Smart Home Competition Fuels Innovation and Creativity

Although still in its infancy, investment and engagement in artificial intelligence (AI) research continues to grow. A recent Consumer Technology Association (CTA) report citing International Data Corporation (IDC) estimates found global spending on AI was nearly 60 percent higher in 2017 than in 2016 and is projected to grow to $57 billion by 2021. And almost half of large U.S. companies plan to hire a chief AI officer in the next year to help incorporate AI solutions into operations.

As exciting as these changes are, however, one of the most exciting examples of AI right now hits a little closer to home – in fact for many of us, it’s in our living rooms.

Digital assistants are one of the hottest trends in AI, in large part thanks to the vast array of functions they offer consumers. These helpful, voice-activated devices can answer questions, stream music and manage your calendar. More, they turn off the lights, lock the doors and start your appliances when connected to compatible home systems. Budding support for digital assistants across the smart home ecosystem shifts the entire landscape of control from a web of apps to the simplicity of the human voice.

At CES® 2018, we saw many different digital assistants in action, from well-known players such as Google Assistant, Apple Siri and Amazon Alexa to other disruptive options such as Samsung’s Bixby, Microsoft’s Cortana and Baidu’s Raven H. Competition has spurred creativity and boosted innovation, as more and more products that connect with these virtual helpers emerge on the scene.

Competition in the smart speaker category, for example, has prompted greater differentiation among these devices as brands deploy unique features to attract consumers. The strategy is expected to pay off. CTA research projects U.S. smart speaker sales will increase by 60 percent in 2018 to more than 43.6 million units. Almost overnight, smart speakers powered by digital assistants have become the go-to smart home hub, a key component of the Internet of Things (IoT) and the catalyst driving smart home technology revenue growth of 34 percent to a predicted $4.5 billion this year.

The smart speaker category is also boosting other categories of smart home innovations. The rise of smart home technology – expected to reach 40.8 million units in the U.S. in 2018, according to CTA research – creates a new space for digital innovators to connect more devices, systems and appliances in more useful ways. This, in turn, is redefining the boundaries of the tech industry. Competition has fueled creativity, and creativity has expanded convenience – and Americans love it.

Fifteen years ago, we didn’t necessarily think of kitchen and bath manufacturers such as Kohler or Whirlpool as tech companies. Today, these companies are finding ways to integrate their products into the IoT, such as Whirlpool’s “Scan-to-Cook” oven and Kohler’s Verdera smart mirror. And Eureka Park™ – the area of the CES show floor dedicated to startups – hosted dozens of smart home innovators from around the world in January, launching their products for the first time to a global audience. Part of what’s so amazing about these technologies is they work together across platforms to create more efficient, more economical, more livable homes.

For example, South Carolina-based Heatworks developed a non-electric system for heating water, along with an app that lets system users control water temperature and shower length from their phones. New York-based Solo Technology Holdings has created the world’s first smart safe that sends you mobile alerts when it opens. Lancey Energy Storage, out of Grenoble, France, introduced the first smart electric heater, which saves more money and energy than traditional space heaters. And Israeli startup Lishtot showcased a keychain-sized device that tests drinking water for impurities and shares that data wirelessly via Bluetooth. These are just a few of the innovations made possible by IoT.

The IoT revolution has leveraged what I like to call the four C’s: connectivity, convenience, control and choice. Just as we experience the physical world with our five senses, we experience the digital world through the four C’s – they’ve become organic to our modern daily life, yet they are subtle enough that we often take them for granted. Consumers expect the four C’s to be ubiquitous. They are the default settings that anchor our digital experiences, which now increasingly includes our homes and our appliances.

The smart home phenomenon at CES represents what the tech industry does so well: companies big and small leading the IoT charge, crafting unique innovations that can be implemented across ecosystems. And everyone – from the largest multinational companies to the smallest, most streamlined startups – has an opportunity to redefine what it means to be at home.

It’s a redefinition that consumers embrace. Over the course of this year, I have no doubt that we’ll see the efficiencies and improvements technology delivers expanding beyond the home, into our workplaces and our schools. This remarkable evolution – driven by visionary innovation and fierce competition – is proof that technology is improving our lives for the better, saving us time and money, solving problems large and small and raising the standard of living for all.