George and Judy Jetson would feel right at home at the CES floor here. With smart washing machines, magic remotes, and refrigerators that blast Top 40 hits, the automated home has arrived.
Sure, some of the home "innovations" we've seen at CES are a little laughable. Do we really need dancing robot vacuum cleaners or refrigerators that post Facebook updates? Maybe not. But home automation is becoming more capable and impressive, if only because we're realizing these fantasy homes are finally possible. (See also "Smart home appliances are a big deal at CES 2013.")
Smart, smarter, smartest
"Smart" is the buzzword that just won't die, particularly when it comes to home appliances.
Remember when a dishwasher was just a dishwasher? Those days are long gone. Now your dishwasher is smart--Internet connectivity gives it an app for a brain. We've seen plenty of smart appliances at CES over the past few years, but Wi-Fi now connects your refrigerator to your oven to dishwasher to your phone.
But it isn't enough to control your dishwasher remotely with just a swipe on your smartphone. LG touted a more intelligent intelligent line of appliances equipped with Near-Field Communication technology. Now, you can scan the NFC tag on your dishwasher with your mobile device to activate and control the appliance and connect it to the rest of your wireless kitchen gear.
Your refrigerator can take inventory of its motley assortment of ingredients and offer recipes to use them up. You choose a menu and send it to your oven, which preheats to the specified temperature and alerts your smartphone when your meal is finished. It's like you're not even there.
LG is expecting to bring its NFC-enabled line of appliances to stores later this year.
Apps for appliances
Consumer Electronics Association research director Shawn DuBravac predicted that apps would dominate the show floor this year at CES, but surprisingly those apps aren't just for smartphones.
On display were an Android-powered smart oven from Dacor with integrated cooking apps and a Samsung refrigerator with an LCD screen that lets you manage your schedule using Evernote and Calendar apps. Both appliances add to the kitchen a layer of tech designed to streamline your life.
Home security companies are preparing apps that let you control your system remotely. SimpliciKey is developing apps for the electronic deadbolts it showed at CES.
The digital controls let you create temporary codes for people who need access temporarily. You can also set alerts that tell you when your kids come home from school. The iOS and Android apps will be out later this year.
Home improvement retail chain Lowe's is working with partners in a variety of categories, from home security and energy efficiency to irrigation and elder care, to create widgets for its connected home hub, Iris. Iris is a platform that Lowe's launched last July with widgets to control your house's temperature, security system, and even plant watering cycles from your smartphone. At CES, Lowe's introduced sensors so Iris that can tell when your elderly parents wandered out the door in the middle of the night or when your pet hasn't returned.
Now, if you're fixing up your home, you can pick up an Iris package of products and a wireless router to go with your new paint color and window treatments.
Who wants a connected home?
A refrigerator that texts you when you forget to shut its door, as Whirlpool's new 6th Sense smart fridge does, is an impressive advancement. But so far, smart home appliances are slow to catch on with consumers, perhaps because of price, but also because no one is upgrading their refrigerator just to run an app they can already download on a smartphone.
Whirlpool's 6th Sense refrigerator monitor runs on an iPad
But when people upgrade, they look for gadgets that serve multiple functions, according to a recent consumer survey from tech consulting company Accenture.
"Consumers are saying, 'I want the smartest, most capable device I can have," Accenture's Kumu Puri said while presenting the survey results at CES.
So far, those devices are usually tablets, smartphones, HDTVs, and PCs, Puri said. According to Accenture's survey, 36 percent of consumers plan to buy an HDTV this year, up from 16 percent in 2012. Clearly, smart devices are growing in popularity.
But the adoption of TVs that can browse the Web and or smartphones with GPS that can guide you to your destination could bode well for connected appliances, especially as the cost of those appliances drops.