27 March 2018

Smart home technology finds its voice in 2018

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With the annual Consumer and Electronics Show (CES) having recently taken place in Las Vegas, now is a good time to assess which technology is set to make an impact in the property world this year and beyond.

Voice activation truly arrived at CES this year, with multiple brands showcasing smart home appliances embedded with voice-controlled virtual assistants. With this meet estimating that 50% of all searches will be voice searches within 3 years, voice as an interface is very much here to stay.

At this year’s CES it was voice activated everything. The likes of Alexa (still by far the biggest), Google Assistant (closing the gap on Alexa) and Samsung Bixby are leading home devices into a new seamless era, as consumers increasingly ask appliances for what they need.

The future is looking very bright for the Internet of Things (IOT) / Home technology category as a whole. The industry is growing at an astonishing rate and is expected to be worth US$138bn by 2023. However, with so many brands, products, software operating in this space it’s very much about how you integrate everything. You may have a Nest thermostat, a Samsung fridge, Sonos music system and Alexa but it’s imperative they all talk to each other.

“The goal is seamless integration,” explains Samsung refrigerator director Claudia Santos. Samsung has integrated its home-grown assistant Bixby into its 2018 smart TVs and updated Family Hub smart fridge, enabling consumers to control home functions via voice command from a single appliance to maximise efficiency and convenience.

But what’s driving this insatiable appetite & interest?

I think it’s because we have an increasing need for flexibility, convenience, safety and security in our lives. There’s a home security boom underway with the market projected to be worth $47bn globally by 2020. New products strive to offer consumers more home privacy and protection – from AI security systems and caregiving robots, to digital devices that monitor water leaks and air quality.

Brands at CES were on a mission to reduce crime by offering a comprehensive range of smart home-security products. From locks with biometric recognition to connected safes, the latest tech-advanced security devices enable consumers to protect and monitor their homes from anywhere in real time. It’s estimated that over 7.5 million households in the US are planning on buying a home security system in the next 12 months. This very much echoed our own research data which highlighted the importance of security to owners and residents, particularly in those living in urban areas. This is as important for the rental market as it is for home owners.

This extends beyond the home as illustrated with Streety, a new app that enables neighbours to monitor their area using video footage from security cameras located up to 300 yards from a user’s home. The network will be an opt-in system, with users having to request access to each camera they wish to view. The app also has a facility for residents to post questions for other locals to address (one which could affect planning applications). According to the brand, this element of community interaction is one of the ultimate goals of the service. In a press release Vivint claimed that it wants consumers to ‘say goodbye to neighbourhoods comprising siloed homes that residents enter and exit through their garages with little interaction’.

While increased digital connectivity has made it easier for consumers to connect with disparate groups, it has thus far proved less successful at – and often been detrimental to – integrating them with those in their immediate vicinity. It would be great if this happened as if technology brings people together and makes them feel safer it has to be a good thing. Several brands presented voice assistant-enabled appliances that aimed to turn the heart of the home, the kitchen, into a connected hub.

While increased digital connectivity has made it easier for consumers to connect with disparate groups, it has thus far proved less successful at – and often been detrimental to – integrating them with those in their immediate vicinity.

Haier brand GE Appliances showcased its kitchen ventilation hood featuring a 27-inch screen, which integrates the control of all other Haier appliances in the home. For instance, users can see who is at the door through Haier’s smart doorbell or tell the dryer to turn on. It also has recipe integration, using recipe providers Drop and Innit, which can display the various steps of the recipes as you cook.

Whirlpool similarly announced recipe integration, but this time with the Yummly recipe search engine, which the company acquired in 2017, and its smart oven range. Users can select recipes they’d like to make from Yummly as well as when dinner needs to be ready by. The app will then send cooking instructions, such as pre-heating the oven or setting it to bake versus broil, as well as turning it all off when done. For Samsung and LG, the fridge is the centrepiece of the kitchen and updates to their refrigerator lines included LG’s InstaView ThinQ fridge which connects to the LG oven. Not only will it take over controlling temperatures for recipes but the Alexa-enabled fridge will read recipes out loud. Samsung’s updated Family Hub 3.0 meanwhile uses the company’s own assistant Bixby to connect to third-party devices such as thermostats and lights.

The smart home obviously covers the whole home and CES also saw a significant rise in the number of companies bringing products to market beyond the traditional areas, such as smart air monitors and water-leak detectors. There was also an increased focus on food safety, with tech that detects bacteria and unsafe pesticide levels. CES saw brands integrating advance software into robots and digital assistants to help simplify and secure everyday life – such as built-in-facial recognition, surveillance camera and advanced navigation to route around the home autonomously.

I think CES yet again proves the various ways in which the IOT will change the way we live and is very much here to stay. For housebuilders and developers, it amazes me not all new homes are ‘smart homes’. It doesn’t take or cost much to simply have a smart heating and security system in place. By just doing this it will separate your product from the competition and enhance the brand reputation as being innovative – all for a few hundred pounds. Within a couple of years, it will be standard so why not embrace the change and benefit from it today?