Rethinking Interactions on this Week’s Five For Wednesday

wireframing

Welcome to Five for Wednesday, our weekly roundup of interesting tech news. Today, the (accidental) theme is rethinking interaction.

  1. Amazon released new abilities for smart doorbells and cameras. Among the new features are motion sensing linked to routines – so, for example, if someone is approaching your house and your smart camera detects it, the lights could turn on. Developers can also use the new API to enable two-way conversation between a smart doorbell and an Echo device.
  2. Columbus, Ohio, adds to its smart city repertoire by adopting driverless shuttles. The shuttles are currently in a trial run, and should be accepting passengers by December. The shuttle route includes Center of Science and Industry, Smart Columbus Experience Center, Bicentennial Park and National Veterans Memorial and Museum.
  3. Toyota wants autonomous cars that know how you feel. The company’s CEO says they want people having more fun in their cars, and suggests autonomous vehicles should appeal to people’s emotions and interests. This can including suggesting stop offs at national parks for nature lovers, and other AI guided experiences while traveling by car.
  4. Sidewalk Labs (a division of Google), is working with the city of Toronto on several projects, and recently released a statement about urban data. Since the public is who contributes the data, they’ve decided that a public trust – not a private company – should own that data, and it should be accessible to all. This is a huge step on making sure private interests don’t benefit from the public’s data without informed consent.
  5. The Palm Phone is a new way to think about smart phone experiences. Instead of going bigger, what if your phone was smaller? I’m not sure I buy into what Palm is selling – firstly, in order to even use a Palm, you need to already have a smart phone (so its not replacing anything), but the conscious decision to try to minimize your screen time/use a phone more intuitively is definitely something I can get behind.

Bonus (I can’t seem to narrow down to 5 these days): If you’re interested in learning more about how design works, and hearing about use cases of human-centered design, check out the new podcast “Wireframe.” It takes a “This American Life” style approach to talking about design, and the first two episodes are out now. The first discusses the Three Mile Island disaster in terms of “bad” user interface design, and the second takes a look at the city of Boston’s efforts to create a 311 app.

CES 2017 Round Up – Part 1: Watching the Smart Home Evolve

A flight home from CES 2017, credit reddit user fantomknight1

Very much like last year, the halls of CES 2017 were packed to the brim with smart home technology. Now although there were a few new products, the majority of vendors mainly showed off upgraded versions of their lights, lock, security cameras, switches and other smart home hardware. It seems the major smart home announcements at CES 2017 were about new integrations between existing products. This trend is a big win for the industry and consumers who are currently dealing with a fragmented user experience.

Alexa

For the second year in a row, Amazon’s personal voice assistant has dominated the floors of CES. Without being present in any formal capacity, the personal assistant seemed to be absolutely everywhere. Most impressively, Alexa has broken free from just being a smart home product and is now showing up in nearly all industries at CES. Vendors are building their products with Alexa built in, negating the need for consumers to even own an Amazon Echo. For example, both Ford and Volkswagon announced that the virtual assistant will be coming to their connected cars to allow search, shopping, and smart home control while driving. Chinese mobile phone manufacturer Huawei is launching an android phone that will prominently feature Alexa. Lenovo has created two versions of their own personal assistant that has Alexa built-in . The standard – starting at $129.99, and the Harmon Kardon Edition, which offers better sound quality, starting at $179.99. (very comparable to the price of an actual amazon echo).

The number of applications (or skills) available in Amazon Alexa store is increasing at an incredible rate. With only 1,000 available last June, the store now hosts over 7,000 skills that allow you do to basic things like set timers and alarms, to ordering Uber’s or Lyft’s and checking wait times at airports.

Apple’s Homekit

While Apple Homekit seems to currently to be losing the integrations “arms race”, CES 2017 was still full of vendors announcing their HomeKit Enabled Devices. Integrations with Apple take longer for third party vendors as there is a strict set of hardware and software requirements Apple imposes before it will certify a product as HomeKit compatible.

Locks:

  • Yale Real Living Assure Locks
  • Yale NexTouch Wireless Locks
  • Kwickset Premis smart lock

Lights:

  • iDevices Instant Switch
  • Lifx Plus Smart Bulbs
  • Ring Floodlight Cam

Security:

  • Withings Home Plus
  • Fibaro Motion Sensor
  • Fibary Door/Window Sensor

Other

  • Netatmo Smoke Alarm
  • Chamberline Smart Garage Opener
  • Fibaro Flood sensor

Lutron

Lutron, one of the more established Smart Home Vendors in the industry has announced new integrations with Samsung SmartThings and additional features with Nest.

With SmartThings you will now be able to control your Lutron switches and shades alongside other compatible products from within the SmartThings mobile app. That’ll let you use things like Z-wave and ZigBee motion detectors to trigger your Lutron gear. This communication is not native to the Lutron Platform however and will require you to purchase an additional piece of hardware that works as a translating device. This hardware should be available early this year.

Lutron is has also added additional functionality to its Nest integrations. Previously, you were already able to trigger Lutron gear based on communications from the Google Company’s Learning Thermostat and Protect Smoke detector. Now they have also added Nest Cam support which is a great benefit to be able to control your indoor/outdoor lighting based on motion detected on your cameras.

Google Home

Being the new comer to this space, Google’s personal assistant platform remained relatively quiet this year with only a few announcements. Besides integrating with the familiar Belkin Wemo line, Google also announced partnership with another new comer to the space, the Nvidia Shield/Spot, a media streaming device with built in AI and smart home integrations.

As they open up more of their API and hardware vendors have more time to integrate, I imagine Google Home will be the one to watch at CES 2018.

Final Thoughts

All of these integrations show a maturing smart home industry, a welcome improvement over the fragmented marketplace that existed just a year ago. The fact that consumers will no longer necessarily be silo’d into smart home walled gardens should allow greater adoption of these devices. To learn more about CRT’s CES trip, please follow us on Facebook as we discuss our findings live on Friday afternoon. Please make sure to check back here as well next week for part two of this series, where I share the products that I am most excited about for 2017.