This post was originally publish on Friday Jan. 6, 2023 in my weekly newsletter.
I’m at the annual CES show, but for the third time in three weeks I find myself sick with some kind of respiratory infection, so my deep thoughts on the tech I’ve seen so far will have to wait.
That said, I already have plenty of quick takes, each of which I’ll be thinking about more deeply and discussing with folks as the New Year gets underway. For a rundown, read on.
The wait for Matter still isn’t over: Most companies that are pushing out Matter support will do so in the next few months, many of them with new products. But they’ll wait until later this year to update existing products. Switchbot, for example, is offering a new Matter hub in March, while Eve will stock the shelves with new Matter-certified gear that month.
Additionally, TP-Link is one of the first companies to receive the Matter 1.0 certification. TP-Link is showing off 15 new Matter-compatible products and five new HomeKit compatible products across its Tapo and Kasa lines with some products available later this month and other coming in March. Amazon said it will update its Echo devices as well as its Eero devices to support Matter over Thread (so far, it only supports Matter over Wi-Fi) in spring while also supporting more device types.
In the meantime, I’ve been surprised to find that some of the companies presenting at CES don’t have an announced Matter strategy. Lutron isn’t talking about its Matter plans, and Kevin and I actually had to explain what Matter was to the folks staffing the Kidde table. That isn’t a knock on the Kidde employees; I’ve had to explain some aspect of the smart home to their product people for years, which acts as a good reminder that the smart home is still incredibly niche, and that a mainstream business can afford to ignore it.
I also spoke with folks from the Connectivity Standards Alliance (CSA) who said that, so far, they’ve certified 550 Matter devices and applications and have another 150 devices in the pipeline. They also confirmed that the CSA will stick to its planned Matter release update schedule of spring and fall. Chris LaPré, head of technology at the CSA, told me that in the spring release of the certification we should see support for robot vacuums and home appliances as well as improvements in battery performance for Matter devices.
As to the complaints coming in from users about updating their devices to Matter or how challenging it is to find multi-admin support, the CSA hopes that companies providing apps and devices for Matter listen to those consumers and take steps to make things easier for them. LaPré noted that while the Matter spec requires companies to support features like multi-admin, it doesn’t dictate how they implement them. I, however, think companies that make switching “brains” in the smart home difficult are likely to get pushback from buyers.
Companies are ready to build smart devices into your home; the tech itself is not: We mentioned this on the podcast, but products such as Moen and Kohler’s smart showers and toilets, Masonite’s $6,500 door with integrated Ring doorbell and smart lock, and new home energy management services all drive home the idea that businesses want to go direct to builders in order to put smart home tech inside the home. While this is the sort of long-term transition that will take a few decades, I don’t think we’re anywhere near ready to start.
Unlike a thermostat or even an irrigation controller, many of the systems we’re seeing companies try to install require a professional and big up-front costs. And because we don’t have clear interoperability standards or even a sense of the longevity of many smart home products, it’s scary to think about putting a $6,500 door on your home with sockets designed to fit a doorbell that may only last for three or four years. Ditto for a breaker box that would have normally lasted 25 years but instead will only last for seven because the computer or software inside will become too old to support.
One maker of a smart water monitoring system told me that builders are interested in putting monitoring systems with shutoff valves inside new homes because it offers them a way to establish an ongoing relationship with the buyer, to whom they may be able to provide an additional service. But I’m not sure I’d be keen to pay the builder a monthly water data and monitoring fee after spending hundreds of thousands of dollars on a new home, although I could see requiring monitoring systems for extended or ongoing warranty services.
Wellness tech is everywhere — and getting more invasive: Wellness tech has been big for years, from devices that track steps to sensors that monitor heart rate variability — even lamps that find the best time to wake someone up based on their sleep patterns. At CES in 2019 and 2020, we saw saliva tests to measure nutrition. This year, Withings showed off a urine analysis kit composed of a reader and a replaceable puck with about 100 tests inside. Its U-Scan system has not been approved by the FDA (although Withings is seeking such approval), but the company’s goal is to convince consumers to use the system to track their diet and reproductive health. The Withings U-Scan reader and both Cycle Sync and Nutri Balance cartridges will arrive in the second quarter of 2023 and cost €499.95 ($526.42).
I’ve also seen several companies at this year’s show with headbands for treating depression or improving focus, but a lot of that still feels like snake oil. One company is promoting tech that could determine muscle fatigue. Maybe that will become the new heart variability as the metric to beat for wellness.
Energy management is going to hit the mainstream: I was really excited to see Schneider Electric’s vision for a smart home energy management system complete with a battery, smart breaker box, and optional EV charger and outlets. As I’ve written about before, managing home electric loads is going to become more essential as we deal with climate change and the need to electrify everything on a more unreliable grid. Intelligently managing load in the home will be a big part of that, especially as we add more energy storage in the form of EVs and batteries.
The real question is how those systems will work together. Schneider Electric will let others integrate with its system, but we’re also seeing competing efforts from companies like Samsung, which is promoting its SmartThings Energy Management services. Additionally, the Home Connectivity Alliance, a group of appliance companies, have released the 1.0 version of a standard that lets appliances from major vendors communicate their electricity consumption. The need for some form of service has become clear at the show, but what’s still unclear is how companies plan to build something that will work for consumers, utilities, and providers of the big energy-consuming products inside homes.
Satellites are big news: I had initially included satellites on my list of 10 predictions for the coming year, but then struck it at the last minute because I thought M&A felt more relevant. But satellite news is the air (sorry) at CES. The biggest news has been Qualcomm launching chips for Android phones that are able to use Iridium’s satellite network, which is a response to Apple’s deal to put satellite messaging from Globalstar on iPhones. More on the IoT front, satellite company Skylo announced a partnership with Quectel Wireless Solutions that puts Skylo’s low data-rate satellite connectivity into Quectel’s modules for IoT applications.
Notably, this show feels much smaller than in prior years. The last CES I attended, in 2020, had about 170,000 attendees according to the CEA, which puts on the event. This year, the CEA estimated that some 100,000 people would show up. In the meantime, the media days have had much fewer reporters running around, and fewer exhibitors.
There’s still time for me to see more, but so far I feel like we’re seeing a lot of tech, but much of it feels like the wrong tech, more focused on getting people to spend money for little value. There are interesting pockets of news such as Samsung’s work to engineer its washing machines to reduce the amount of microplastics shed by clothing during a wash, but the cynic in me wonders if that’s just literal greenwashing.