The convergence of ecosystems – the smart home and smart car in particular – was a key theme running through this year’s Consumer Electronics Show and this trend was the subject of many of the announcements made at CES 2016.
With over 170,000 visitors and close to 3,800 exhibitors, the Consumer Electronics Show has become the trade fair for new technologies ranging from the smart home to wearables, robotics, drones and connected cars. The entire ‘tech’ world now seems to be represented at CES in Las Vegas once a year to showcase and discover tomorrow’s innovations.
From this swarm of young startups and more established companies that came from the four corners of the earth to attend the event, one key trend stood out this year: ecosystem convergence. The introductory keynote speech given by Intel CEO Brian Krzanich centred on a single idea – user experience. Today this concept is fragmented by the reality of multiple markets, but tomorrow, if we are to believe Krzanich’s prophesy, the consumer world will coalesce into a single “mega-market‟ that will serve the customer through every facet of his/her daily life: a non-stop customer journey with non-stop service.
The underlying idea is that all ecosystems are now converging. Your home will become a technology platform. It will communicate with your car, which will be connected to the city infrastructure, which will in turn be connected to other cities across the world. This ‘connected everything’ concept was the major theme at CES 2016.
Samsung’s ‘Family Hub’ connected refrigerator
From the connected home…
People often ask a perfectly reasonable question: how are my mobile phone, television, refrigerator, washing machine and home thermostat going to be connected up? And they usually receive a rather vague answer: mass market technology. CES 2016 provided us with a far more coherent, concrete answer: through the connected home – i.e. a platform that links up all the equipment, appliances and objects in use in our daily lives that can be digitised.
This was the background to Samsung’s unveiling – with a great fanfare – of its ‘Family Hub’ refrigerator. This is much more than a simple fridge, intended to be – as the name suggests – the convergence point of the home. We appeared to have given up some time ago on the concept of a fridge that does its own shopping but here we seem to be going full speed ahead back to that idea! With its smartphone-connected screen, Family Hub can display information and list the products it is currently keeping cool – snapping photos of them as soon as the fridge door closes, sending the list to the owner, who will then know what needs buying when s/he goes shopping. The Family Hub can also be integrated with a MasterCard account. At the moment the fridge is connected to a limited network of retailers, which enables you to shop online from your kitchen.
Bosch also chose CES as the place to make several announcements, including the creation of a new subsidiary, Robert Bosch Smart Home GmbH. The mission of this new company is to develop a single platform for all connected objects in the home – from your thermostat to all your various switches, your washing machine and even your front door – so that everything can be controlled by your smartphone. Bosch is hoping to have the system running in around 230 million homes by 2020.
The whole idea of a connected home means that it will take on a sort of ‘life’ of its own: inert objects will become ‘aware’ and gain the ability to ‘speak’ to each other within the single ecosystem that is your home. The next step will be to communicate with the outside world.
…to connected cars …
Following a CES 2015 that was widely dubbed the ‘Car Electronic Show’ because the automobile loomed so large, CES 2016 had no reason to feel inferior on the connected cars front. Cars were everywhere and the players – both incumbent manufacturers and disruptive newcomers to the sector – had plenty of news to announce.
Volkswagen introduced BUDD-e. This fully connected electric mini-van has a large screen as its dashboard, plus another voice and gesture interactive screen behind for passenger use. BUDD-e is being profiled as the tech era heir to the famous van which gave so much happiness to the hippie generation.
Volkswagen BUDD-e dashboard
Ford announced the integration of Apple CarPlay and Android Auto into its Sync AppLink suite – the Ford app catalogue which is integrated into its cars, offering security services, infotainment, etc. But Ford is not stopping there. After all, our cars provide a physical link to the place where we live, enabling us to get to and from home, so it makes perfect sense to develop these ecosystems in tandem.
…to the ‘connected everything’
In addition, Ford also announced a partnership with Amazon. In practice, Ford cars equipped with the Sync AppLink suite will be able to communicate with Amazon’s wireless speaker and voice command device Amazon Echo using voice commands to Amazon’s virtual assistant Alexa. Now you will be able for example to adjust the temperature at your home remotely from the driver’s seat and check your car battery level from the sofa in your sitting room.
This partnership is likely to have great significance. Connecting car with home means linking up two of the environments where a consumer spends most of his/her time. This convergence of environments should create considerable value for users, providing a unified, seamless experience. Explained Ford CEO Mark Fields in an interview for PC Mag, this partnership is all about “giving the consumer more control over his/her environment and an unparalleled degree of convenience‟.
Disrupting the market
Ford is of course far from being the first player to link the car with the home. The auto world is currently in a state of turmoil partly because the sector is being invaded by startups looking to turn all cars – or at least those manufactured since 1996, which are fitted with an OBD-II port – into connected vehicles. You don’t have to buy the very latest model. All you have to do is to plug a small device, costing less than a hundred euro, into the OBD-II port (the equivalent of a USB port in your computer). This device will retrieve data from the car and send it to your smartphone.
San Francisco-based Automatic is one such startup which specialises in this field, offering drivers a range of applications that is often wider than what is available from the auto original equipment manufacturers. Automatic uses IFTTT, an application integrator based on the ‘If This Then That’ IT sequence, which home automation device manufacturer Nest also uses. This means that your car can actually send commands to your home. For example you can programme the Automatic app so that when your car is on the way home it will order IFTTT to send commands to the lights, heating system, etc, using Nest as intermediary.
Ford made yet another announcement at CES. The automaker is now developing communication between cars and unmanned aerial vehicles. Cars, homes… and soon drones. The message is clear: the ecosystems are converging!