Appliances and the smart home at CES 2014: A deluge, a glut

Smart houses, smart fridges, smart everything else. The connected home is poised for a big show in Vegas this year.

Rich Brown Former Senior Editorial Director - Home and Wellness
Rich was the editorial lead for CNET's Home and Wellness sections, based in Louisville, Kentucky. Before moving to Louisville in 2013, Rich ran CNET's desktop computer review section for 10 years in New York City. He has worked as a tech journalist since 1994, covering everything from 3D printing to Z-Wave smart locks.
Expertise Smart home | Windows PCs | Cooking (sometimes) | Woodworking tools (getting there...)
Rich Brown
4 min read
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Surely you've heard the term "Internet of Things" this year, and perhaps you're even intrigued by the concept. Smart devices ranging from thermostats to locks to light bulbs captured our attention this year. The reason in part is because adding some connected smarts to these household basics offers up benefits that are easy for consumers to understand. Whether you want to monitor the comings and goings in your home, save energy, or simply glide through a fully-automated world of connected devices, the appeal is clear.

Extend that idea to large appliances and the benefits become less apparent. What's so "smart" about an Internet-connected washing machine if you still have to manually deal with the clothes? That murkiness didn't stop LG and Samsung from launching complete lines of connected smart appliances at CES 2013. Whirlpool, GE, Dacor, and others have also joined in, either with one-off smart appliances or complete lines of connected products.

None of those vendors will tell you that smart appliances make up a significant portion of their sales. Most will even admit that they're still trying to understand what consumers really want from a connected refrigerator. Despite that uncertainty, at least some of these manufacturers, and likely others, will launch large smart appliances at this year's CES. We'll be paying special attention to whether they make the benefits more attractive to consumers.

Here's what else we expect from smart home products at this year's show:

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Home automation
Staples has a DIY home automation kit. So does Lowe's, whose Iris system is pictured above. We've seen systems from small, previously unknown vendors, like SmartThings. We've also seen companies like Dropcam, who sells a webcam, suggest they might be getting into the home automation game. And what's Google up to with its rumored experimental smart thermostat service?

The separate components in this post are worth tracking individually, but the real money in the smart home, much like with computers, will flow to whoever can establish the first popular eco-system. This will be a popular technology topic for the next few years, and we will see plenty of companies, both expected and otherwise, use CES to jockey for position.

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DIY home security
We reviewed a half-dozen or so user-installable, Internet-connected security systems this year. You'll find some nice diversity among these products, but whether it's an all-in-one device like Piper, or a hub-and-sensor array like SimpliSafe, the one thing they have in common is that they represent a small but potentially disruptive threat to entrenched dealer-based companies like ADT, Frontpoint, Alarm.com and others. Home security vendors new and old will be exhibiting at CES this year. It will be interesting to see how the traditional players respond, and how this segment of the smart home continues to develop.

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Smart lighting
Philips established an early lead in 2012 with its Hue smart LED light bulbs. A new competitor with wide-distribution emerged in November by way of the Home Depot-aligned Connected by TCP smart LED kit. The upcoming US ban on traditional 60- and 40-watt incandescent bulbs has already spurred interest in LED-based alternatives. In the smart LED market in particular, there remains plenty of room for innovation and price competition. CES provides the perfect forum for someone to make news in this category.

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Smart locks
Our most frustrating review at CNET Appliances this year was the Kwikset Kevo Bluetooth Deadbolt. You can read about our difficulties here, but the short of it is great tech, questionable deadbolt. We would love to see Unikey, the company behind Kevo, offer up an alternative. We're also anxious for more time with Goji, August, and any other smart locks, from new vendors or from traditional companies like Yale and Schlage. This is a category that seems ripe for innovation, with a benefit that most consumers understand immediately. CES is the time to show them off.

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Smart thermostats
Here's another smart home category with a ton of obvious appeal. Nest and its Learning Thermostat have inspired gadget lust, copycats, and lawsuits. Nest's expansion into smoke detectors (which talk to its thermostat) suggests the company might have larger smart home ambitions. Google's interest also makes this category worth watching. We might not see any huge connected thermostat news come out of CES, but this particular category is hugely competitive, and loaded with notable players. Any substantial news from the show here will likely have ripple effects across the smart home at-large.

Colin West McDonald/CNET

Smart everything else
Hence the title of this post. Everyone has a crowd-funding campaign to build the next smart whatever. Cheap sensors, and ubiquitous Wi-Fi and smartphones open up the potential for all kinds of experimentation around connected home products. Quirky's Egg Minder, above, is just one example. I'm simultaneously looking forward to and dreading products with the "see what sticks" approach we will surely see at this year's show.