LAS VEGAS — Manufacturers at the 2014 International CES are making a more compelling case for the connected home by focusing on practical technological applications. That’s a major step forward in the market’s development, and a major change in the messaging from previous years.
The technology to control appliances, lights and locks with a mobile device while also getting real-time sensor data is not new. To consumers, though, it’s been a tough sell.
Overzealous use of the word “smart” might have contributed to the less-than-enthusiastic consumer response the smart-home market has seen thus far, as well as general inconsistency among manufacturers and journalists as to what exactly “smart” means.
At CES 2014, though, it appears manufacturers have learned from past mistakes. Gone is the idea of simply gluing an iPad to the front of a fridge and calling it “smart.”
Also gone is the idea that an appliance must have direct access to the Internet to be considered smart. Your fridge doesn’t need apps. It just needs to be able to communicate with you — and with the other devices in your home.
The message from manufacturers this year is much clearer: “Smart” means connected and secure, practical and useful, simple and affordable. Smart is something you want.
Control in pocket
A smart home fits in your pocket and goes where you go, figuratively speaking.
The Lowe’s Iris Home Management System, for instance, lets homeowners monitor and control various aspects of their homes through a cloud-based remote interface. A user can log in to the system through a Web browser or a connected smartphone app.
The Lowe’s system originally included cameras, thermostats and motion sensors; for CES 2014, the company introduced a garage door opener and a connected water shut-off valve. All these can be monitored and controlled from your phone.
We’ve seen similar systems from other start-ups, such as Revolv. Whereas Iris requires you to essentially build an entire ecosystem around Lowe’s accessories, Revolv integrates popular third-party smart devices, including Philips Hue LEDs, the Nest thermostat, Sonos wireless speakers and Yale locks.
Both approaches have their admirers, but the industry seems to be embracing the open platform employed by companies such as Revolv. That’s a marked shift from what we saw at CES 2013.
Safe and secure
A smart home has eyes and ears to monitor every door and window, as well as a “mouth” to tell you when something changes. This translates into real, practical applications when it comes to safety, security and surveillance.
Alarm.com had that thought in 2013, when it showcased a flexible plug-and-play home security system consisting of motion sensors, webcams and window locks. Returning for this year’s CES, the company showed us an expansion of its security suite: the Wellness program. It’s designed to assist the elderly, monitoring changes in routine and contacting loved ones when the system suspects something has gone wrong.
A more broadly appealing kind of smart security comes in the form of smart locks. Dozens of companies are coming up with innovations in this field, but one of the hottest is lock-maker Kwikset, whose Kevo system incorporates regular metal keys, automobile-style key fobs and smartphone control.
Kevo is interesting because it can be used like a traditional lock, but it also allows you to control access to your home, no matter where you are. The smartphone functionality works through encrypted eKeys, which have assignable user levels and can be shared between users.
COMPLETE COVERAGE: Read more news from CES 2014
Easy to talk to
“Smart” can be simple, too.
LG previewed HomeChat in a news release before CES 2014, but we got to see it in action during the show. Appliances equipped with HomeChat can communicate via text, using natural speech for commands and notifications.
For example, you can send a text asking, “What are you doing?” to your dishwasher, and it will reply, telling you where it is in the wash cycle. You can text your fridge, “I’m going on vacation,” and it will enter an energy-saving mode until you let it know you’re back.
Everyone with a phone knows how to text. With HomeChat, LG’s goal is to introduce additional functionality to appliances without introducing an additional learning curve.