities but there are very few details available so far. And, no price or availability date.
All Those Digital Assistants
Elsewhere at IFA, in the digital assistant wars…many, many products are popping-up with Alexa and Google Assistant onboard, so says CNET. And, quite bizarrely, Microsoft and Amazon will cross-link Cortana and Alexa. What?!
The X-Spect scanner from Bosch is a smart device that can identify types of garments, food items, stains on clothing, whether fruit is ripe or not, and more. And it can talk to you other (probably Bosch) smart appliances to help them, say, get your clothes clean. It’s just a concept now but certainly promising. CNET has the full story.
Speaking of “scanners”, Netatmo announced that their Welcome and Presence security cameras will soon become HomeKit-compatible through a software update, joining an ever-growing line-up of cameras from other vendors. These would perhaps appear to be some of the first devices to gain HomeKit functionality through Apple’s new software-authentication model introduced at WWDC 2017. We’ll most likely see quite an increase in products gaining HomeKit (and thus, Siri) capabilities over the coming months. Presence will gain HomeKit compatibility first this fall, followed by Welcome in early 2018.
And last but not least, Nanoleaf announced that the Aurora Rhythm module was officially (finally) shipping. They first talked about the add-on device early this year, along with their new multi-sided unique physical remote control for the colorful Aurora LED panels. The Rhythm module plugs right into any Aurora panel and instantly creates a light show from the ambient sound (or thumping music) in the room and can also be connected directly to an audio source via 3.5mm audio cable. The Nanoleaf Remote will enable smartphone-free control of the Aurora panels, with built-in effects that will customize based on the remote’s sensors and gyros. The Remote will be available later this fall.
The CEDIA show is known more for home automation professionals and dealers of smart home equipment and services, versus DIY-type products and solutions that have re-shaped the market over the past decade. But there were some interesting new products and news tidbits that we felt worthy of inclusion here.
Oviku Smart Lock
Oviku has introduced a retrofit (think: August) smart lock that has a feature that no other smart lock has: a fully “secure” mode. This mode prevents movement of the deadbolt, thereby preventing anyone with a key or lock-picking tools from getting in. Otherwise, it’s similar to an August, Friday or Sesame lock and can remotely lock and unlock your door. However, as seen in this demo video from CEPro, the lock operates incredibly fast! As in, about 1/2 second. Light years faster than any other smart lock on the market. (One note, if you use the secure mode and no one is home, please be sure that the Oviku’s batteries are charged or you have a second entrance to your home!) The Oviku smart lock is available with Bluetooth and Z-Wave technologies and will be available this fall, price at $299.
There's a (relatively) new player in the smart home world: Josh.ai. This start-up originally created a ridiculously-pricey home automation solution with software loaded on a Mac mini that would be stored in a home's equipment closet. But the new product they introduced at CEDIA is the Josh.ai Micro, a small pod-like device that can be placed in every room of the home. It acts as a voice interface and also has a suite of sensors for environment monitoring (temperature, humidity, ambient light). The top of the Micro is touch-sensitive along with its illuminated ring, and both offer additional ways to interact with your home's devices and systems. Josh.ai is different from something like Alexa on the Amazon Echo, since the natural-language processing and the voice responses are all handled in the units themselves...and Josh.ai was purpose-built for home automation. NLP means you can say something like "dim the lights, turn on the TV and change it to HBO" all in one command, and the system will understand you and perform the actions. Josh.ai remains a dealer-only solution. Read more over at CE Pro.
Looking for some interactive information when shaving or getting ready in the morning? Séura has introduced Smart Mirrors to its lineup of specialized TVs and mirrors. They run a version of Android to power the display, have voice control and touch control for ease of accessing your favorite apps, news and weather sources and more. Of course, turning your bathroom mirror into a large touchscreen is probably going to force you to clean it every day…imagine the smudges, soap and shave gel mess! There aren’t details yet on whether the voice control will be Google Assistant or some other system. No pricing as of yet, but Séura designs pretty high-end products, so assume it will be a pretty penny.
Control4, known for its excellent dealer-installed home automation systems and hardware, is now letting its users adjust their systems, build new scenes and add if/then logic for programming the system to respond to sensors, schedules and the like. Traditionally, dealer-installed systems require “upgrade calls” when a system owner wants to make changes after things are initially up and running. Control4 calls it the When/Then engine, and it goes farther than practically any other dealer-installed home automation system available, letting users adjust nearly any configurable button in their Control4 system to their liking for actions and responses. It’s a smart balance between giving end users enough control without letting them potentially screw up their system—which would wind up resulting in more support calls.
This article contains some information originally gathered from CNET and CE Pro. Supporting articles and media are linked appropriately.