I’ve never really done a day-by-day diary of my CES journey, but let’s see how this works for those reading the site. Sunday is a media day for CES where the crowds are actually not too bad, and tech journalists gather in throngs at the Mandalay Bay convention space for press events from all of the bigger names in consumer electronics.
In prior years this meant heading up an hour early to wait in line for the big events such as Samsung’s, just so you knew you could get in. This year, Kevin and I don’t care if we get into these events because we’re not journalists working on a daily deadline. We’re at CES to catch novel products and ideas, talk to people behind new products and services, and to see what crazy additions and practical features big names are adding to their smart home devices.
Sunday night is CES Unveiled, one of three shows that startups and big companies can pay a fee to attend and get a booth to show whatever they want to the media. I like these shows. They are smaller in scale and give us more time to connect with the products and the people behind them. The booth attendees are there solely to talk to the press so they expect weird questions and don’t mind crazy photographs. We’re all on the same page.
That’s a lot of build up, so what did I see? For the smart home readers, there’s a lot of incremental improvements coming from some of our favorite product companies. For example, Lutron now has a fan controller switch and Pico remote that can handle adjustable fan speeds. For me, the best part of this might be that when it gets Google and Alexa support, those devices will recognize the fan controller as a fan controller as opposed to a generic light switch. Currently, my fans are controlled by a generic on/off Lutron switch and both Google and Alexa think the fans are light bulbs. This means Google turns my fan on every time I ask it to turn on Living Room lights. Sigh. I won’t switch mine out, but we get a lot of questions about fan controllers, so I wanted to flag this for y’all.
Sengled, which makes quality light bulbs that also offer something else, such as a camera, speaker or motion sensor, will soon release a light strip and a ZigBee powered switch replacement, so someone flipping the switch doesn’t “break” your smart bulb. I expect the light strip to be cheaper than others on the market from LIFX and Philips, but it won’t be out until later this year and pricing will be available then. Kevin and I are both trying to figure out if there’s a big market for light strips. Feel free to share your thoughts.
Other new devices worth a look are the D-Link Wi-Fi leak sensor and outdoor Wi-Fi capable plug. The plug is only IP44 rated, so don’t drop it in a puddle. We also saw a new lock from Schlage that has Wi-Fi built-in and runs on four AA batteries. We get a few requests for Wi-Fi locks, so I’m keeping an eye out for y’all.
I also saw the Hampton Array Wi-Fi lock that also has solar power. (The solar power helps address the drain that Wi-Fi can have on batteries.) I learned from the CEO Kim Kelley learned they are making a line of connected products including an outdoor light/camera, a smart switch and more. In general, those who don’t want the inconvenience of a smart hub that will work with ZigBee or Z-wave are getting some more options in traditionally underserved categories like door locks and sensors.
I also ran into Leeo, a startup that I covered back in 2014 when everyone had dreams of becoming the next Google by building a connected device that became “the platform” for the smart home. The company still has a night light that listens for your smoke alarm, but it has added new sensors such as motion, temperature and humidity and a 60GHz radar that can be used to detect people in a room and even falls. Leeo now wants to sell services, especially those aimed at increasing family security. Think this could tell you if Grandma doesn’t get out of bed in the morning. I didn’t get pricing on what these services would cost, so we’ll just have to wait. I do think that someone who can make a product for aging in place that’s easy-to-use and with a well-articulated story, could do well.
Kevin and I were both excited about Hive, the division of British Gas that offers connected home devices, and its new line of services in the works that detect problems in the home and then connect you to repair folks who can fix them. This is a business model I recall discussing back in 2013 with Alex Hawkinson, who was then the CEO of SmartThings, but I don’t see it too often. One reason may be that the repair experts are usually one-off and it’s hard to get them to adopt a new way of doing business when in many cases, the old way works fine.
We also talked to a Hive HVAC expert, that means we can answer your weird questions about smartness for different types of heating and air conditioning. Sadly for those who asked, there are no plans for radiant or underfloor heating intelligence from Hive in the U.S. anytime soon. There may be more hope for an eventual control for those of you who have emailed us about controlling multiple A/C units that cool individual rooms in the home. This is popular in places like Seattle and sometimes in the NorthEast where A/C is less necessary and is sometimes a retrofit.
We saw a lot more, including a smart bread making machine designed to replicate the same loaf of homemade bread in a grocery store, as well as a smart stove/oven from Whirlpool we’ll talk about later. I also saw all the new Alexa-enabled sinks, tubs, and plumbing fixtures from Moen and Kohler. I avoided the Toto smart toilet for now.
For the industrial minded, Blackberry has tweaked its security offering that helped make its phones so popular among bankers, lawyers, and government officials. Now it offers its security platform in a variety of modules that smart device companies can add as needed. I was curious about this since security is often the sum of all its parts and modular solutions risk being implemented in a patchy manner that leaves holes. I’m definitely going back when I have time for a briefing to find out exactly how this works.
That was Day 1 of CES. Monday is another media day with another showcase at night, so I’ll catch y’all tomorrow with more thoughts from Vegas.