Simplicity Reigns at CES 2012

Mahin Samadani

CES 2012 was a juggernaut—despite rumors of its demise the show is bigger than ever. Uncovering the gems at CES is always a challenge, but one theme did emerge amidst the jungle of gadgets and one-hit tech wonders: simplicity.

I saw a huge number of demonstrations and product launches touting electronics that will automate and simplify the consumer’s life. Whether it was a self-folding stroller, an advanced robotic vacuum, a TV with no wires, or a fridge that knows your groceries so it can help with recipes, the CE giants understand that users are drawn to simple experiences.

The rise of the post-PC era platforms

What is interesting about these simplifying advancements to me is that many of them are intricately woven into a more complex ecosystem of offerings–showing that a simple product or experience that is supported and extended by a broader ecosystem is exponentially more powerful.  Brands like LG and Samsung are embracing the notion of platforms beyond how the world usually thinks of them in the PC context: smart living rooms, connected appliances and rapid transfer technologies all void of any PC hub–but all interconnected to devices that matter.

The immovable mobile phone

Looking ahead, the mobile phone is clearly the device that will continue to matter most as the smart home competition heats up. The mobile phone will become the default “remote control” (and in some cases game control!) for intelligent and embedded solutions in the home. However, there’s no guarantee that the mobile devices that people use will be from the same ecosystem (consumers don’t typically buy mobile devices at the same time as they upgrade their home white goods or electronics set-up). So all the smart “stuff” in the home has to be “open,” or able to be used from any brand mobile device.

Samsung’s WF457 WiFi enabled washer and dryer is a great example of what we’re likely to see. Forgot to turn on your dryer full of wet towels? Don’t worry, the WF457 features an 8-inch touchscreen and can be controlled from inside or outside the home via a mobile app. Or take LG’s new smart refrigerator that lets consumers use their smartphone to check the contents of the fridge and even recommends recipes that make use of the ingredients inside. The fridge also features “Smart Shopping” technology, offering online grocery shopping right from an LCD panel or from the user’s smartphone.

Being Simple is really hard to do

CE companies have long promised to deliver simplicity via the smart home. By creating systems with the mobile phone as a centerpiece, they might finally deliver on that promise. If they can focus on creating experiences that embrace simplicity while still delivering capability, the smart home may soon become an integral part of our lives.  

Mahin Samadani

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