There are few categories in the consumer electronics market as dynamic as the smart home market right now, and for good reason. Smart home products like connected, programmable thermostats, networked cameras, and Wi-Fi connected light bulbs allow users a level of control over the systems and appliances in their homes that most have never had before. The category is growing as well- according to The NPD Group’s new Smart Home point-of-sale tracking service, sales of home automation products, which include security and monitoring products, smart lighting, and system controllers, have grown 27 percent in the past year as the market size has approached $400 million. And for the most part, consumers have a good idea of what smart home products are. According to NPD’s recent Home Automation Study, 78 percent of consumers said they were familiar with smart home products.
The Las Vegas Strip is a strange place at any time of year, but many of us only experience it during CES when it is overflowing with an eclectic mix of tech geeks, box-makers and execs all looking for - or touting - the next Great Invention. Without CES, the crowd is the more typical mixture of tourists and party-goers armed with “selfie-sticks” and smartphones, as I discovered this week.
Twenty-five years ago last Friday, Depeche Mode inadvertently almost started a riot. The band had finally become “big” in the U.S., but had not realized just how big. As a result, when they agreed to a CD signing session at a local record store – the Wherehouse record store – they had no idea that 15,000 people would turn up. Whoops. The message went out on the radio: “for all of you with radios listening to this, pass the message that Depeche Mode will only be here for three more hours.”
HTC has taken its first bold step into the wearables space, with the launch of the HTC Grip. The activity tracker is the first product to come out of the partnership HTC announced with Under Armour at CES in January. And importantly, the product looks like an Under Armour product thanks to its color scheme, and works directly with UA’s Record app, rather than having its own proprietary app.
I break things. It’s (usually) not intentional, but a surprising number of devices stop working for me. My connected scales have refused to tell me my weight recently (that should tell me something), my automated door lock froze to death and my smartphone mysteriously re-boots on a regular basis. And that’s before I do anything unusually dumb, such as dropping them, throwing them in water, or losing my shorts (with my phone in them). So when I was recently loaned an “ultra rugged” phone – the Sonim XP7 - I couldn’t help but devise an unusual range of tests to see how well it would survive in my world.
Once I year, I escape the real world and head down to a small Caribbean island called Bonaire. It’s a kind of an “off-the-grid” type of vacation where coffee shops claim to offer Wi-Fi, but happily don’t deliver on their promise… and no one notices. Do not go to Bonaire if you want to get some work done. In other words, it is paradise for a week or so.
A strange thing happened to me today: I received the latest and greatest in wearables in the mail and, after opening the box and rifling through the various bits and pieces, I realized that I was not going to use the product at all. That’s pretty unusual for me: I’m typically right up there at the front of the line, willing to try anything; at least for a short while, but not this product.
Baby it’s cold outside. No seriously, it’s 12 degrees and, unlike the song, I was just stuck outside, trying to get in. Unfortunately, my quasi-automated house did not want to cooperate. I say quasi-automated because I’m jumping into this home automation stuff slowly (indeed, less of a jump and more of an inch-by-excruciating-inch submersion).
For the second year in a row, wearable technology was a major theme at CES. However, anyone expecting a new wearable product that was significantly different from the current mainstream, or new killer use case, came away disappointed.
The last year or so has seen the beginning of a subtle trend towards disconnecting from the always-on world that we live in. Some hipsters have embraced the not-so-smart flip phone, along with film-based cameras and other such curiosities from the technological past. We even got temporarily swept up in it a couple of years ago when I put my smartphone away for a week or so and dusted off my old Motorola Razr. It was an interesting experience, but hardly life-changing. What I learned most was the value of self-control: I didn’t HAVE to check my email as soon as it arrived. It could wait.