What I’ll Miss About CES

I used to look forward to CES, the Consumer Electronics Show held every January in Las Vegas. Like everything else in town, it was glittery, glitzy and way over the top. But I always focused on finding the tech experts to learn more about how products worked. Now, it’s all changed. This year’s show starts Jan. 11, totally online, a reflection of where life is headed as the pandemic continues.

Being a techie, I loved talking to the engineers at the exhibits of product manufacturers. Whether it was for a product that caught my interest or one that many of my clients use, the engineers could answer my questions or explain the key areas that made a product work. They told me where I could unlock more capabilities and where I could stumble into a deep, dark hole.

You didn’t have to be a techie to get into the show. There was always something to wow anybody who attended, and there were neat toys that companies were giving away. Last year, I registered to get a flood detector that a company named Orbit introduced. It’s a good concept. It has Wi-Fi enabled sensors that you can put on the floor in a place that might flood, such as near a water pipe, sink, toilet or washing machine. It has an app that you install on your smartphone, and it warns you when the sensor detects water.

My friend, who attended the show with me, registered for one, too. They said they’d ship them; that’s what everyone says. After a while, we forgot about them. But last month, we got FedEx notices, and we could see that they were legitimately from Orbit. My system is on my basement floor, where, fortunately, it’s been silent.

But for all its glitter and glitz, CES is a show of concepts more than readily available products. Last year, as you may recall, healthcare was the major focus. If you had wristwatches stretching from your wrist to your shoulder, they would all contain features and apps that you couldn’t condense to just a few units. There were that many.

Flexible telephones, such as the one Samsung introduced, were not available until later, and the same was true of really large, really lightweight TVs with 8K resolution. Very few of them are on the market, and there is hardly any content I can think of that you can view with 8K resolution. Even 4K resolution is not universal – nor is it compelling technology for many.

I may go to the online CES, but it’s not the same. If you’re wandering around virtually, I’m sure there will be links to product manufacturers’ websites. But if you’re looking for information about the types of products you might buy, you can go directly to the websites. And if you want to actually see and touch the real thing, you might consider heading off to Best Buy.

If you’re looking for a TV, for example, you can get side-by-side comparisons by looking at multiple brand names, screen sizes and levels of technology. You can see if a specific size will fit in the room where you’ll watch it. You can do the same with any appliance and any type of smart home device you want to install. Seeing a product in person gives you a different perspective, and even with minimal sales staff, you can find somebody in a store who can answer some of your basic questions better than with most online chat services.

A trip to the store can also help us help you better with buying and configuring TVs, home electronics and smart home devices. You’ll have a better idea of what you want or need to buy and where to install it, and we’ll be better able to answer questions about what can work better and what’s possible to meet your expectations. Call us – 973-433-6676 – or email us. We can review product specs to help you make a good selection and provide whatever installation and configuration help you might need.

Health Wearables in Style at CES

Wearables caught our eye at this year’s CES (Consumer Electronics Show) in Las Vegas. There’s a wearable for almost any health condition, and that has its own set of pros and cons.

The big pro, as we see it, is that you can monitor so many health conditions, such as your heartbeat, blood pressure, blood sugar levels and if you have sleep apnea. A wearable can even detect AFib. The downsides, as we see them, are that there are too many proprietary technologies that require you to wear their own watch or wristband. That immediately conjured up in my mind an image of someone rolling up his sleeve and showing his arm full of watches – just like a guy trying to sell you something on the street.

We clearly will need some sort of a more ubiquitous watch, like an Apple Watch or Fitbit, to consolidate these capabilities into one wearable device. I would shudder at the thought of getting behind an overdressed health fanatic at airport security.

On a more helpful note, Amazon, Apple and Google are joining other internet and technology giants to join a project called “Connected Home Over IP”. The group aims to make it easier for device manufacturers to build products that are compatible with smart home and voice services such as Alexa, Siri and Google Assistant.

We like this development because it will reduce a lot of electronic clutter by allowing you to consolidate a variety of smart-home technologies into one platform. That can help you control them better from a smartphone, and it can help make your home more secure from hackers because you only need to worry about a single control point.

We’ve embraced a lot of smart-home technology in our family, and the convenience is a great benefit. But we’ve always wondered about where the security is. It’s up to us to demand better security from the internet industry and product manufacturers, and this is a step in that direction. However, it’s still up to you – more than ever – to secure your IoT devices to make your smart-home technology truly smart.

Finally, there was a lot of buzz over sex and technology. We’ll sidestep all the lurid details, but sex has always sold, so we’ll be in for more of it. One sex-product developer even won an award for innovation, but it was pulled after some heavy pushback.

Sex toys aside, more technology will continue to hit the markets for anything that affects your life – for work and for play. As you add more technology, you’ll need to make sure your network has the capacity to handle new devices and systems, and you’ll need to make sure it’s all secure. That’s where we can help. Call us – 973-433-6676 – or email us to help get your new technology running.

Security Not Top-of-Mind at CES

It’s fair to say I was disappointed when talking to IoT device manufacturers at CES in Las Vegas last month. Security was not the big thing on their minds. And except for a TV screen that you can roll up like paper (which I couldn’t see at the show), there wasn’t anything I wanted to bring home and install.

The lack of emphasis on security was baffling, especially when you consider that a lot of companies at CES were talking about AI (artificial intelligence) and 5G networks. The latter are the newer, faster wireless data networks that will play an important role, along with AI, in the next generation of the IoT, especially autonomous vehicles (AVs), which are expected to be an established mode of transportation in the next 10 years. We’re simply going to require more data at a faster speed to make AVs work.

However, it seems that AI – and maybe 5G – was more concerned with what we’ll be running to the store to buy instead of how we’ll get there. Samsung, which makes refrigerators, among other appliances, started to show off Bigsby, its version of Alexa. And when you combine it with a smart refrigerator, this new power team can create a shopping list for you. You can even use voice commands for your washing machine. OK…

There is still a big push to get more devices into the home, and we certainly have more than our share in ours. We find the ones we have to be either great conveniences or highly useful. We just wish that the manufacturers were paying more attention to security, especially with hacking and information theft so prevalent. However, nothing stood out like that TV that rolls up. I really would have liked to be able to see it, even if I couldn’t buy it.

On the other hand, one of the more ridiculous things I saw was either a blanket or mattress pad with dual temperature control and a discounted price of $2,000. Sony also had a Walkman that weighed 5 pounds and had a heftier price tag: $2,500. Sony said there’s a market for it: audiophiles who want high-quality sound.

Speaking of sound, I took note of Panasonic’s automotive offerings, though none was available for consumer purchase. Rather, it seems that the automotive manufacturers are going to rely more on electronics manufacturers and the mobile operating systems to provide the devices and infrastructure for in-car infotainment systems. As part of that trend, we note that Toyota is dropping its plan to introduce a proprietary infotainment system.

We applaud Toyota’s decision for three reasons:

  1. In-car systems from the automakers don’t work well.
  2. Each in-car system has its own way of displaying and using information, and that can be confusing for people who drive multiple cars, including rental cars, where roads and a car’s system are unfamiliar.
  3. Because they are built into the car, it’s difficult to update them in a timely manner.

Just about all manufacturers offer connectivity to either Apple or Android in-car systems – or both – throughout their product lines. Our devices are already customized for driving directions and play lists, and we know how to use them. We also can make our devices secure in the same way we update our OS and applications on our computers.

I think some exciting new products and changes in the way we use technology are a year or two away, but that doesn’t mean we should sit on our hands. If you need a new IoT product now, we can help you we can help you select and install one for today – and make sure it’s secure – and see how it could fit your future needs. Call us – 973-433-6676 – or email us to talk about it.

Off to CES Next Month

I’m looking forward to going to CES – the Consumer Electronics Show – in Las Vegas next month. It will be my first time there; I had to make sure I did the planning needed to make it happen. I plan to look closely at home automation and AI because both will play growing roles in our lives.

We already have a lot going on. I was an early adapter of Doorbot, which we now know as Ring. It’s the camera system that works in conjunction with your doorbell and smartphone to let you know who’s at your front door. You can talk with the people at the door whether you’re in the next room or the next country. When I installed Doorbot, it paid immediate dividends when I could tell delivery people where to leave packages. It helped me serve my clients better.

As Ring, the product has evolved into a security camera. With a wide field of vision, it can activate as soon as someone gets near your home and take a clear picture of everyone at your door. It’s also instantaneous. With a standard alarm system, any thief knows he has 5 to 10 minutes before the police respond. Now, you have a way to identify the person. You can use it in conjunction with other camera systems to see who’s there, and you can use it along with electronic door locks that you can remotely control to let someone into your house.

We have more automated systems in our homes. Nest is the first one you think of when it comes to having a thermostat that you can set or change through an Internet connection, and there are all sorts of lighting systems that you can automate or reset.

We’ve added Google Home, and it can do searches – just like Siri, Alexa and Amazon Echo – and turn on lights in various rooms in the house to light the way without having to turn on switches. If your hands are full, it’s more than a convenience. More systems likely will come to market that analyze movements in your house and either reset HVAC or lighting as you need them or let you know what’s happening in your house while you’re away. We have all these systems today, but AI will tie them together to give you faster access and coordinated control from a single device.

I’m also interested in seeing what’s new for cars. It’s only a matter of time until cars become driverless; we’re likely to see driverless trucks a lot faster. Driverless vehicles will be the ultimate in AI as a consumer application, and we make great strides toward that every year. More and more cars have a variety of systems to analyze a car’s position and traffic conditions to warn you or take a programmed action – such as apply the brakes. What will be the next steps in the home automation/AI arena?

We’ll let you know what we find out. In the meantime, if you have any questions about systems installed in your home or car that you control from a device, we urge you to make sure you have changed all the default usernames and passwords that came with them. That’s crucial to keeping outsiders from entering and controlling your space. If you need help in configuring or reconfiguring your systems to maximize their performance and security, we’re there for you. Just call us – 973-433-6676 – or email us. And be sure to read Network Strength and Costs.

Are You Smarter Than a House?

The smart home is the rage at this year’s CES (Consumer Electronics Show). Devices, gadgets, appliances and cars are generating a lot of buzz – along with TVs you can’t buy and drones that you probably can’t fly. Here’s what got our attention.

Apple’s HomeKit platform is ready to install. If you ever marveled at the X-10 or the Clapper, this will have you doing backflips. With Siri-control of Wi-Fi connected to home automation accessories, you can control ceiling fans and window blinds. Very soon, you should be able to control electrical outlets, switches, thermostats and door lock options. HomeKit is matched to products come from some notable companies such as Honeywell, Lutron, Kwikset, iHome and others.

With Apple getting heavily involved, you can expect to have a lot of capabilities all tied to a single app, and using Siri’s voice capability will make it a snap to turn appliances and systems on and off or lock your doors with a simple spoken command.

We’ve already had a preview of how you can keep tabs on everything going on at home even if you’re nowhere near your house. We installed an Internet-accessible doorbell monitor a few years ago that uses a camera and two-way sound system to talk to anyone who rings the bell. It came in really handy soon after we installed it when we were able to accept the delivery of equipment needed for a client installation. Without the system, there would have been no delivery, and the project would have been delayed.

One system at CES takes our old one a step farther by also enabling you to unlock the door to let people into your house. For some families, that can add a totally new dimension to what used to be called “latch-key kids.”

Inside the house, a smart refrigerator is generating some cool news. Expected to hit the market later this year, the deluxe models take pictures of what’s inside your fridge after you close the door – or doors. You can use the pictures for your trip to the supermarket on your way home – unless, of course, you order your groceries online and use a credit card app to pay for them. It’s a combo play from Samsung and MasterCard. Oh, and just to give a good-old warm and fuzzy feeling, the refrigerator has a screen for leaving messages and notes or displaying (scanned) artwork from your kids.

Ford got a lot of attention with its Sync 3 and its compatibility with Apple CarPlay and Android Auto, but it’s not alone. Many auto manufacturers are jumping into the game. Systems will feature a lot of infotainment applications, but they will tie more closely to smart-home systems.

To be prepared for all the smart-home systems coming to the market, you need to be a smart homeowner by making sure your Wi-Fi network is secure. We’ve discussed network security many times before, but now more is at stake. Smart-home systems will require more passwords and stronger passwords, and you’ll need to make sure you only use secure networks to access your home remotely. If not, it will be just like telling the world the key to your front door is under the mat or in the mailbox.

All of this new technology is both exciting and overwhelming. We can help you eliminate the anxiety by helping you understand how the systems work to make smart selections, and we can make sure your home Wi-Fi network can handle all the technology you install. Call us – 973-433-6676 – or email us. We can help