We’ve so far been reluctant to turn our homes into Star-Trek styled palaces of technology, but the next generation of ‘smart home’ products holds more promise.
I’ve been at the world’s largest consumer technology show, CES, for the past week catching a glimpse of the products you can expect to find on the shelves of Currys and Argos in the next year.
The show was dominated by one word, ‘smart’. We’ve seen smart thrown into everything from belts and dresses to American footballs – so you can track the speed and distance of your throw.
Most of this stuff is rubbish. Yes, you could buy a smart peephole that wakes up, takes a picture, connects to your wi-fi and sends that picture to your smartphone. Or, while you’re waiting for all of that to happen, you could just go to the door and find out who is knocking.
Sony is still trying to flog us a light bulb with a speaker built in that you control from your phone – a completely pointless product surpassed only by the surround sound rug from Panasonic.
Smart is not forgetting the milk
But buried beneath the gimmicks there are signs that manufacturers are starting to make progress on the sort of smart innovations that people might actually use.
Take the fridge camera from British firm, Smarter. This sits inside your fridge door and takes a snap of what’s inside each time you open and close. So when you’re dashing home from work and can’t for the life of you remember whether you need more milk or if there is bacon for a fry-up in the morning, you can check the latest photo on your phone. It saves you buying bacon you don’t need, or having to climb out of bed at 7am for a milk run because you thought you already had a bottle.
This is a simple rather than stunning innovation, but it solves a genuine problem and that’s what is often missing from many smart devices – an actual purpose. Putting wi-fi enabled screens on the front of fridges is all very well and good – but does anyone really want to check Google Maps while grabbing a few eggs at breakfast time?
Did I leave the oven on?
Like the fridge camera, the best devices are the ones that help you save money or offer a little handy convenience – like the Samsung Flex Duo cooker, which can be controlled by an app on your phone.
The advantage here is for those of us with ‘just left the house’ anxiety. I can’t remember the amount of times I’ve had to go back to the house because I can’t remember if I turned the oven off. I always have – but that doesn’t matter. Being able to check on my phone if the oven is turned off would save me a lot of stress – if they could just come up with the wi-fi iron next.
From nice to have to must have
None of these products are essential, but most of the technology we own is non-essential – it’s a convenience. You don’t need a remote control, but it saves a lot of hassle having one. How about a washing machine? It’s not a necessity, but you wouldn’t fancy spending most of your Sunday stooped over the sink instead.
I’ve been covering smart technology for a couple of years now and while I think it’s inevitable that our homes are set to become smart, the products I have seen so far have largely underwhelmed. That’s changing.
Rather than making products smart for the sake of it, manufacturers are working out ways that connected technology can save us time or money. And it’s this convenience that will likely lead to us popping down to Argos to pick up a fridge camera.
Are these new smart home products clever enough to convince you?