The Ambient is only one year young, but in that short time of covering the smart home we've learned a lot about where all of this is going. Or at least we like to think we have.
So for the new year, we decided to rustle up a little list of topics, exciting smart home devices, companies and products we think will dominate the conversation in 2019. You see, we don't want to overpromise, but we've got a little precognitive swagger in our step and a few predictions to make.
And it's more than just a bunch of smart speakers. Below you'll find 20 Big Things that we think are going to happen in 2019. Yes, there are the usual suspects, but there are a few surprises in store too. We think you'll be hearing a lot about this lot, from sufficient AI to smarter cars to... well, you'll just have to see. Strap yourself in, because we've got things to say.
Look, we're not saying it's curtains for the smart camera - certainly not - but we do think smart doorbells are going to start stealing a lot of their limelight. An explosion of offerings at CES 2019 suggested this will be a big trend this year, with doorbells that can see more, hear more and do more. Expect to see a lot more people slapping these onto the front of their homes instead of a dedicated smart cam.
The rise of smart display speakers
A trend that ignited in 2018, smart displays are only going to become more of a big deal in 2019. Speakers like the Google Home Hub and Echo Show have proven the screen still has a place in the era of voice, while the new Lenovo Smart Alarm is a taste of things to come. This year we expect more smart displays getting pitched as the new ‚Äúhubs‚ÄĚ of the smart home. What‚Äôs more, with companies like Samsung, Sony and LG turning their TVs into smart home controllers (now adding things like Apple‚Äôs HomeKit and AirPlay 2) we also expect the smart TV to take on more smart home duties in 2019.
Nest heats up
Nest made its name with thermostats, but it‚Äôs expanding into other areas of the home - like security systems, doorbells and locks. It‚Äôs also completely folded into Google now, and can utilize the company's vast resources, meaning (if Google doesn't screw it up) it's a safe horse to back. Plus, it‚Äôll likely integrate Google Assistant on a deeper level. We‚Äôve only gotten hints of this partnership, but 2019 should let us in on what the two are cooking.
Ikea Tr√•dfri to become a force
If the end of 2018 and beginning of 2019 is anything to go by, Ikea will be a force in the smart home by New Years Eve. And while Amazon is already top dog, its hegemony is only set to increase in the lucrative accessories market.
Ikea has already announced its adding plugs and blinds to its Tr√•dfri brand, which already has bulbs and dimmers. And the partnership with Sonos to introduce a smart speaker ‚Äď which will also undercut Sonos' premium line-up ‚Äď will only further that. For anyone eying up a smart home, Ikea will be a one-stop-shop.
More love for renters
For too long the smart home has been the kingdom of the house owner. Apartment renters and buyers have been treated as second class citizens, unable to make use of many smart home products due to awkward logistics or inflexible landlords. But times are changing and companies are starting to consider the humble flat dweller.
Read this: How to build a smart apartment
Ring made a splash at CES 2019 with its new Ring Door View Cam, which can be attached to a door without the need for any drilling or wiring. Meanwhile companies like August are starting to offer landlord-friendly locks, while the rise of smart plugs is giving renters new ways to tech up their abodes.
Apple‚Äôs next HomePod
Apple‚Äôs HomePod got off to a‚Ä¶ modest start, but we don‚Äôt expect it to dissuade Cupertino from taking another swing at the smart speaker. The first HomePod was announced in June 2017 and launched in February 2018, so by our count we‚Äôd expect a follow-up in 2019. Rumors of a HomePod 2 have abounded ever since the first one touched the ground (of course they did, this is Apple) with some reports that the next speaker will be smaller - perhaps a HomePod ‚ÄúMini‚ÄĚ.
The HomePod is significantly pricier than its closest rivals, so if Apple wants to really bring the fight to Amazon and Google it may need to launch something a tad more affordable. With HomeKit getting a boost this year, it would be a great time for Apple to get a second HomePod launched.
They‚Äôre coming for your car
One of this year‚Äôs major CES trends was smart cars. No, we're not talking about autonomous cars, but tech companies finding other ways to get behind the wheel. Amazon is sparking up partnerships with major automotive companies to integrate Alexa into the car, while Google is getting its Assistant in the door using third-party accessories and by making Android phones more road-friendly. The car is ripe for a takeover and we predict it will be one of 2019's major battlegrounds.
Death of the smart home hub
The death of the smart home hub has not been greatly exaggerated. In fact, we've been sounding the death knell for a while now, and come the end of 2019 there's a good chance we‚Äôll have seen all the major smart home companies really pull back from the idea. Already the major names are turning away from Zigbee and Z-Wave - or have just ignored them from the start - and towards Wi-Fi and Bluetooth. With (hopefully) more interoperability between our smart home gadgets in 2019, the traditional hub's days are surely numbered.
Google catches up to Alexa
In the realm of the smart home, Alexa has had the crown for years. That's down to Amazon getting as many smart device makers as possible on board with Alexa support. It hasn‚Äôt been the same for Google Assistant, as evidenced by devices like the Sonos One, which have promised Assistant support for ages but have not - yet - delivered. In 2019 that tide is starting to turn, with more Assistant-compatible devices on the way. Google is getting more aggressive in the smart home, and we wouldn't be surprised if these two giants are on more of an even keel come December.
Samsung finally gets in on smart speakers
Samsung continues to chip away on making Bixby everyone‚Äôs favorite smart assistant, but Samsung‚Äôs AI has just been on TVs and smartphones. That‚Äôs changing with Samsung‚Äôs long-awaited smart speaker, the Galaxy Home. It may look like a barbecue grill, but it‚Äôs Bixby‚Äôs big chance to catch up to Alexa, Google Assistant and Siri in the home. What's more, there are already rumors that Samsung a second, smaller speaker in the pipeline, which that's presumably more affordable.
The new Cortana
Cortana is dead, long live Cortana. Microsoft has officially stopped trying to make Cortana an assistant on the level of Alexa. Instead, it‚Äôs turning Cortana into a specialized assistant that plays nicely with others. This could actually be a great thing, because Cortana can focus on what it does best: Work things! From Microsoft Word to Outlook, Microsoft believes Cortana is better playing to its strengths and working with others, rather than going alone. So don't expect many more of those Cortana speakers. In 2019, Microsoft's assistant is taking a new job.
Sonos fights for the smart home
Sonos was late to the era of smart speaker - something the company itself has admitted. But the audio giant, best know for its slender lineup of high-quality speakers, is entering 2019 guns blazing. Google Assistant integration with the Sonos One and Beam soundbar is right around the corner, while a collaboration with Ikea will see the launch of the Symfonisk speaker in August, merging Sonos sound with, err, Swedish modernist design. We expect we'll see Sonos find a few other ways into our smart homes in 2019 too.
Predictive, reactive AI homes
The smart home makes our lives easier with schedules and routines, but much of that is still reliant on you putting in a lot of the work. What we're trying to say is, the smart home could be smarter, and in 2019 we're expecting AI to start being a little more self-sufficient. We want assistants that can predict ours needs without us having to ask; we want AI that fades into the background until we forget it's there. We want true ambience.
AI in everything
Amazon and Google have invaded our homes with affordable smart speakers, but now they‚Äôre looking to settle in with a whole new series of devices called Alexa Gadgets and Google Assistant Connect devices, respectively These are devices that can be controlled by voice-powered Alexa and Google Assistant, connected via Bluetooth and (in Google's case) Wi-Fi. Like a wall clock that displays your Alexa timers, or, yes, an Alexa-controlled Billy Big Bass. 2018 saw them debut, and 2019 will likely see an avalanche of new entries. The smart home is about to get a lot more interesting.
The smart kitchen evolves
The kitchen is fertile ground for smart home companies to get in on, whether it's smart displays or smart fridges that can tell you when you're out of milk. We‚Äôre starting to see an entire series of smart devices devices just for the kitchen. Samsung‚Äôs smart fridges are well known, but they‚Äôll be joined by cooking-ready smart displays from KitchenAid, smart home hubs and smart ovens, washing machines and more.
More major takeovers...
The smart home is an ever-expanding place with startups popping up all over the place, looking to muscle in with a hot new take. As they come up with new ideas, it‚Äôs likely big players with plenty of cash, like Amazon, will start to gobble them up to entrench their abilities. We'd like to see more variation and competition, but the Google and Amazon beasts are already so big - and they're very, very hungry.
...and more smart partnerships
If this smart home thing is going to work out, companies will need to put aside some interests and work together. From Microsoft and Amazon to GE and Google, several companies spent 2018 forging closer ties to make the smart home a little easier, a little more compatible. As the smart home grows with more devices and services, it‚Äôs likely 2019 will see a handful of new partnerships form.
Privacy becomes a way to score points
With the proliferation of smart home gadgets, privacy and security are only going to become more of an essential conversation in 2019. We don't think we'll see a hell of a lot solved, but we do think it's going to be a hot button topic. It's becoming increasingly clear that there are large holes in the smart home waiting to be exploited, and in 2019 we predict we'll see companies trying to score points by touting better privacy-protecting features, much like Google did with the camera-less Home Hub.
Everything will get less... messy
Zigbee, Z-Wave, Z-Wave Plus. God, the smart home can be a confusing place. And that's before you get onto which devices are compatible with your Google/Alexa setup. We spent a lot of time last year talking to the experts of industry, and if one thing is increasingly clear to them it's that the smart home is in need of some serious defragging. Don't expect there to be an agreed single standard any time soon, if ever, but we expect to see more compatibility, less mess in 2019.
2019 is HomeKit's year
For a long time, Apple required hardware authentication on smart home devices - basically, they had to include a chip - which made it a hassle to build HomeKit products, and made Amazon's and Google's platforms more appealing by comparison. Thankfully, Apple switched over to software authentication in 2017, and although it's taken companies a little while, they‚Äôve finally started updating their software for HomeKit compatibility. If CES 2019 was any indication, we‚Äôre about to be flooded with HomeKit-compatible tech - and it's about time.
Rise of the robots
Ok, this is the big gamble of the list, but here goes: We think there's a good chance the robots are coming for us in 2019. And by that we mean actual robots - AI going mobile. Amazon is already said to be working on a robot for the home, which may be available to buy very soon. The story goes that this robot will be capable of roving around the home, and we don't think it will be the only one. There was robots galore at CES 2019, while the return of Sony's Aibo dog feels impeccably well timed. We're willing to risk it: We think the next smart home fad could well be robots in our home, and we think we'll see it kick off in 2019. The real question is, are any of us ready?