Lowdown: Connected devices

Nick Hirst

Last year, Smart Homes were a trend. This year it really becomes a product category. The idea, as you probably know, is that objects and appliances in the home are connected to other objects and/or to the internet. This means three things. One, automation or programming: heating can switch off when you're away; lights can come on when it's dark. Two, they can 'report' on their current state: cookers can tell you if they're on when you're out of the house; appliances could alert engineers when they're on the blink. And three, they can transmit content or information (this is sometimes useful, as in Whirlpool's concept for a kitchen surface that displays recipes, and sometimes frivolous: Whirlpool has a fridge that plays mp3s).

This year, big companies are trying to bring the Smart Home into the mainstream. Samsung introduced its concept for the Smart Home at CES in January, which integrates a large number of devices into one operating system. Time will tell whether other brands adopt it. British Gas has been heavily promoting its Hive Active Heating system, which allows smartphone monitoring and control of temperature and heating from outside the house – great if, for example, you're worried about a cold snap freezing your pipes. The US is further ahead, with big retailers Staples and Lowe's launching their own devices and systems.