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CES 2018: The Year of Behind-the-Scenes Innovation

— January 23, 2018

A year ago at CES, the event belonged to Amazon’s Alexa, with vendors touting Alexa integrations and displaying Echo devices prominently at their respective booths. At CES 2018, however, a single showstopper failed to materialize—unless one includes the power outage at the Las Vegas Convention Center, which was the biggest surprise (and I was there). In lieu of one standout product, I noted several key trends, including the ever-popular artificial intelligence (AI), a growing number of home healthcare offerings, an aggressive push from Google, and an expanding presence of French startups.

Everybody Is Doing AI

This year, much of the innovation is taking place in the backend software of smart products: the AI world. Nearly every company I spoke with flaunted the use of deep learning and AI. While the term AI was used loosely to describe algorithms and machine learning, this behind-the-scenes technology is progressing, which enables more advanced functionality for smart products. There are new and better algorithms, such as those used in Philips’ Hue Sync, which enables multiple connected lights to respond in sync to movies, video games, and music in real time. Advancements in machine learning are enabling digital assistants to recognize the voices of individual people and understand conversational context.

Home Healthcare Edges its Way into the Spotlight

Home healthcare continues to edge its way into more connected products, and this was underscored as I made my way around the crowded show floors. Offerings varied from elderly care solutions, to products for promoting better sleep, to services for people to better connect with their doctors. While propositions such as security, energy, and convenience are largely driving smart home adoption, healthcare solutions can provide enhanced value on a more personal or familial level. Health-focused products can help users better track their own health or the health of loved ones, and can help prevent unexpected illnesses and diseases.

Google Starts Taking CES and the Smart Home Seriously

Google’s presence was everywhere at CES 2018. The search giant’s messaging took over the Monorail, the Aria hotel’s display featured “Hey, Google” ads, and a giant Google gumball-style machine dispensed Homes and Minis to lucky CES attendees. Amazon took a lighter approach by booking ballrooms dedicated to business meetings with various Amazon business groups, including Alexa. This increased presence not only shows that these two companies are taking their engagement in the smart home market more seriously, but it also highlights the absence of Apple. Apple is being left behind in the smart home space, especially with the delay of its HomePod speaker and a continuous lack of traction with HomeKit.

The French Are Innovating

France’s efforts to become the startup capital of Europe were made obvious at CES by the sheer number of French startups present during CES 2018. From companies demonstrating software for making bathroom mirrors smart to Li-Fi-based IoT platform providers, the French are innovating and becoming a hotbed of opportunity for stakeholders across smart industries.

A World in Transition

Though CES 2018 did not have one major theme like that of past shows, the trends I observed fell in line with the progression of digitization that Navigant Research is seeing. Companies are transitioning from deploying hardware devices to enhancing their existing solutions through data and backend software. Large tech incumbents are recognizing the power of the smart home and investing heavily. New value propositions for this tech are emerging and providing more convincing use cases for consumers; new markets are growing from this opportunity. To learn more about these trends, see Navigant Research’s white paper on IoT and the Future of Networked Energy.

 

Speculation Over Smart Home Technology

— January 18, 2018

Over the holidays, I received my first personal assistant. Her name is Alexa, and despite the latest hype and commercial appeal, my virtual assistant remains in her box, lifeless and unused. I have reservations about engaging with a smart device that was programmed to listen, track, and record my personal habits in the privacy of my own home. According to recent consumer reports, these misgivings are common. In fact, over a third of Americans are uncomfortable using smart technology as privacy policies fail to address ongoing security issues. For some users, the convenience of voice-controlled devices, like the Amazon Echo and Google Home, is shadowed by security concerns. Data leaks and recent reports of hackers gaining access to home devices and speakers have not helped matters, begging the question, what do consumers stand to gain from smart home technology?

An Ecosystem of Connectivity

For starters, the ease of access to information and remote-control capabilities of home appliances have helped users save a lot of time and money. Energy efficient solutions like smart thermostats and internet-connected lights paired with other smart devices have helped consumers reduce monthly energy bills. Products like Amazon Echo act as a smart home platform for connecting various Internet of Things-enabled devices, like security cameras and remote-controlled cooking gadgets. Consumers already using some of these devices are more likely to install additional ones as they discover new tasks for machines to handle. Throw in the added convenience of a voice-activated assistant and the benefits of connected home technology start to become more convincing for even the biggest skeptic. Yet the real risk of hackers taking advantage of these features remains as the growing transfer of control from homeowners to smart devices is left unprotected.

A Silver Lining

Despite ongoing security concerns, smart technology offers consumers the opportunity to lead more efficient lives. Yet for users to reap the full benefits of these devices, privacy and security concerns must be addressed. Doing so attracts long-term buyers, securing data and customers in one fell swoop. Since innovation leads regulation, privacy policies for this technology will require continuous revitalizing. Proposals like the European Union’s cybersecurity certification framework represent steps legislators are taking to confront these issues. Vendors can also play a role by being more transparent about their offerings and educating consumers on where risks lie and how best to avoid them. Understanding how the tech works and where faults exist may convince hesitant consumers, like myself, to give it a go and take advantage of what these smart devices have to offer. For more information about smart home technology, check out Navigant Research’s Digital Assistants and AI in the Home.

 

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