Plug It In, Turn It On, Check It Out: Here Come Smart Home Products

Connected homes are becoming more popular. Here’s what some firms are doing.

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From the knowledge in your head to the products in your home, smarter is better, right? Well, one thing’s for sure—more smart home products are making inroads into our homes these days.

A smart home device, according to Carley Knobloch, smart home expert for HGTV, is connected in some way via Wi-Fi or similar technology to other things in the home. And in general, smart home products are available remotely to the owner, from a touch panel or an app on a device.

These products can be as simple as a smart plug, which allows manual devices like floor lamps to be controlled remotely via an app. More complex devices include smart speakers like Amazon’s (AMZN) Echo and Alphabet’s (GOOG) Google Home, which allow owners to control many Wi-Fi-connected devices by voice.

Smart Wild West

The 2017 International Home and Housewares Show in Chicago saw manufacturers jumping on the smart home bandwagon by throwing apps onto everything, whether it was a water pitcher that can gauge how much water a person drinks, or a garbage can that scans a bar code and adds the product to a shopping list.

Knobloch said it’s still a bit of a “Wild West out there” for smart home products.

“Not all of these things will be around. But the products that make it easier are what we want,” she said. “I don’t care how smart a product is; if it doesn’t make my life better, why bother?”

She said some of the most successful early smart home products are devices that save money, like the smart plugs, or smart thermostats, like Google’s Nest, or those from Honeywell (HON) and privately held Ecobee.

A McKinsey report suggests 29 million homes will become connected this year, up from 22 million in 2016.

“Despite the proliferation of devices, we're still far from the vision of seamlessly connected homes. We have yet to see explosive growth in the market, but well-positioned players still have the ability to create tremendous value,” the report said.

That means it may still be early days for investors wanting to add smart-home manufacturers to their portfolio.

The Next Stage

Dave Crussel, software and OEM channel marketing leader for Honeywell, said smart home devices currently focus on improving comfort and increasing savings, such as through energy efficiency or detecting issues such as water leaks.

“Right now, the smart products can detect, and some can intervene, but the third stage of prevention is something [the industry is] still working on," says Crussel. "That may take maturity and being able to use the data that’s being collected” by users of smart devices, he says.

Aside from Amazon, Google, and Honeywell, a few other manufacturers are adding smart products to their lineups. General Electric (GE) has a number of smart devices, from small items like light bulbs and dimmers, to bigger products like air conditioners and appliances. Samsung is also expanding its lineup, introducing a Wi-Fi-controlled robotic vacuum, along with several appliances such as the heavily advertised smart refrigerators.

We might still be a few years from robotic maids depicted in futuristic TV shows, but it appears smart home devices are here to stay. 

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