Chimni Found Nigel Walley was please to be appointed a temporary roving reporter for Showhouse Magazine as part of his trip to this year's Consumer Electronic Show in Las Vegas. The feature was published in the February edition of Showhouse:
Nigel Walley @ChimniWalley
A trip to the Consumer Electronic Show in Las Vegas has become part of the yearly calendar for anyone working in new technology. But, while it is traditionally full of interesting home tech, it has yet to achieve that must-see status for homebuilders. This year may change that, as CES 2017 was full of new ‘smart home’ and ‘internet of things’ technologies that appear poised to make the leap into the mainstream and therefore into our homes.
CES is a vast, city-wide event with features on a wide variety of industries, from motoring, health, music and TV. However there is always a core focus on the way technology affects how we live and this year smart home tech was at the fore. When we walk round a show like CES, we should be careful not to think the impact of new technology on housebuilding is a new phenomenon. Tech innovation perpetually affects our industry’s product and there was a time when including a central heating system was seen as a property tech innovation. But this current wave of smart home tech does seem all consuming. CES 2017 had technology innovation that touched on the usual white goods, security, entertainment and monitoring but this year seems to have gone further into the fabric of our homes with cupboards, windows and walls not escaping.
The explosion of internet connected devices is not in itself new. The number of power sockets now being requested by homeowners in new units was a first hint that a new wave of tech innovation was hitting our market. But this was simply about helping homebuyers who wanted to buy clever kit after purchasing a property. CES 2017 gave the hint of the extent to which new tech will impact, and have to be built into, new homes before purchase.
White goods manufactures have grasped the idea of smart tech as a way of increasing the premium they can charge. Every device a homebuilder may install in a new build, from washing machines, fridges to hobs had an operating system and an app to manage them. GE demonstrated a suite of smart hobs and cookers that accessed and stored not just recipes but the settings needed to deliver them. Even cupboards couldn’t escape connectivity. LG demonstrated clothing storage that managed dry-cleaning rotas and offered different storage solutions for different fabrics. The only re-assuring thing we can take away from these demonstrations is that there is still no hint that consumers are expecting this level of connectivity in their appliances (in fact many may still view it with alarm). But this may change.
Better examples of innovation beginning to make sense were the security products, with innovative, software driven door-locks and monitoring systems everywhere. We have previously seen locks that can be controlled by apps but this year voice control and integration with bigger smart home systems arrived in a big way. Brinks showed off their ‘Array’ locks that can be voice-controlled via an Amazon Echo, and Yale were demonstrating locks that can integrate with Apple’s HomeKit smart home software.
Around these systems, voice activation was the big control story with Google’s Home and Amazon Echo dominating a crowded field. Most security products on show could integrate with one of these devices. The big operating systems companies, Apple, Google, Microsoft and Amazon don’t officially demonstrate at CES, but their products and services were everywhere in the Smart Home areas. Amazon Echo’s ‘Alexa’ voice control had a presence on 700 different stands.
We also saw previously separate items like ‘smart’ lighting, heating, alarms and monitoring now integrated into bigger, cohesive home systems, with an emphasis on various competing ‘hub’ technologies. Hubs are clever wifi routers that can send messages between connected devices and the apps that control them. By connecting to a router, they also control the link between devices and the outside world. Amazon Echo and Google Home are both hubs and stand-alone solutions like British Gas’ Hive also comes with a hub. These hubs can support a network of clever devices around our homes.
Every consumer electronics manufacturer were showing their own propriety hub solution – often accompanies by a voice controlled like the Lenovo SmartAssistant and LG’s anthropomorphic Hub Robot, both of which compete with Amazon Echo and Google Home. However, the breakout contender was the Samsung Smartthings hub, which comes with its own brand of smart sockets, light bulbs and sensors. It also seemed to integrate with various other manufacturer brands and most smart tech products boasted a Smartthings integration. For the homebuilder the difficult question is when to include these technologies in new build homes. Will wall sockets continue to evolve to have hub integration included?
The message from CES this year is that there are still too many competing wifi and connectivity standards to be able to commit to any particular device or network standard yet. But this doesn’t mean homebuilders escape dealing with the implications of homeowners wanting to install this stuff. Homes will increasingly need tech cupboards with distributed power and shelving just to hold and manage the growing number of internet related boxes, routers and splitters we will need to manage this new world.
Walking round CES the spread of screens into every device and surface was also noticeable. Most fridges being demonstrated included some form of screen, normally showing an elongated, vertical version of the Windows OS. Some manufacturers, like Panasonic, – went as far as turning glass fronted fridges into interactive touch screens that helped you interrogate their contents.
But screens had spread even further. Panasonic demonstrated glass room dividers and cupboard doors that doubled as PC and TV screens. Seemingly any surface in our homes will, at some point, be able to double as an interactive screens. For all the screen solutions on offer, none of the manufacturers could square the circle that digital technology has a much shorter lifespan than fridges or cupboards. Will people be willing to replace a clothes cupboard or a fridge because iPlayer no longer works on its screen?
Homeowners are currently facings a number of different pressures. Alongside the drive for ‘eco’ and low-carbon performance, there are the costs and speed pressures leading to modular and off-site construction. The proptech revolution as witnessed at CES looks initially as though it is pulling in the opposite direction. Most products on display only offered increased product complexity and cost for homebuilders, with the mitigating factor being the lack of clear consumer demand.
However, homebuilders can’t bank on this lasting. Amazon Echo sold 5M devices in the US before its UK launch last year and it was the fasting selling piece of consumer electronics in the UK and US over Xmas. The Smart Home is mainstream whether we build it or not.
This article was written by Chimni for the February edition of Showhouse Magazine. For more information about the magazine please see their website here: www.showhouse.co.uk or email firstname.lastname@example.org