Linux-based smart home hubs continue to rule the home automation world, with the latest products integrating voice assistants and AI analytics. Industrial, rather than home, applications will likely dominate the Internet of Things (IoT) market in the years to come. Yet, in the early going, the home automation market has had the greatest visibility. And it hasn't always been pretty. Despite steady growth, retail sales have yet to achieve inflated expectations.
Artificial intelligence (AI) is suddenly everywhere. From phones and TVs to air conditioners and even a toilet, the flashy new products at the year's CES (Consumer Electronics Show) in Las Vegas - the world's largest tech show - are showing the 180,000 attendees that if a device doesn't have AI inside, it's not worth having.
OK Google, it's time to take aim at Alexa. Google has announced that consumers can now preorder its Google Home digital assistant for 129, with a ship date of November 4. First revealed at Google I/O in May, Google Home will compete with Amazon's surprisingly popular Echo product line for voice-activated control of the smart home. The price tag is attractive, and it has some features the Echo doesn't, but Google still has a lot of work to do to catch Amazon. Like the Echo, Google Home can recognize natural language and answer simple questions when it detects a "wake" word ("OK Google" for the Google Home, "Alexa" for the Echo). Google has a leg up on Amazon in this regard, as it arguably has the world's best search engine, and the company has been working on speech recognition for many years longer than Amazon.
When life gets chaotic, it can be convenient to have all your smart home devices operating on the same wavelength. Achieving this sort of harmony sometimes requires a hub to consolidate the myriad gadgets in your house. But not everyone needs a dedicated smart hub to make their setup run smoothly. A smart speaker like the Amazon Echo or the Google Home can serve a similar purpose, with each device's respective apps acting as central command. Manufacturers have even begun bundling hubs into other devices like security systems and mesh WiFi routers, making home automation simpler for beginners.
There's no question as to who the real technology star is now: it's you. Your voice is what hundreds of companies are vying to attract, with thousands of new products calling out for you to talk to them. Voice-activated technology has erupted over the last 12 months since Amazon's Alexa was informally crowned breakout technology champion of the CES 2017 consumer tech show. Seemingly by stealth, Amazon had snuck Alexa into a dizzying array of products and everywhere you turned, there she was. Alexa was the name on everyone's lips – literally – and Amazon had achieved this near-ubiquitous name- recognition without even having a stand at the gargantuan annual gadget-fest in Las Vegas.