CES 2016: Smart Homes had to be back!

What is happening in Vegas is no more staying there, at least with the unusual marriage of technology, IoT and home appliances together

Pratima Harigunani
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Courtesy istockphoto

Pratima H


INDIA: Lots is on full heat, volume and skate at CES this year. If Walking Refrigerators could not be enough as head-turners on the move, US Marshals have raided a booth of alleged knock-downs of one-wheeled electric scooters from Future Motion.

Heads keep spinning as the novel and the bizarre continues to woo the feet on the ground. Biometric shirts from Hexoskin (yeah, sensor-embedded fashion for monitoring, recording heart rate, breathing and movement for keeping a tab on calories burned, fitness, sleep etc. through Bluetooth-friendly devices and apps) or smart suitcases from Bluesmart (that promise to not let the owner lose luggage and already pack USB ports, BLE, iOS, Android stuff, digital locks etc) are at CES as well, trying to hop in as something-relevant for the tweezer-brows even as car-makers, VR headsets and other high-brow folks continue to make a sprint from where they left at CES 2015.

For the ones sitting comfortably in their homes too, it’s again that time of the year to raise brows though. Amidst all the sigh-fi accouterments; there are appliances, technologies and advancements for the home-heeled as well. If there was any question whether last year’s smart-home hype was just a cardboard of vaporware, CES 2016 brings forth lot of answers and new questions.


This year besides the surprise of seeing Amazon too in the fray with cloud-based voice assistant Alexa that is going to work as interface with third-party products; there is Samsung with a refrigerator that comes with food-monitoring embedded camera, sophisticated sensors and a smart network hub that promises to waltz well with the tap of a phone.

Unplain vanilla fridges Unplain vanilla fridges


John Herrington, Senior Vice President, General Manager of Home Appliances, Samsung Electronics America explained, “Now more than ever, we are delivering in a big way on the promise of the Internet of Things (IoT). As the refrigerator’s digital family command center, the screen allows you to post, share and update calendars, pin photos, share treasured kids’ works of art, and leave notes – all with the ease and convenience of your smartphone.”

If the fridge could take a picture every time the door is closed so that the owner may check remotely if one is running low on milk; or could set alerts for spoilage risk; it has a frenemy in that newly showcased robotic vacuum at CES (HOM-BOT) that could take smart, instruction-based cleaning to new levels with the use a tap the area on ones’ phone or the built-in camera for remote monitoring of this creature.

Then there are the likes of Neura at CES this time, trying to bring in a comprehensive data tracking technology that allows your oven to know when you have left the house so that it can do what IoT is supposed to do. It is thus attacking a major problem area for the smart-home market: diverse devices not able to talk to each other in easy language when they are expected to intuitively work as a team.


John Feland, CEO and Founder, Argus Insights, Inc. captures the action at CES well. “Television & Automotive saw the most discussion on the first day of CES. Logitech and Belkin secured the most mindshare of Smart Home brands through generating interest in giveaways. While Logitech’s hourly giveaways are promoting superficial engagement, Belkin is encouraging more authentic conversation around their brand and products through a number of small, specific giveaways."

Fire-Place As Ever

CES 2016 reinforces the attention and steam that smart-home market has been up to in the last two years. From Nest, Google’s IoT platform Brillo, Samsung’s SmartThings; to Apple and other traditional appliance-makers, this market has been receiving eyeballs, footfalls and wallets in varying degrees. We have seen players like Microsoft partnering American Family Insurance for accelerator programs spurring smarter homes; Apple weaving in new software frameworks like HomeKit as part of iOS; and Google’s Nest Labs allowing developers to give the world more of those Nest thermostats and smoke detectors.


A June 2015 report from Navigant Research augurs annual revenue from shipments of residential IoT devices rising to $67.7 billion in 2025 as the residential IoT space continues to draw interest from device manufacturers and other stakeholders who want to leverage the capabilities of connected devices.

The market is growing indoors in full frenzy and is as much about smart thermostats or smart meters as it is about energy efficiency, enhanced home systems linking security, lighting, and HVAC controls.

Feland points out that Automotive and Television are leading CES discussion, but Smart Home discussion rounds out the top 10 most talked about product categories.


New Rooms, Old Walls

So yes, Forrester too, had anticipated a majority of product themes at CES 2016 to be familiar but as J.P. Gownder highlights, tangibility is a big factor. Gownder has sharply remarked how technology vendors and user companies will need to show consumers and companies alike how these technologies contribute to customer value and top-line revenue growth; the need to convert hot bubbles of ideas into actual concrete.

Interoperability, back-end standards or protocols, front-end interfaces and apps etc still appear as oddly placed doormats in a smart home.


I/o and interfaces remain moot points for smart homes I/o and interfaces remain moot points for smart homes

Alongside, James McQuivey from Forrester reckons the other trough of this wave of connectedness, remarkably questioning the conspicuous lack of apps here. “Today's network-effect problem is bigger and more diffuse because for the camera in my dining room to be valuable, it will have to connect to the microphone in my bedroom and the accelerometer in my car and the carbon monoxide detector in my basement. How do you convince users to install all of those things when the apps that will bring them to life haven't been built yet and won't be built until developers are attracted to the rising install base?”

In Forrester’s crystal ball peek hence, despite Apple pushing on digital health, or odd personal assistant in the form of a speaker tower; not many will have much to say at CES to promote this eventual vision because it's just too hard a proposition to sell. “So they'll sell Trojan horses instead, promising a point solution for now while laying the groundwork for the bigger vision.” As McQuivey quips.

That could mean it might take a CES 2017 to show how far and deep the horses of smart-home innovation manage to gallop.

As long as it is not CES 2025, the home-customer brows can stay un-furrowed.

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