Category Archives: Smart Home

IFA 2017: The Smart Home Comes of Age

CES and MWC may attract the bigger crowds early in the year, but for many, the original and best consumer electronics show remains IFA. The Internationale Funkausstellung Berlin – to give it its full name – has been around for nearly a century, but it can barely have witnessed technological change on quite this scale before. This year VR headsets vied for attention with the usual smartphones, gaming devices, and laptops.

But perhaps the biggest buzz could be found around the smart home, in the proliferation of connected appliances and voice assistant technology, as well as a new agreement behind the scenes designed to drive forward a global market said to be worth over $14bn.

Gadgets galore
As usual, all the major consumer brands were represented this year, from Samsung and Huawei to Sony, Asus, Acer, Panasonic and many more. Smartphone fans were treated to a first look at LG’s high-end V30 device, while Sony unveiled three new models: the Xperia X71, X71 Compact and XA1 Plus. As far as laptops, the Asus 2-in- 1 ZenBook Flip 14, Lenovo’s Yoga 920 ultra-thin notebook, and Acer’s “slimmest ever all-in- on desktop” the Aspire S24 all caught the eye.

VR fans were treated to a major announcement: the introduction of Microsoft’s Windows Mixed Reality headsets, with partners Acer, Asus, Dell, Lenovo and others all showing off their wares. Elsewhere there were new smart watches from Samsung, plenty to keep gaming fans interested, and even new 360-degree digital cameras from Acer.

But it was in the smart home that arguably the most eye-catching kit could be found, as the battle for consumer hearts and minds really begins to heat up. There were plenty of connected appliances on show, from a new Nest thermostat and Hive smart security camera to the Miele Dialog Oven and even a smart floor cleaner from Neato Botvac.

But notably it was in the virtual assistant space that vendors really vied for consumers’ attention, which isn’t surprising given that these platforms will increasingly sit at the centre of the smart home.

That’s why we saw Amazon’s Alexa, Microsoft’s Cortana, Google’s Voice Assistant and Samsung’s Bixby, built into an increasingly wide range of products on show at IFA. Lenovo’s Alexa-powered Home Assistant for the Tab 4 offers an Echo Show experience for a much smaller price tag, for example. There’s also been signs that some players are prepared to work together: Amazon and Microsoft announced that their voice assistants would integrate to allow users to access Windows and Office through Alexa and Amazon sites via Cortana.

Driving smart home success
Behind the scenes was perhaps where the most significant event at IFA 2017 took place, with the signing of a major agreement between three smart home associations in the UK, Germany and France.

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The UK’s Smart Homes & Buildings Association (SH&BA), Germany’s SmartHome Initiative Deutschland e.V. (SHD) and the Fédération Française de Domotique (FFD) represent over 600 OEMs, retailers, distributors, ISVs, integrators, telcos, and energy suppliers. Under the terms of the new agreement, they’ll form a European committee to better coordinate joint activities.

As Global MD for CONTEXT and Chair of the SH&BA, I believe the deal will help the organisations share key knowledge, develop common standards and drive sales. As smart home technologies become increasingly important to us all, that’s great news for the industry, and ultimately consumers.

by AS

 

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Filed under Home automation, IoT, Market Analysis, Mobile technology, Retail, Smart Home

What to expect in IFA 2017?

For growth in the tech industry it’s all about Internet of Things and of course the Internet of Playthings – this year’s IFA will be an exciting place to witness this. The pre-show announcements point to make or break smart watches from Fitbit, new wearables from Samsung, a new connected toothbrush from Philips, a “behemoth” gaming machine from Acer, and new mixed-reality headsets from Microsoft.

The agenda of the various conference programmes, shows that IFA, just like its sister shows CES and MWC, give most airtime to the new, and hardly any to how technology companies can optimise the vast but legacy categories such as PC’s, printers and displays. So, for example, the keynotes will focus on digital health (Philips & Fitbit), “building the possible” (Microsoft – could this be related to their mixed reality offering?) and an intriguing topic of mobile and AI from Huawei – are they launching their own Siri/Cortana competitive offering? The IFA+ summit is focused on IOT, wearables, integrating tech in smart home, and the latest on immersive computing. It’s all about the next level – nothing stands still, although there is a timeless element about the IFA show, with its long history stretching back to 1925.

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As you wander around the 155,000 square metres of space, and get to meet the 1,805 exhibitors, do not forget to put the innovation areas on your itinerary.

Here are two of them: in hall 6.2 there are 78 companies presenting smart home offerings – covering security, lighting, home automation, cloud platforms and gateways. Look especially for the advances in voice control and the linking of smart home solutions to this technology, which is less than one year old in Europe and has already made an enormous difference to the smart home market. Then, not far away, there is hall 26 – this is the innovation pavilion where IFA Next is housed (it used to be known as IFA Tec Watch). Here you will find start-ups and all those next generation products, the ones to watch.

In pavilion 26, there is also another smart home area, with another 10 vendors, and associations, which is also not to be missed. And especially at 4pm on 4th September, when three smart home associations – the Smart Homes & Buildings Association (UK), Fédération Française de Domotique (France), and Smart Home Initiative (Germany), will sign an international cooperation agreement working together to build the category across Europe. CONTEXT is associated with all three associations, having been a force in bringing them together, and already collaborated on a number of pan-European projects.

Lastly, and not least, CONTEXT is looking forward to hosting its annual IFA dinner with clients and partners – the opportunity to hear the latest CONTEXT research on Smart Home and Immersive technology, will be delivered in a delightful Berlin venue, providing a great opportunity to relax, meet up and network.

by AS

 

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Filed under Connectivity, Home automation, IoT, Market Analysis, Mobile technology, Retail, Smart Home, Smart Technology, Wearables

A Take On Tech

Becky Connolly is an A-Level student who is doing work experience at CONTEXT. Given the recent survey results showing the passion of 18-24 year-olds for Smart Home products, we asked her to give her perspective on technology as a member of Generation Z.

Having come to my work experience at CONTEXT, I joined armed with nerves, excitement and my Mac. That’s right, I’m part of the BYOD generation (Bring Your Own Device), where we bring our beloved laptops, phones and tablets in fear of the unknown technology that may be lying ahead of us. Our Generation is famous for its insatiable appetite for the latest and greatest technology- the most popular connotations of Generation Z being a square-eyed teenager (often looking like a zombie) completely fixated by their devices; be it phone, laptop or television screen. But how does our perspective differ to that of older people, including millennials?

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Importance of technology
Technology has captivated our lives. I use technology in any way possible which will enhance features of my life in a few types and swipes which nowadays is becoming easier and easier.

Technology is not only used for social media, despite the heavy connotations (having said that, I am an avid Snapchat user). A large influence of technology is instilled in us from childhood, via the use of technology in classrooms; seeing as 77% of teachers use it for instruction as 81% of teachers believe that it can enrich classroom learning. Having adapted to technology through my education I have become not only more adept to technology but dependent on it for my studies; apps such as Quizlet and SimpleMind contained the sources of my revision for eight out of my ten GCSE subjects. Needless to say, technology was VERY important to me during this course.

An environment that appeals to younger generations
As the technology world blossoms, develops and shuttles into full speed, so do the minds of Generation Z. The answer is this; to attract the younger generation, the workplaces have to advance much further in an attempt to keep up with technology. If you have “dinosaur” computers which are inexplicably slow and missing out on features which are now just the “basics” paired with caveman wifi, the appeal (no matter how cool the job) will be gone, for example- if I were offered two jobs (and I liked both) and in one office there were state-of-the-art Macs and iPads dotted around everywhere, and the other used the same technology that Shakespeare used to write Macbeth, let’s just say I’d go for the former- wouldn’t you?

Furthermore, if your job entails a flair of creativity that initially could not be expressed through technology but now can be, it is essential for the young, talented recruits to have access to the advanced technology so that they can use it and develop their skills to the highest standard. Using the latest technology would also enable flexibility of the workplace. Technology-based work ensures that one can access their work in the office, at home or even abroad. This creates a sense of continuity for the worker and the company and assures that work is accessible from anywhere.

Technology investments worth making
Alongside many people of Generation Z, my prize possession is my phone; this is not uncommon, seeing as 88% of teenagers own phones, and 84% of them are smartphones. This shows that teenagers are willing to invest more in their technology for the better features. Right now, the favoured model is an iPhone; their perfect compatibility for the demands of Generation Z including social media, video streaming and education means that the price of £599 is often met and in high demand. It seems extortionate, but their dependability, fast-response and daily use make them a more worthy investment than a holiday, which would only last a few days.

As far as hopes are concerned, one cannot even begin to hope or imagine how far technology will develop over the years; if somebody told me that I’d be buying my latte via my thumbprint a few years ago… let’s just say technology is astonishing, awe-inspiring and unimaginable, really.

 

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The Facebook Generation are leading new technology adoption

I went on to Facebook in 2008 to check up what people could see about my aspiring 17-year-old daughter who wanted to be a doctor. That was when the deluge started –the year after I joined, Facebook went from 100 million to 300 million members. That same daughter is now 26, and is part of the millennial generation, who surprisingly, at first sight, are dropping behind the younger Generation Z in driving technology adoption. Continue reading

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SH&BA – Convergence of the transformation of our digital lifestyle

The SH&BA – Smart Home and Builders’ Association – Retailer & Manufacturer Panel met this past week in London. The attendees were truly a reflection of the convergence of the devices and technology in our homes and lifestyle. Participants represented a variety of industries and sectors including: manufacturing, vendors, retailers, associations, government agencies as well as academia and industry experts. What does such a diverse group of attendees gather to discuss?

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Smart Home – The hub of a digital lifestyle
IoT (internet of Things) devices have been in existence for a couple of decades. They enable connecting a variety of devices to the internet to send and receive data. That capability is not very exciting for most customers. But the ability to use IoT to monitor household utility connections to save money becomes a much more compelling reason for consumers to consider a “smart” home.

Many of the examples discussed in the SH&BA forum were about the increasing ease of use for consumers, and the value the smart devices play in making life convenient. Steve Moore from Dixons Carphone illustrated how their Honey Bee becomes a hub to connect many devices in the home. And even more importantly, it becomes the homeowners’ support centre where they can get answers to questions about devices they own. Steve Moore perhaps best summarised the key to Smart Home expansion by saying that we are at the stage where our “Goal is to take the friction out of life”.

Maybe we shouldn’t be calling it “Smart”
Rick Hartwig from the IET (Institute of Engineering and Technology) made the interesting point that we shouldn’t be using the term “Smart” home. Smart implies futuristic … a long way off. Mr. Hartwig argued that in many ways aspects of the digital “smart” home are already here. Most customers who are online already have at least one device beyond a PC connected to an internet. In the near future, energy and power consumption will be prime drivers for the home owner to adopt “smart” connected technology which adapts its settings to hours of the day in order to save energy.

The Power of Voice is rapidly accelerating adoption
One of the most exciting buzz factors in the smart home arena is the power of voice control. Initially propelled by Amazon Echo, Google Home, Apple and Microsoft are all rushing ahead with voice control speakers which become more humanised “hubs” for a variety of smart devices throughout the home.

Keynote speaker Theunis Scheepers brought some cutting edge examples from the evolution of the Amazon Alexa ecosystem. The speaker is the “human portal”, but the real genius is the Alexa cloud platform. The Alexa cloud is essentially an API system that enables partners to connect their devices to Alexa for voice control. In reality the Echo device is an array microphone and speaker – the “smart” is in the cloud that enables the customer to interact in a very natural way of using their voice to direct their digital lifestyle.

Theunis Scheepers

The Future of Smart Home
Adam Simon, from CONTEXT and Chair of the SH&BA Association, updated the group on the latest CONTEXT Smart Home Survey. The trends are clear, and consistently upward.   More consumers are aware of “smart home” and more plan to purchase a device for their home, but the patterns vary significantly by country.

From a consumer perspective, smart home adoption is still a “mid-term” play with purchases planned on 3 to 5 year horizon.   The exception is in the builder market where whole house adoption is accelerating because it is “built in” as the backbone of the home and constitutes a relatively small part of the overall home market.

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If there was one clear consensus and predictor for Smart Home it is that the power of voice will rapidly accelerate adoption. Amazon reported that Echo is now selling at 9X the holiday rate, and the Echo Dot is being bundled as a 6 pack so consumers can cover every room of their house. With the speaker hub and API cloud system we have now reached a stage similar to that of the smartphone with apps that make a connected life possible and convenient.

The next Retailer & Manufacturer Panel will be on 14th November, 2017.

For more information about SH&BA or if you are interested to attend the SH&BA panel please email marketing@shaba.eu

Guest blog by Chris Petersen, IMS

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CeBIT 2017 Points the Way to VR and Smart Device Growth

With 200,000 participants flocking to Hanover this year, the week-long CeBIT show can be an intimidating prospect. Over 3,000 exhibitors set up shop at the world’s biggest technology expo. And while this is not a show for big name product launches, it still provides a very useful snapshot of what’s hot in the tech industry from one year to the next.

This year, as we predicted, there was plenty of buzz around smart devices, the Internet of Things and Virtual Reality (VR)/ Augmented Reality (AR). These, after all, will be the technologies that in years to come delight consumers and power the next generation of European businesses.

VR/AR catches the eye
CeBIT 2017 had a bigger focus on VR/AR than ever before, highlighting the growing maturity of this burgeoning technology. If you were in any doubt of the scale of interest in this space, half of Hall 17 – one of the show’s aircraft hangar-sized expo spaces – was devoted entirely to firms exhibiting VR-related tech. As we predicted at the end of 2016, gaming will continue to drive forward interest in VR on the consumer side. But, as evidenced by its exposure at the business-centric CeBIT show, more and more companies are exploring corporate applications.

Examples included the “Virtofy” VR presentation system, which offers companies an opportunity to demo products and showcase projects to prospective clients/customers. Another interesting use case developed by engineers at the Zwickau University of Applied Sciences incorporates integrated data goggles into the helmets worn by steel workers – designed to flash up safety warnings and the like.

In Hall 2 Intel, in cooperation with Microsoft, presented the dataflow the companies expect in the near future. Based on the BMW i8, Intel presented with the Microsoft AR Hololens how cameras and sensors scan the environment of a future car in order to drive autonomously. Intel predicts that approximately 4000 GB of data will be tracked, processed and uploaded from cars in the future, which creates brand new business scenarios in this market.

IoT everywhere
As we mentioned in December, the Smart Home market is really heating up, with Apple, Google, Amazon, Samsung and Microsoft set to battle it out for hearts and minds in 2017 and beyond. True to form, the Internet of Things formed a major part of CeBIT 2017, with over 270 exhibitors from 29 countries participating. The IoT also had its own spin-off summit at the conference – a first for the organisers and again illustrative of the growing interest in smart products.

The IoT, of course, extends far beyond the smart home. In fact, attendees were treated to demos of everything from smart shirts and dog collars from Telefonica Deutschland, to Toshiba’s industrial applications for the energy sector.

Drones are taking off
The smart device revolution also increasingly extends up into the sky. As evidenced by the buzz at CeBIT, drones are fast carving out an IoT niche of their own. A large outdoor area sponsored by Intel drew many of the crowds, with much attention drawn to the bright orange H520 hexacopter from Chinese firm Yuneec. When combined with an on-board camera and Intel RealSense tech, it’s able to detect movements and distances like the human eye – enabling it to avoid obstacles in flight.

The Drone Park even drew the interest of German Chancellor Angela Merkel and Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe.

by AD

 

 

 

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Filed under Connectivity, gaming, Home automation, IoT, Mobile technology, Retail, Smart Home, Smart Technology, virtual reality, Wearables

Reflections on DISTREE EMEA 2017

When the IT channel gathers in Monaco for DISTREE in February it is always good to get some winter sunshine, not just from the balmy Cote d’Azur weather, but also the opportunity to meet up with panellists, clients and new tech companies.

This year there was a strong distributor focus, and the keynote, delivered by Chris Petersen , our strategic partner, was a look at what distributors need to do to benefit from the omnichannel revolution. Chris challenged the audience provocatively with a tombstone showing that on 14th February 2017, traditional retail died. What is the significance of this date? It was on this day that Warren Buffett, the legendary investor, sold almost all of his WalMart stocks. The WalMart stock has been languishing for years now, as the company is incapable of catching up with Amazon on ecommerce. Their total of $13bn online sales is equivalent to the growth which Amazon puts on every year.

Chris elaborated on 5 areas where distributors can contribute. Here are two key ones:

  • The last mile represents 40% of costs – how can distributors help with logistics support such as drop shipment, and inventory management.
  • The long tail is the chosen strategy of ecommerce and particularly online marketplaces, which are big competition for distributors. What can distributors do to help retailers increase the breadth and depth of categories which they hold.

In addition, CONTEXT had a workshop slot, and presented a deep dive on three emerging technology areas – Smart Home, VR and PC Gaming. There is a thirst for understanding all these areas, as evidenced by the full house of those attending the talk. Of all of them, the theme which cropped up throughout the three days was PC Gaming. In the CONTEXT presentation there was a very visual presentation of the need for deep analysis in this area, with a slide showing two Asus models. One was a Republic of Gaming model, evidently a gaming machine.

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Adam Simon, Global MD – Retail, CONTEXT

The other was a “business” laptop, but when you dig into the specifications you can see that it is also gaming capable. The channel needs to understand the total market if it is to develop the gaming category, and that is where the CONTEXT categorisation is very useful.

Finally, we were asked to take part in a panel on Brexit. All 4 UK participants had been pro-Remain and are all now pragmatic if concerned about the future. We are delighted to see additional investments recently announced by tech companies in the UK, and look for an interesting competition between the hardware strong France and the software strong UK.

by AS

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Filed under Connectivity, Home automation, omnichannel, Retail, Retail in CONTEXT, Smart Home, Smart Technology