Will this be a Smart Home September To Remember?
New products and announcements from Philips Hue, Sylvania, Samsung, Grundig, LG, Honeywell and others have dotted the smart home landscape of recent months. But, September tends to be the start of “tech announcement season”, and of course, the earlier-than-ever start of the holiday shopping season. So what new gadgets will we see?
The IFA show has just wrapped up overseas in Berlin, where companies like Philips showed off their newest smart lights in person, instead of just in pictures. Smart kitchens were all the rage from brands like LG, Bosch and AEG, with a smart projection display that did seem pretty cool. And of course, many, many third-party Alexa and Google Assistant smart speakers and other gadgets were shown off.
This week, I’m heading to San Diego to cover the CEDIA show...which I like to refer to as the smart home show of the “rich and famous”. OK, that’s not entirely fair, as some people do have their homes powered by mid-range smart home devices from brands like Lutron. The high-end tech of CEDIA and other similar shows does tend to eventually “trickle down” into more affordable consumer products, which is what I tend to cover. I’m heading to CEDIA for some (hopeful) inspiration of what might be around the proverbial corner for the smart home, but certainly not to scope out new gear for my tiny home...because I probably couldn’t afford it!
But beyond what I’ve mentioned, and the obvious announcements from Apple (now scheduled) and Google (probably early October), what’s coming up for the smart home?
Last fall, we saw Amazon ”cannon ball” an entirely new set of devices into the smart home pool, with August Home also completely updating its line of smart locks, and even LIFX launched many new products along with releasing their HomeKit integration. Will there be a repeat?
One major rumor is that Google is going to announce its own “smart display” at their currently-unannounced and unscheduled event. Also, that Amazon will probably update the Echo Dot to match the sound quality and higher output of the Google Home Mini launched last fall.
But will we see some sort of “surprise announcement” that will truly capture the imagination of consumers and “wow” the press? My sneaking suspicion is no. Everyone in the media is fawning over the new wireless wall switches from Philips Hue, er...that work with Hue but are made by other companies. Sure, they will help with smart lighting and even HomeKit scenes—and not consume energy or use batteries—but Philips itself is not making them, and that concerns me for some reason.
If all we get this fall is updated products and “variations on a theme” of existing products, it’s going to be hard for me to continue my excitement about the smart home. I certainly think we’ve entered a lull in product development, because it’s difficult to have true innovation every single year. It also takes time for great ideas to actually make it into real products. After doing some product development and marketing work for a smart home startup last year—during which I took a break from Smarter Home Life for obvious reasons of conflict—I understand this concept extremely well.
I personally don’t have any “secret leads” on products coming to market this fall. And perhaps that just makes me another “blogger” and not a true investigative journalist. So instead of predictions, what product would I personally love to add to my smart home during this “tech product season”? Just a simple way to automate my mini-blinds! Of which, sadly, no retrofit product currently is yet on the market to do this. And the only one that had some promise, FlipFlic, evidently has run into financial troubles after a successful crowdfunding campaign a few years back.
And that’s part of the trouble with the smart home today: There are a ton of products out there like smart lights, plugs, speakers, thermostats, sensors and the like. But helpful, simple solutions to retrofit “dumb” products like existing ceiling fans and mini-blinds don’t really exist. Could it be that manufacturers would sell you brand-new products than help you retrofit old ones? Possibly. I’ll admit that blinds come in various shapes and sizes and maybe is not the sexiest of product categories, but it would help close a gap in creating a more “complete” smart home.
As I’ve written about previously, I feel that it’s certainly great that the smart home companies continue to update and release products on a frequent basis, but what’s needed is a product to easily bring them all together...not just continuing to flood the market with new stuff because they have to sell more devices.
A privacy-focused, yet AI-powered “super hub” that works with nearly everything is what’s needed to fix the currently-broken DIY smart home situation. The mess of “this thing works with that thing but not this other thing” and hubs that offer little to no suggestions of how to put together their "smart things" is unappealing to consumers. (Trust me, I get their emails!) While there is still a love affair between consumers and smart home gadgets, popularized by the Amazon Echo and Google Home, unless a “super hub” comes along relatively soon, the honeymoon might come to a frustrating halt sooner than manufacturers would hope.
Amazon and Google, all eyes (ok, maybe just mine?) are on you to solve this problem. Get on it.