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Connected Homes March 2019 Viewpoints

Technology Analyst: Michael Gold

Connected Homes without the Cloud

By Christian Feest
Feest is a technology analyst with Strategic Business Insights.

Why is this topic significant?

Concerns about privacy, security, and reliability could increase demand for connected-home systems that operate on local networks without relying on the cloud.

Description

In a typical connected home, an individual might issue a voice command to a smart speaker that transmits a voice recording to a cloud-based virtual assistant for processing. This cloud-based architecture enables virtual assistants to utilize powerful servers, big data, and machine learning to an extent that is not possible on, for example, a home hub without an internet connection.

Despite the benefits of this cloud-based architecture, drawbacks exist. For example, a failure at the cloud server, internet-service-provider downtime, or problems with the user's Wi-Fi router could prevent the user from controlling important functions such as heating, lighting, and alarms in his or her home. Further, internet-connected devices are potentially subject to hacking, raising security concerns. Cloud-based virtual assistants also raise potential privacy issues. Reports from May 2018, for example, describe how an Amazon Echo Dot mistakenly recorded a user's private conversation and sent it to a random contact.

Though still a niche area of the connected-home market, several smart home hubs offer varying degrees of functionality without internet connectivity. Samsung's SmartThings Hub v2 and v3, for example, enable users to automate when connected devices turn on or off without connecting the hub to the internet. However, for on-demand, manual control of connected devices, the SmartThings Hub requires internet connectivity. Other smart hubs run entirely locally. Hubitat has designed its local-only Elevation smart hub to be compatible with all devices that use standard protocols such as Zigbee and Z-Wave. Similarly, the Mixtile home hub, which is due to start shipping in April 2019, conducts all processing locally on the hub and is compatible with Zigbee and Z-Wave devices.

Implications

Negative stories about how technology companies gather and use data, such as the Facebook Cambridge Analytica scandal, have increased consumer awareness of potential privacy issues, and marketing for both Hubitat's and Mixtile's home hubs strongly emphasizes the privacy advantages of local-only smart home solutions. However, local-only home hubs must contend with trade-offs between increased privacy and reduced functionality. For example, the Mixtile hub offers some support for voice commands but is unable to interpret complex, natural-language commands as can cloud-connected competitors such as Amazon's Echo and Google's Home Hub devices. The commercial success of local-only home hubs will largely depend on how strongly consumers feel about privacy and how much functionality they are willing to sacrifice to ensure it.

Impacts/Disruptions

Even if local-only home hubs fail to gain significant market share from cloud-connected leaders such as Amazon Echo and Google Home Hub, offline capabilities could still be an important selling point of connected-home systems. By extending offline functionality, smart home equipment manufacturers could improve the reliability of connected devices and the hubs that control them and better respect user privacy. Development of processors that specifically host machine-learning algorithms efficiently may eventually allow some functionality of virtual assistants to move from the cloud into devices.

Scale of Impact

  • Low
  • Medium
  • High
The scale of impact for this topic is: Medium

Time of Impact

  • Now
  • 5 Years
  • 10 Years
  • 15 Years
The time of impact for this topic is: Now to 5 Years

Opportunities in the following industry areas:

Networks, internet, speech processing, cybersecurity

Relevant to the following Explorer Technology Areas:

The Rollable TV versus The Wall TV

By Christian Feest
Feest is a technology analyst with Strategic Business Insights.

Why is this topic significant?

Incremental improvements in TV picture quality and resolution improve the viewer's experience, but new technologies could also change how TV screens integrate into the connected home.

Description

CES in January 2019 saw demonstrations of two new innovative TV displays: a micro light-emitting-diode (microLED) TV from Samsung and a rollable organic-LED (OLED) TV from LG. The two companies have demonstrated their novel displays in some form at previous events, but the two technologies are now approaching commercial release.

LG's latest offering is a 65-inch 4K OLED TV. The key feature that differentiates this TV from previous models is that the display can roll up into the base. The OLED screen material attaches to many horizontal slats, rather than to a single piece of glass, which enables the display to roll around a central spindle in the base when not in use. This rollable design also enables the TV to operate in "line mode," in which the display has only partial exposure and shows, for example, a clock or a digital picture. LG has not announced a price for the TV but has revealed that it will go on sale in the second half of 2019.

Samsung demonstrated new variations of "The Wall"—a modular TV concept that utilizes microLED technology. Like OLED TVs, microLED TVs contain self-emitting pixels, which enable greater contrast than backlit alternatives enable. Each pixel on The Wall consists of three inorganic LEDs that emit red, green, or blue light, making microLED a direct competitor to OLED in terms of picture quality. Building on demonstrations in 2018 of a 146-inch version of The Wall, Samsung demonstrated a 219-inch version and a potentially more consumer-friendly 75-inch version.

Implications

The thin frame, the modular nature, and even the name—The Wall—of Samsung's TV suggest that Samsung is trying to integrate its display more naturally with the room it's in. Samsung's Ambient Mode—a feature that enables the TV to display screen-saver-like images or mimic the background it is against when not in use—could further improve natural integration of the screen with its environment. The modular nature of Samsung's microLED technology means modules could combine to create large displays that cover an entire wall from floor to ceiling—almost like wallpaper. Single modules could also find use in other areas of the home. For example, a small strip of microLEDs in the kitchen could display recipes. LG's new display is also a move away from the TV as a large black rectangle when not in use. However, in contrast to Samsung's approach of integrating the display with the environment, LG's approach is to minimize its presence by hiding it altogether when not in use.

Impacts/Disruptions

When Samsung and LG release their innovative displays, the TVs will remain luxury products for a few years, but the technology could eventually come to TVs for the high-end consumer market (where OLED TVs are today). However, long-term changes in how individuals consume content could limit the demand for high-end TVs. Competition from laptop, tablet, and smartphone screens appears to be reducing the time consumers spend in front of TV screens. This trend could lead consumers to put off purchasing new TVs. Additionally, Chinese-manufactured liquid-crystal-display panels—which continue to improve in quality while maintaining low prices—could also reduce demand for high-end TVs.

Scale of Impact

  • Low
  • Medium
  • High
The scale of impact for this topic is: Low

Time of Impact

  • Now
  • 5 Years
  • 10 Years
  • 15 Years
The time of impact for this topic is: Now to 5 Years

Opportunities in the following industry areas:

Televisions, gaming, advertising

Relevant to the following Explorer Technology Areas: