Internet-connected lights, locks and laundry machines are close to becoming everyday household items, thanks in part to voice-activated speakers such as Amazon's Echo and Google Home. Market research groups are seeing increased sales of lights that turn off when you say "good night," smart locks that let in your friends before you get home and similar smart-home gadgets. While the devices are still relatively expensive - you can get six regular light bulbs for the price of a single smart one - demand is likely to pick up further as prices fall.
"This holiday, it's starting to turn the corner into the mass market," said Steve Koenig, senior director of market research at the Consumer Technology Association, which puts on the CES gadget show in Las Vegas each January. Until recently, many people viewed these products as unnecessary luxuries, if they knew about them at all - not least because setting them up and using them sounded like a lot of work. What's changed? The growing popularity of smart speakers and their digital assistants, mainly. From your couch, you can now ask the Echo's Alexa assistant to play your favorite music or check the weather. You can order pizza, track flights or play Jeopardy. The more people use such speakers, it turns out, the more things they want them to do. In some cases, that leads directly to other smart gadgets for the home. People who own an Echo are definitely more likely to install other smart gadgets, said David Limp, Amazon's senior vice president of devices and services. "They don't start by rewiring the whole home. They start with a switch."
That switch, known as a smart plug, can make any appliance or lamp remote-controllable by cutting or restoring its power - just ask an assistant to turn it off or on.