Opinionated: Gadgets Are Increasingly Connected

4 Mar 2019

By Fereidoon Sioshansi

Every year hordes of people from around the world gather in Las Vegas for the Consumer Electronics Show, one of the biggest shows in town. This year was no exception with 4,000 companies showing their latest gadgets to 150,000 delegates from 100 countries.

For the past few years, all sorts of smart devices have dominated the show–and they are getting progressively smarter and increasingly connected to other smart devices in the home, office, factory floor, cars, or whatever.

This year’s show was dominated by two competing tech giants Amazon and Google, each featuring their voice-activated smart assistants–which are getting more useful, more ubiquitous–and potentially more invasive–as time goes on.

Why talk about gadgets and the Consumer Electronics Show in a newsletter about energy? Because gadgets use electricity and if they are smart and connected, they can be better controlled and managed. No matter who makes the gadgets, they are likely to be voice-activated and compatible with Amazon’s Alexa or Google’s Assistant –or both.

 

The Consumer Electronics show. (Source: CES, Las Vegas, NV, Jan 2019)

 

At the core of the smart gadget revolution is that users can simply say play Chopin or Rossini, raise or lower the thermostat, turn on, off, or dim the lights, lock the front door, close the window shades and much more without having to type in any commands, touch any screen or even move a finger.

Voice-activated is the latest rage.

Amazon, currently the leader, is trying to keep it simple and hassle-free by offering a chip, which can be added to almost any electronic product enabling it to seamlessly and wirelessly communicate with Alexa thru the Alexa Connect Kit.

Not to be outdone, Google has just released its own version, the Google Assistant Connect.

It is fair to say that as time goes on, most electronic devices from refrigerators to toasters will have such chips built-in, allowing them to wirelessly connect to an Amazon or Google voice-activated device.

Amazon enjoys 41 percent of the market share in global smart speaker business followed by Google with 28 percent.

As it often does, Amazon took a lead in 2015 by introducing the Echo speaker with the aim of working–or forcing–appliance and electronic manufacturers to make their hardware compatible with Alexa leading to the rise of network-enabled microwaves, washing machines, thermostats, light bulbs and TVs, among other devices. It followed in 2016 by releasing a set of programming tools for developers. Google, followed in 2016–realizing this was an opportunity it could not afford to miss–while Apple initially fumbled with its rival E-Consumer Electronics Show, HomeKit, which originally had to use a proprietary chip in their products. It lost valuable time and market share.

According to Canalys, a market research firm, together Amazon and Google probably account for 4/5th of the smart speakers sold in the U.S. and 60 percent of global sales. Apple is trying to catch up.

Voice-activated gadgets wirelessly communicating with a smart device have emerged as the standard in smart homes, offices and cars. Voice offers an easy and hands-free means of communicating– as simple as, “Alexa, turn on the TV.” Moreover, as the technology improves to better decipher speech, voice-enabled gadgets become easier to use.

 

All the fuss about this? (Source: Amazon)

 

What is there not to like?

Privacy.

For personal assistants like Alexa to be effective, they must be on at all times–constantly listening and ready to respond to commands. They get better at providing personalized services the longer they’ve been around and the more we use them. In view of recent scandals of breach of private data by Facebook and others, many consumers may balk at having such intrusive devices in their homes –which defeats the entire game plan.

Mindful of the privacy concerns, during the Consumer Electronics Show, Apple posted huge banners on billboards in Las Vegas with the message, “What happens on your iPhone, stays on your iPhone”–mimicking the city’s famous marketing slogan: “What happens in Los Vegas, stays in Los Vegas.”

Assuming that the privacy issue is not a showstopper, it is easy to imagine a future where virtually every appliance and gadget in new homes will be smart, voice-activated and connected. This will enable an aggregator or intermediary–perhaps Amazon, Google or Apple–to go a step further by managing all the energy-consuming assets in the building, including the solar PV panels on the roof, the battery and/or the electric vehicle and the charger in the garage.

Smart home is finally within view.

This article, edited by Current, was originally printed in the March 2019 issue of EEnergy Informer. You can reach the editor at fpsioshansi@aol.com

 

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