What’s in Store for Smart Homes in 2018
The ever-escalating battle of smart speakers, the future of Wi-Fi, and new products to look forward to in the coming year
What will 2018 hold for the smart home? We’ll get a better sense in two weeks’ at CES 2018, the annual gathering of all things tech, but barring a revolutionary refrigerator or ground-breaking garden-monitoring system, it looks to be an expansion of 2017’s progress—and battles.
The Big Guys will be working to get their smart speakers in your home, A.I. assistants will be showing up in every available device, and a better way to Wi-Fi will continue to expand.
Our thoughts on what to expect (and a look forward to) in 2018.
After an extended period of “Will they? Won’t they?” Apple, which had previously seemed inclined to let users control their homes via smart device-enabled Siri, is ready to make its entry into the smart speaker market with the HomePod.
While initially aimed for this Christmas, the HomePod now has its sights set on early 2018. With a lot of ground to gain on their Silicon Valley siblings, what will the House of Jobs’ first foray feature?
True to Apple's nature, the HomePod will marry fine form with superior function. The HomePod—which looks something like an artist’s interpretation of tightly spooled thread—will be first and foremost a piece of high-quality audio equipment. Featuring a high-excursion woofer with a custom amplifier and ringed with a seven tweeter array, the HomePod aims to provide 360-degree sound that is true, consistent and smart. The HomePod will recognize where it is placed in your home—or if another HomePod is present—and will automatically adjust its audio output to achieve the “surrounded by sound” effect.
As for other smart features, it’s exactly what one would expect—equipped with Siri intelligence, the HomePod can answer questions, control other smart home devices and seamlessly play out songs from your smartphone or Apple Music account.
The HomePod is expected to retail for $349 when it launches.
The maker of the market-leading Echo, the more diminutive Echo Dot and the video-equipped Echo Show has no intention of resting on its laurels when it comes to their Alexa-enabled line of smart speakers.
Debuting just in time for Christmas, the Echo Spot looks to liberate your alarm clock from your smartphone and return it to its own dedicated device—dedicated, but with a host of other features too. Equipped with a 2.5-inch circular video display and a second generation far-field microphone array, the Spot will not only awaken you but allow you to control your home—or catch up on the latest news—from the comfort of your bed. The semi-spherical device can also be paired to external speakers via Bluetooth or cable. The Spot is available for $130.
Perhaps more substantial than any new Echo products, however, will be Amazon’s continuing push to free their oft-acclaimed A.I. assistant Alexa from its cylindrical shell and integrated directly into various smart home devices. In Amazon’s ideal world, smart home users will be talking directly to their Alexa-equipped lights, locks and laundry machines—a move which may undercut the pure Echo/Dot/Show products but will ultimately greatly expand the reach of Alexa (and Amazon).
Not one to be left out of the high-quality audio equipment-meets-smart speaker game, Google launched the Google Home Max in December. The pill-shaped speakers, which can be aligned horizontally or vertically thanks to a magnetic base, look to compete directly with the forthcoming Apple HomePod as well as more substantial Alexa-enabled speakers like the Sonos One. The Max will feature “Smart Sound” spatial awareness software that allows the speaker to automatically adjust to provide optimal audio regardless of where it is placed in your home. In addition to the multi-faceted smart speaker capabilities built in to all Home devices and high-quality hardware (dual 4.5-inch woofers, two 18mm custom tweeters), the Max will come with streaming services YouTube Music, Google Play Music, Pandora and Spotify baked inside.
Proprietary apps may be the next front in the continuing marketplace melee between the Mighty Tech Brands. Earlier this month, Google yanked YouTube from Echo Show Amazon Fire devices (effective Jan. 1), in response to Amazon’s refusal to sell Google and Google-adjacent products like Home, Chromecast, and Nest. While the move may compel Amazon to expand their store offerings, it could also serve as an enticement to purchase a Home product over an Echo—and may be a sign of things to come.
The Google Home Max is available for $399.
With the rapid expansion of smart everything for the home, Wi-Fi, somehow, will become even more essential to our everyday existence—and the dead zones that pocket your home will become even more pronounced.
Expect the popularity of “mesh” Wi-Fi systems to expand even further. Made up of multiple routers with overlapping networks that comprise a single system, mesh Wi-Fi not only works to virtually eliminate dead zones, but also ensures that your home has a solid, strong connection throughout.
As a side benefit, the mesh Wi-Fi systems, from Google Wifi and Linksys Velop to Netgear Orbi and eero Home, represent a huge leap forward in the aesthetic of Wi-Fi routers. Ranging from inoffensive to elegant, mesh systems have eschewed the "Lord of the Rings" headgear element of most high-powered routers and users won’t feel compelled to hide them behind houseplants.
Coming in 2018
Miele Dialog Oven
Combining traditional baking and convection oven technology with a cooking method utilizing radio frequency, the Miele Dialog Oven purports to “talk” and “listen” to your food throughout the cooking process—hence “dialog”—adjusting radio wave frequency and intensity as it monitors how much energy your meal-in-process has absorbed. But it’s not just the combination of cutting-edge-yet-retro tech that makes the Dialog 2018’s most anticipated oven—the cooker also offers exacting control (you can cook half a steak and leave the other half raw) and comes equipped with over 100 pre-programmed recipes that will convince your friends and family that you’re an accomplished cook.
The Miele Dialog Oven is expected to launch in April. A price has not yet been announced.
Sony’s not-so-furry friend is back and it’s learned a few new tricks. The original robo-dog will retain several of the features that made Man’s Best Friend 2.0 so charming the first time around, but it will also include the capabilities of—what else?—a smart home hub. Aibo 2018 will be able tell you the weather, the time, play music, take voice commands, control your other smart home products—and much more, because the Aibo will be open source, meaning owners and enthusiasts can code their canine with some unique upgrades.
The new Aibo is available for pre-order now and will begin shipping, and be available in the Sony Store in Japan, on January 11th. The Aibo is available for 179,000 yen (about US$1,739) and requires a cloud-based storage subscription. The Aibo Basic Plan costs US$27/month or US$790 for a 3-year subscription. As of now, Aibo is only scheduled for launch in Japan.