The best smart home trends of 2019

google-nest-hub-maxJuan Garzon/CNET

The decade is wrapping up and the smart home market is the biggest it’s ever been. We have smart speakers and displays, smart doorbells and light bulbs, smart ovens and fridges. More importantly, it’s no longer just us early adopters buying this stuff; everyday people are actually shopping for smart home devices.

But just because the smart home is better established doesn’t mean its novelty has died. Innovation is in the iteration: new software, design and use cases. You might wake up to a new security feature on the smart speaker you bought to play music. Or you might discover a new cooking class on the smart display you bought to video chat with you grandparents.

In short, the smart home is still bursting with creativity. Here are the best smart home trends we saw in 2019.

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Personalizing alerts from security cameras

These aren’t exactly new, but smart cameras and video doorbells are finally effectively implementing alerts that distinguish between packages, people, pets and your Prius. The Arlo Pro 3, for instance, can be adjusted to send you an alert if a delivery person drops off a package, but not if someone simply rings the doorbell and leaves.

These personalized settings are genuinely useful if you’re trying to keep an extra set of eyes out for specific visitors. Even if you keep all of them activated, it can be helpful to tell at a glance whether your camera sees a person at your door while you’re away, or if it’s just the neighbor’s cat out for a stroll.

Adding camera shutters to smart displays

There are two kinds of people: those who put stickers over their laptop camera and those who don’t. It’s hard to be one of the latter when you’ve read interviews with Edward Snowden talking about the NSA surveilling a man, who had committed no crime, as he held his toddler and worked at his laptop.



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Honestly, it’s kind of crazy that some high-profile devices — particularly those with face-following abilities like Google’s Nest Hub Max — haven’t come with physical shutters from the beginning. Luckily, shutters have become more norm than exception, appearing on devices like the Lenovo Smart Display and the JBL Link View. Amazon also seems to be making shutters standard for its smart displays, equipping both the Echo Show 5 and Show 8 with them this year.

Camera shutters put the power to protect privacy back in the hands of the user. You don’t have to trust a device or company, or research whether a hacker could theoretically film you without the green light beside the camera lighting up. Just flip the switch. Boom, one less privacy concern to concern yourself with.

Hopefully shutters will start becoming standard outside the smart home, too. Looking at you, laptops and smartphones.

Adding gesture controls to smart displays

For me, the light switch will always be the gold standard of intuitive home control. We switch lights on and off as instinctively as anything. But as smart home gadgets invade our homes more, we also have to learn new interfaces, new instincts. Luckily, some smart displays are adding gesture controls, which means holding a finger to your lips to turn down music or holding up your hand to silence it might become as natural as flipping on the lights.

Here’s what Andrew Gebhart, who has covered a number of smart displays for CNET, has to say about the feature: 

“The biggest problem gesture control solves right now is communicating with a voice assistant while playing loud music. Now you don’t have to shout over Leonard Cohen at full volume, you can just hold up your hand. 

“As of now, the Nest Hub Max only understands a single gesture — if you hold up your hand, it will cycle between playing or pausing whatever music or video it’s currently playing. That simple starting point makes a huge difference, though, especially if you’re using the device to its fullest in the kitchen. By allowing you to keep your hands free even if you cook best to blasting rock, the Nest Hub Max makes for an even better kitchen assistant. The Nest Hub Max debuted this year, and I look forward to seeing what else smart displays will do with gesture controls.”

Using echolocation for smarter gadgets

One super recent development in Google’s smart home technology is the use of subsonic sound waves to locate users in the room — allowing devices to respond contextually by displaying larger text if you’re farther away. This sounds like a super-simple feature, one you might not even notice. But the logic underlying it demonstrates why Google is such a dominant force in 2019. A small change, taking inspiration from the animal kingdom, helps Google displays better service people with vision impairments. And it also opens up the door for really interesting implementation in the future — think of a more robust version of Alexa Guard, which uses the Amazon Echo’s far-field microphones to listen for indications of a break-in, such as shattering glass or human footsteps.

Cooking with live classes on smart displays

Watching live cooking classes as you struggle to whisk your own batter in the kitchen will make you realize how useful a countertop smart display can truly be. Alas, the lack of YouTube on Amazon’s smart displays is a bummer for anyone who hopes to use the video platform to search for tutorials on simple kitchen skills. But Food Network recently partnered with Amazon to bring live and on-demand cooking classes to its Echo Show line of smart displays.

With the Echo Show and Food Network offering, you can search a broad library of skills, recipes and techniques to learn from real chefs. Live classes are a great concept, too. Who wouldn’t want a cooking class in their own kitchen? I’d love to see this expand to other smart displays.

A classic connected home headache.

Tyler Lizenby/CNET

Making smart lights and switches cooperate

Smart bulbs are an easy entry point into the connected home, but they present a bit of a conundrum. Flip things off at the switch and kill the power to your bulbs, and your fancy automations and voice controls won’t be able to turn things back on no matter how loud you yell.

This year, we started to see smart switches really wise up to this problem, with new models like the RunLessWire Click and Lutron Aurora dimmer switches, each of which pairs wirelessly with Philips Hue bulbs to turn them on and off at the wall without killing their power and keeping them from automatically fading back on in the morning to wake you up. That’s so much more intelligent than putting a Post-It Note over the switch to tell your kids and houseguests to keep things powered on 24/7.

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