IoT at CES 2021: a sign of the times

Matt Hatton

By Matt Hatton, Founding Partner, Transforma Insights

CES this year was, of course, a very different beast from usual. However, despite being entirely virtual there was a flurry of interesting and noteworthy announcements from the ‘show’. In this article I explore a selection of them which demonstrated some very interesting trends in what is happening in IoT.

First up, this being the Consumer Electronics Show we should focus in on some consumer products, of which there were many, as one would expect. A lot of it focused on security, including products from Alarm.com and Cync (which was formerly C by GE). Most interesting were a product from Hex Home with uses WiFi signals to detect intrusion without cameras. It’s not a new technology, but it’s nice to see it well packaged. Also security-related, Amazon announced end-to-end encryption for Ring data; just another example of Amazon/AWS doubling down on security and privacy recently. This focus on security is somewhat ironic given how little people are able to leave their homes at the moment, but maybe it’s an example of manufacturers anticipating a more liberated 2021.

There was also a tremendous number of products focused on water, air, health and fitness. The prominence of those types of products really is a sign of the times. We saw a new touchless toilet from Kohler, a water security system from Moen and meters, taps, sump pumps and more besides. If clean water was high on the agenda, so too was clean air. There were prominent air sensors (e.g. from Bosch), air purifiers (e.g. 3M), a virus risk indicator device from Airthings and the inevitable connected smart mask from AirPop, which amongst other things monitors local air quality. New health products included a fall-sensing lamp from Nobi, a biometrics monitor from HealthyU, and most notable the Humetrix Pandemic Response platform aimed at healthcare organisations for planning vaccination roll-outs and various other things. In the fitness arena, we saw Bowflex arrive to give some competition for Peloton, which really did hit the market at the right time; 90% of business success is timing. Finally Samsung’s health smart trainer feature for Smart TVs, which includes things like posture analysis, also reflected the reality of the need for home exercise.

Also from Samsung was a really eye-catching initiative that helps users to convert old smartphones to be IoT sensors, such as baby monitors or light sensors. Very environmentally sensitive and making good use of the millions of smartphones that are sitting in kitchen drawers. It also launched the Samsung Bot Handy, which may not prove to be quite such an immediate winner, but is certainly eye-catching. It’s a tower robot with an arm to pick up and manipulate objects. The proposed use cases are pouring wine and loading the dishwasher. It’s not clear that domestic robots are going to be the killer application for 2021, and it is sadly without a price tag as yet.

In previous years at CES, as discussed in my recent book ‘The Internet of Things Myth’, it was possible to spot numerous examples of crazy IoT products that were clearly not destined for mass adoption. This year there were actually very few. But we should mention the myQ Pet Portal (effectively a glorified cat-flap) for $3,000, and the Kohler smart bath at an eye-watering $15,998. The latter is packed with features, but at that price you would expect it to be.

What was missing? It’s interesting to note what was absent during the extensive number of announcements and conference discussions. There was surprisingly little on AI or 5G. There was a bit of the inevitable AI-washing of a number of products, but not much that went too far overboard. Likewise there were a few claims for 5G as a (figurative) panacea for the pandemic but again they were limited. The other thing which was perhaps surprising was the limited amount on augmented reality (AR) and virtual reality (VR). There were some announcements but nowhere near as much as one might have expected, particularly given the clear preference that many must have at the moment for anything other than actual reality!

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