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CES 2019 Product Trends: Battle of the IoT Ecosystems

As we walked the exhibition floors of CES 2019, one thing stood out above all else: there’s a territorial battle for dominance over the home consumer Internet of Things (IoT) ecosystem as fierce as anything we’ve seen since Game of Thrones.

While we’re not pegging anyone as the Lannisters, we can name the major players and their strategies: Amazon paid for a large portion of the convention floor to be exclusively devices compatible with Alexa, its digital assistant, while Google deployed an army of people dressed all in white to walk the floors singing the praises of Google Assistant.

Apple’s strategy was more subtle; it lowered the bar for compliance with its HomeKit ecosystem earlier in 2018, one of the reasons why every major brand rolled out compatible products with the HomeKit logo on them. The three titans were ubiquitous; if a device didn’t have Alexa, Google Assistant, or HomeKit on it, it didn’t feel like a real product.

1. Home Smart Home

The word ‘ecosystem’ derives partly from the Greek ‘eco,’ meaning home. An ecosystem, or home system, shows the relationships between different life forms in a natural environment. Or between IoT devices, in a hi-tech home.

Many of the newest, sleekest additions to the home IoT sector were appliances that cooked, baked, or brewed. KitchenAid, the maker of famously sturdy stand mixers (going strong since Harvest Gold was color of the year) introduced a smart oven that could be controlled via a display screen equipped with Google Assistant. The display not only controls appliances, it can also walk the home chef through recipes found on Yummly, a recipe platform recently acquired by KitchenAid parent, Whirlpool.

We also saw several intriguing home brewing and distillation devices, including  LG’s HomeBrew and the PicoBrew PicoStill. In general, the interfaces have become cleaner and more streamlined compared to what we’ve seen in the past.

Perhaps the most unusual home appliance we saw at this year’s CES was a HomeBiogas anaerobic digester that generated natural gas from kitchen waste.

Renewable energy in the home, particularly using solar cells to charge IoT devices, came up a lot at CES 2019. The GoSun Fusion solar cooker cooks food day or night using solar power. We also saw a lot of solar panels powering floodlights/network cameras (so many …!), Bluetooth door locks, and photovoltaic panels tuned to charge off of indoor lighting.

2. A New Generation of Wearables

Any ecologist will tell you that every ecosystem has lots of niches. At CES 2019, the human body was framed as a techno-ecosystem, with wearables proliferating into every niche. There were wearables for your head, your neck, your wrist, and even your underwear. This new generation of wearables is more application-specific than its predecessors, and has more impressive capabilities than anything we’ve seen before, thanks to more powerful processors and micro labs-on-a-chip.

Sport watches are getting ever more specialized and crowded, with Withings, Suunto, Fossil, and many others offering blood pressure, heart rate, overall physical activity and sleep monitoring, along with more extreme durability. (Suunto displayed a working watch encased in a block of ice, for example.) Headphones are another traditional wearable device, and this year we began to see biometrics incorporated into them just like watches. But the biometrics collected by headphones leaned more toward health awareness.

Valencell and more than 30 different partners showcased earphones and hearing aids (among other wearables) that could track heart rhythm and other health indicators. Not getting run over is another important health tactic, and UA Flash debuted a set of headphones that allow ambient noise to be heard through the music so runners can stay aware of cars and other hazards.

3. Highly Specialized Health Wearables

Many of the most intriguing wearables had highly specific health applications, including headbands that recorded brain EEGs, pendants that sniffed the wearer’s bodily emissions for signs of diabetic blood sugar, and several devices that incorporated ultrasound and radar.

Breast pumps were another health-oriented wearable that we were pleased to see proliferated at CES 2019. Willow won a CES Innovation award in 2017 for its first-of-kind wearable, a hands-free breast pump designed to lessen the time burden of pumping milk. This year there were several new devices in this space, including the Imalac; the Elvie, which works with a phone app on both iPhones and Androids; and the Willow 2.0.

Before you need a pump, you may need ultrasound or an in utero baby monitor. And there were, of course, wearables at CES 2019 that have you covered. Owlet, for example, had a pregnancy health monitor that women could wear while they sleep to track kicks, contractions and baby’s heartbeat. And portable, FDA-cleared ultrasound devices that connect to an iPhone were being shown by Butterfly iQ. The company is working on software that can guide an untrained person to perform a proper ultrasound of an organ.

4. Application-Specific ‘Bots

Application-specific robots were also everywhere at this year’s show. The FoldiMate, for example, can fold a full load of laundry robotically. Omron’s ping-pong robot named Forpheus returns serves with the best of them and offers coaching advice at the same time. And everyone loved the BreadBot, a robotic bakery aimed at supermarkets that maker Wilkinson Baking Company hopes will revolutionize bread production, bringing fresh, automated bread to the people.

5. In-Vehicle Infotainment

The automotive industry’s push toward smart and autonomous vehicles is behind much of the tech appearing in consumer devices today. Many advances in virtual and augmented reality, for example, came from the car industry experimenting with new ways to alert drivers to danger and help them navigate. But this year, Audi, together with Disney, took the VR concept to a whole new level, syncing the movements of the car with a VR game to turn car rides into immersive game experiences for passengers. Other car makers experimented with in-vehicle infotainment, too, as well as ‘smart’ cars that had emotional intelligence, sensing their driver’s mood.

For many people, their car is an extension of their home, and we’re curious to see just how integrated vehicle and home ecosystems get as more of these vehicles hit the road in the next few years.

ICYMI, read our post about tech trends at CES 2019: CES 2019 Tech Trends: Sniffing Out the Future.