It’s that time of year, again, when all of the top brands in kitchen and bath products gather in a warm, gaudy playground of a city to display their wares.
Just a few years ago, you might have assumed we meant the Kitchen & Bath Show (KBIS), held this year in Orlando. Now, we’re willing to bet at least some of your minds went to the Consumer Electronics Show (CES), held at the exact same time in Las Vegas.
Participating at both shows, we couldn’t help but come to the conclusion that CES is posing a significant threat to KBIS, and even its cousin the International Builders Show (IBS).
Historically, CES has been about gadgets and devices, as big-name electronics brands unveil their latest whiz-bang smart phones, tablets, televisions and other entertainment products. But over the last few years, home products have begun to take up more floor space at the show.
Some brands that have been traditionally associated with IBS & KBIS now also exhibit at CES… while others, notably appliance manufacturers, are skipping IBS & KBIS altogether.
The reason is that “the home” — long a bastion of low-tech products made of wood and stone — is incorporating more silicon chips and touchscreens than ever before. And it’s really just the beginning.
The Platform Battles
One of the central ideas that’s been gaining steam at CES is the idea of the “connected home” or the “smart home.” Brands are releasing internet-connected devices that are designed to make people’s lives easier as their homes run themselves.
This started with products like Nest and others that connect to users’ phones and allow them to be controlled from anywhere. Now — while phones are still part of the mix — they’re starting to play second fiddle to smart home hubs like Amazon Echo, Google Home, and Apple Home Kit.
The central feature to all of those is the voice-activation. People, apparently, want to be able to tell their homes what to do, rather than be bothered to go press a button or turn a dial.
So manufacturers like GE, Phillips and Samsung are introducing products designed to make the home smarter, especially the kitchen (more on that later). While they typically have stand-alone functionality, their true power is unleashed when they are connected to whatever cylindrical, voice-activated device the house may contain.
Right now, all of the devices seem to be cobbled together, not quite as seamless and artificial-intelligency as the home once envisioned by The Jetsons. What remains to be seen is which smart hub will become the preferred platform — Amazon, Google, Apple, or someone else — and therefore the one that most appliances connect to.
That’s the war that seems to be waging.
The Kitchen is the Battleground
The notion of the kitchen being the hub of the home has been around for decades. But manufacturers are finally starting to grasp what that really means.
Sure, CES is loaded with smart bathroom products, entertainment for the living room, and even smart bedroom devices. But the kitchen, as we’ve all known for years, is the room where every member of the family spends the most time interacting with products, every single day.
Consumers have made do by using their phones, tablets or computers in their kitchens, but these have always been imperfect solutions — as those devices are not meant to be used with olive-oil coated hands. Enter Philips and GE, who have introduced purpose-built kitchen assistants.
Philips’ solution, boringly named 7703, a 24-inch Android TV with Google Assistant built in. The 7703 not only allows you to watch TV while making dinner, but also ask Google Assistant for help. You can also change the channel and play music using voice commands, which comes in handy when you’re breaking down a chicken.
While Philips’ 7703 is an afterthought that takes up valuable counter space, GE’s kitchen hub (which doesn’t even have a boring name) is basically a computer mounted on the front of a microwave. By incorporating technology into an appliance that’s already there, GE presents a more seamless option.
But the king of the kitchen is, of course, the refrigerator.
When you think about it, people have been trying to tell manufacturers that this big, heavy device can do more than keep stuff cold. People have hung children’s art and to-do lists and grocery lists on the fridge doors forever.
Now, Samsung has embraced this fully with their Family Hub refrigerator. It syncs up food storage with meal preparation, keeps family members connected and organized, and offers enhanced entertainment through a large screen and speakers.
LG, the other heavy-hitter in the smart appliance game, expanded its ThinQ platform with an InstaView ThinQ refrigerator. Like the Samsung, it has a giant screen on the door. But the screen converts to a clear window so you can see what’s inside the fridge, and it can even recommend recipes based on its contents.
It’s also connected to the Amazon Echo, so Alexa can walk you through the meal preparation, if you like.
Both refrigerators also keep stuff chilled.
Not everything at CES is over-the-top, one-upsmanship between huge appliance brands. There are some very cool (to use an ancient term) products that use technology to offer very practical benefits.
One such company is Streamlabs.
Streamlabs offers an internet connected device that allows homeowners to monitor their water use. This has several benefits.
It allows homeowners to see their water consumption so they can endeavor to make their homes more water-efficient. It also helps them detect slow leaks that might be costing them money, but would take months to become visible.
Finally, it allows them to be alerted to problems like a burst pipe or a running faucet when they’re away from home. So they don’t have to worry about coming home to a catastrophe.
Clearly, the home is becoming more digital, more smart, more electronic, than it’s ever been. Manufacturers have only begun to show what their products can do and how they can enhance people’s lives. That, combined with the blistering pace of technology, would indicate that technology is becoming more integrated into the home. Not less.
This seems to indicate a rising importance of CES vs. that of KBIS and IBS. CES is where brands go if they want to make a splash and have their products noticed by the more influential among us.
There will still be a need for IBS and KBIS, in our opinion. But those shows’ days of being the only sexy destination are over. Perhaps they will combine with CES, as they did with each other some years ago.
But, it seems, CES is where it’s at, and that’s a reality home and building brands need to come to grips with.