2016 is fast drawing to a close. And while some will be glad to see the back of it, for those of us who work and play with smart home, it has been an exciting year.
By 2021, more than 600 million smart home devices will ship annually, up from 40 million in 2015. This is a market on the move. Here we take a look at some frenzies we expect to develop over the next 12 months for a better smart home to happen.
1. Telcos’ smart home launches
Leading telcos such as AT&T, Deutsche Telekom, Orange and more have been in the smart home business for several years. Considering smart home as a good add-on for subscribers, more countries’ telcos such as Telstra from Australia, Singtel from Singapore, True from Thailand, MobiPhone from Vietnam, SK from South Korea, O2 from UK, KPN from the Netherlands have introduced their new smart home services with their own apps in 2016. According to resources, more service providers of telecommunication and cable TV from the emerging markets of smart home such as South Africa, ASEAN, South Americas and East Europe are planning to launch the smart home kits and services in 2017.
2. Control & command by voice
Research reports from different institutions have commonly found that voice control became a standout, new category for smart home devices over the past 18 months. Per ABI Research, voice control smart home devices, typified by the Amazon Echo, will represent almost 30% of smart home device spending by 2021, despite being a device category that barely existed two years ago. The ability to leverage digital assistant adoption on smartphones delivers genuine consumer value.
German operator Deutsche Telekom has confirmed its non-proprietary platform for connected homes QIVICON has been integrated with the Alexa app from Amazon in September. The German telco cited, “working with Amazon allows us to share even more innovation with our customers. We believe strongly in the future of voice-controlled smart homes.”
With the popularity of Amazon Echo in the western markets, language abilities have been giving market opportunities to Echo’s rivals such as “NUGU” of SK Telecom in South Korea and “DingDong” in China.
NUGU service is initially offered through a 21.9cm–tall cylinder-shaped device also built to work as a home speaker and LED lighting. The Korean telco confirmed that it plans to open NUGU’s Application Programming Interfaces (APIs) in the first half of 2017 in a move to boost the creation of an ecosystem surrounding NUGU by working closely with startups, SMEs and experts in the field of artificial intelligence to develop NUGU-related services.
3. AI-based smart home
Artificial intelligence (AI) technologies enable smart home devices to detect the signals that are received through remote controlled devices (such as wearable devices) to control the functioning of home appliances, devices, and security systems.
Alongside Amazon and Google, Apple, Samsung and Microsoft all have the impetus to bring similar devices and functionality to market.
According to Technavio, the AI market itself is full of opportunities for vendors and smart home OEMs such as Samsung Electronics.
In November 2016, the tech giant from South Korea announced its plan to roll out AI Technology on Samsung smart home appliances. The ability to achieve this comes from Samsung’s acquisition this October – Viv.
Such companies are planning to invest in AI solutions to build next-generation intelligent devices. Cloud computing has become an essential component in smart home technologies because the cloud offers both applications and storage solutions. Additional investments in AI, powered by cloud computing solutions, will provide a competitive edge to leading vendors.
Technology-wise, emotion detection and recognition is the other facilitator of AI-based solutions. The tech giant IBM announced to release its cognition computing skill to all the developers in November 2016. IBM called this experimental project as “Project Intu.” Through this open project, developers can then shorten the time creating cognitive experiences and put efforts on establishing more other capabilities.
4. More Go-to IoT platforms
The IoT platforms are the key for the development of scalable IoT applications and services such as smart home that connect the real and virtual worlds between objects, systems and people. In 2016, there are at least 300 IoT platforms such as GE’s Predix, IBM’s Watson, and SAP’s HANA in the market and the number is continuing to grow. The growth is facilitated by Innovative startups, hardware and networking equipment manufacturers, enterprise software and mobility management companies such as IBM, Amazon, Ayla Networks, Exosite, Orbweb and so on.
With the various business strategies of different IoT platform providers, partnership is always the right answer to capitalize the IoT potentials.
Qualcomm Technologies has announced intention to collaborate with Google to add support for the new Android Things operating system in Qualcomm Snapdragon processors. Alibaba has already started its IoT layout with the YunOS in China. More than ten million connected TVs and set-up TV boxes made by Chinese brand Lenovo and Skyworth have been sold with YunOS installed. More, connected kitchen ventilation fans from Haier and smart refrigerators from Midea have also shipped with the OS. Abroad, Japanese SoftBank’s robot Pepper and SAIC Motor’s car are also running the YunOS.
On top of business strategies and models, generating insightful data is the key to unlocking IoT value. And the platform itself becomes an essential enabler.
5. IoT security improvement
The advent of home automation and rapid rise of smart home connected devices is seeing some vendors and new startups scramble to become a part of the movement, with ABI Research forecasting 360 million smart home device shipments by 2020.
With the growing number of connected home devices, there are the more observations about security vulnerabilities from how IoT devices are being used now. The best example would be the massive DDoS attack occurred in the U.S. in October 2016. Hackers took advantages from IoT device vulnerability, hijacked servers of a DNS service provider, and caused major internet services out of service for many hours, including Netflix, Airbnb and Spotify.
“OEMs need to first think about security at the design stage and conduct risk assessments,” said Dimitrios Pavlakis, Industry Analyst at ABI Research. “The next step is to ensure that proper security testing happens before the product goes to market. OEMs then need to offer continuous security support over the course of the product’s lifespan. ”
6. Healthcare at Home
As wearables and smart watches are expanding as healthcare tools and will be integrated with other IoT applications, consumerization of healthcare services and devices is driving integration with smart home ecosystems and new business models.
Among smart home healthcare devices, product aiming for better sleep and air quality are the two spotlights in 2016.
Launches like Sense, Beurer’s SleepExpert, Sleepace Nox, Eight’s Mattress, GE’s C Sleep Smart Bulb and so forth are designed to provide a good sleep. Bluetooth connection, IFTTT supports or voice control are commonly seen in these products for better smart home integration and user experiences.
Smart air quality sensors provide users with the knowledge and the immediacy needed for maintaining healthy air around them. Common parameters monitored include temperature, humidity, levels of carbon monoxide, carbon dioxide, particulate matter (including PM2.5 and PM10) and VOCs.
Companies such as Withings (acquired by Nokia), Awair, iBaby Air, Koto Air, EQL and more are leveraging advanced technologies like cloud computing, big data analysis and artificial intelligence to provide meaningful information for realizing advanced applications as well as to empower the users to make better informed decisions to improve the air they breathe in. More intelligent products for better life quality will be seen in 2017.
7. Affordable Smart Lighting
Smart lighting in the smart home market is nothing new. There are already many players in the market making smart lighting products that let users control them via smartphone apps. However, makers’ pricy strategy has slow the massive market adoption.
Swedish home furniture giant, IKEA wants to change that by making it more affordable. In September, the company has announced its second smart home product line – a smart LED bulb which supports remote control.
Also in September, TP-Link announced its new family of Smart Wi-Fi Bulbs. Just like a standard light bulb, the Wi-Fi Bulbs do not require a smart hub or bridge, making them cost-effective and simple to use.
The retrofitting of old lighting systems with the latest smart lighting technology would create a profitable opportunity for the manufacturers and suppliers. Globally, Europe is the fastest adopter of this market and in the forthcoming years Asia Pacific is expected to take over the market, because of rapidly growing demand of economic and energy efficient lighting systems in developing countries such as China and India.
In October, the biggest deal in the semiconductor history was announced. Qualcomm said to buy NXP for $47 billion. The sense of urgency to improve operational competitiveness in a maturing semiconductor landscape drives the deals like Qualcomm-NXP, Qorvo-Greenpeak, and so forth.
“When it comes to supporting customers in the fast-growing IoT market, there is no one-size-fits-all approach; you need a scalable platform that allows for innovation,” said Stephen DiFranco, Senior Vice President of the IoT Business Unit at Cypress and former General Manager of Broadcom IoT. Cypress announced its acquisition of the Wireless IoT business of Broadcom in an all-cash transaction valued at $550 million in early July.
Concerns of the scalable offerings also propels the home-automation corporates’ acquisition in 2016 such as Leviton-ConTech Lighting, Bosch-Skyline Automation, Nokia-Withings and Legrand- Luxul Wireless.
9. Four Tech Giants’ Promises in Smart Home
While Year 2016 is full of innovative connected devices, smart home launches, cooperation between communication protocols, the four tech giants, Amazon, Apple, Google and Microsoft are also doing a lot to open new pages in the smart home industry.
With the launch of Apple’s operating system iOS 10 on September 13, Apple’s unified smart home control app, Home, has also started its beta test on iPhone. Some days later, Amazon introduced Echo Dot for under $50, so user can add Alexa to any rooms in your home. On October 4th, Google debuted its smart home Echo-like device, Google Home.
A battle is brewing; it is still early to tell who the winner will be in this smart home ecosystem dominance.
Apple offered something other companies couldn’t: a plan for a smart home ecosystem which would allow device manufacturers and tech-savvy individuals to create products capable of seamless communication between the user and other devices, not to mention the giant’s massive user base and expansive market share. It all means real market potential for profitable product development. But time-and-cost-consuming Made For iPhone(MFi) application, HomeKit certification and mandatary purchases of the core components from its proprietary suppliers are seriously deterrent for makers’ to join the ecosystem.
Google Home, integrating a variety of Google services – Google Calendar, Google Keep, and Google Maps, is trying hard to keep up with Amazon Alexa’s thousands of smart home skills that was built two years head. However, Google is now reported to try to grow its ecosystem by boosting makers to create their own voice command speakers with Google’s virtual assistant built-in.
One month after Google Home hitting the market, Google opened the floor. The program “Actions on Google” allows developers build conversation commands for its Google Home.
Google plans to bring Google Assistant on its chat service Allo and mobile phone Pixel. Therefore, developers can start to create new applications via Actions on Google for these two other services.
On November 6, 2016, Amazon Echo celebrated its two-year anniversary, and the company is reported to launch Amazon Echo 2 in Q1 2017. Market sources indicated the new premium version will work with a seven-inch touch screen built-in. Other than new updates of wireless charging and better audio quality, Amazon Echo 2 aims to boost its smart home use with the improved connectivity and enhancing Alexa voice services, according to the sources.
While Amazon has not confirmed any market predictions about Echo 2, the cooperation with Intel has solidly advocated the its development of the smart home ecosystem.
Further to that, Amazon releases coding resources to boost Alexa’s intelligence in December. In its latest announcement, Amazon will roll out a library of hundreds of new intents and slots as part of the Alexa Skill Kit.
To stay out of competition and differentiate itself from the pack, Microsoft enters the smart home market with a new service called “Home Hub.” Unlike Google or Amazon, Home Hub is a software instead of a hardware device. Microsoft will integrate Home Hub with its Windows 10 operating system so that users can experience the smart home experience right on their PC.
Microsoft’s virtual assistant Cortana will show up on the lockscreen to provide help to users. Also, Cortana will connect with other apps so that PCs can function like a Google Home or Amazon Echo, but with a screen.
The giant is also encouraging its OEM partners to create devices compatible with Home Hub and Cortana-enabled. Lenovo and HP are reportedly already in the talk.
Microsioft has released Cortana Devices SDK, which powers developers who wants to make smart device with Cortana built-in. The SDK supports various platforms including Windows IoT, Android and Linux. In other words, Cortana will be operating on non-Microsoft brands like Apple TV and Android devices.
There’s always something new on the smart home horizon, and we can’t help but wait and wonder what technological marvels are coming in 2017.