Here we are in the final few weeks of 2013, so it’s about time to look back and see what happened. This is my list of what I believe are some of the most important home technology trends from 2013. Did I miss anything? Let me know.
1. Lighting Control Gets Brighter
Lights have always been important. Everyone I know uses them, but the basic equipment is pretty low-tech. Now lights and light systems are getting smarter. Lighting control systems have been around for several year. Lutron especially has been offering wired and wireless, DIY and integrated lighting control, though a lot of that was focused on the custom install market.
Now various levels of lighting control are making their way into less-expensive DIY products. Smart bulbs, such as the Philips Hue, LIFX and others get much of the attention, and they’re interesting products, but still a little limited. Even with the limitation, this is a category to watch.
Custom home control companies also have expended their offerings as they find that customers get just as excited over iPad control of their lights as they do over an HDTV. The move toward smarter lighting control is long overdue.
Reviews: Philips Hue LED and Tabu Lumen LED color-changing bulbs.
What the category needs: More integration, more smart switches and systems rather than smart bulbs.
Goldee’s Smart Light Controller Works with Hue and LIFX
What Makes Smart Lighting Smart?
What Can Your Lights Do?
2. Mass Market Automation
Like the smart light trend, mass market automation systems have been building steam for years, but two important things (actually two important products) happened this year. Both the Staples Connect and the Revolv demonstrated that basic automation systems don’t have to be difficult to set up, and it’s also possible to integrate products with different connection protocols. Both Connect and Revolv include multiple wireless radios, which means they can connect with products that were previously incompatible.
Another contributing factor has been the acceleration of Z-Wave products. The technology hit a milestone this year with the 900th interoperable product.
Much of the new home automation adoption is driven by home security and monitoring needs. People are paranoid by nature (well, at least I am), and high-tech security and monitoring make paranoid people feel better. IP cameras, apps and intruder text alerts are all possible with simple DIY products.
Telecom companies like ATT&T, Time Warner and Comcast are also heavily pushing the market.
What the category needs: More audio/video/media system integration. Most of the new DIY automation systems can turn on your lights, show you who’s at the door and adjust your thermostat, but few can control your music, your TV and your Blu-ray player.
Inside an AT&T Digital Life Home
Using W-Fi for Home Control
3. More Wireless Audio
It started with Sonos, and for several years it seemed that Sonos ruled the easy-to-setup wireless home audio system. Then came Nuvo, VOCO, Pure and Korus a little later. Then this fall in a mad rush Samsung, Bose, Bang & Olufsen and Lenbrook (Bluesound) all came to the table with fairly similar systems.
And let’s not forget all the Bluetooth speakers that run from $10 to $1K.
While the trend is powered by the success of Sonos, what’s really behind it is the proliferation of streaming music services like Pandora, Spotify and others (I tend to like Slacker). It could be argued that it all started with simple internet radios which proliferated several years ago. The Squeezebox products (later bought and then abandoned by Logitech) also had a hand in this movement.
What this category needs: EH (and our sister pub CE Pro) readers really want to see easier integration with control systems. You can use third-party drivers to from companies like Extra Vegetables to control Sonos and probably others, but natively each product is a closed solution. That may be good for the separate manufacturers, but it’s not good for industry and category growth. More support for high-resolution audio would also please a lot of people.
Samsung Launches Sonos-like Wireless Music System
Wireless Audio System Basics
What You Need to Know About Wireless Networks
Review: Control4 Wireless Music Bridge
New Bluesound System Includes Wireless Amp and Music Vault
4. Ultra HD
4K TVs exploded on the market this year, though they’re still not making much of an impact on sales. Consumers are having a hard time getting convinced that they need the extra pixels, or will even be able to see them, and for many the expensive upgrade is unnecessary until there’s something in 4K to watch.
Don’t worry, that will happen. Next year there will be even more 4K or Ultra HD TVs, more content options and less reason to be hesitant.
If only the projector companies would catch up.
What this category need: More content solutions, better benefit messaging.
Ultra HD Holiday Gift Guide
Netflix Starts Testing Ultra HD 4K Streaming
Is Ultra HD’s Future in a Hard Drive Server?
5. Cloud Domination
The Cloud and/or the internet-of-things are coming to dominate the home tech world. We’re using the internet to connect and control our devices, to communicate when we’re away from home, to supply us with music and video and probably some other things I’m forgetting. More than 1.7 billion streaming media devices were sold this year. That’s 20 percent more than last year, according to IHS. This will only get bigger until the hive mind consumes us all and we spend our time staring into space watching Hulu in our heads.
What this category needs: Everything mentioned above.
Maximizing Your Network for Streaming Media
What You Need to Know about Wireless Networks
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Grant Clauser has been covering home electronics for more than 10 years with editorial roles in several consumer and trade magazines. He's done ISF-level damage to hundreds of reviewed products and has had training from THX, the Home Acoustics Alliance, Control4 and Sencore. His latest book is Necessary Myths
. Follow him on Twitter @geclauser.