A smart home sounds like a great idea. So why is it still so complicated?

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Alexa can help you with heating up the seat, lifting the lid, playing your favorite tunes, and of course, flush. Alexa is branching out to other appliances, too. USA TODAY

A smart home with a connected speaker, robotic vacuum, and smartphone(Photo: Getty Images)

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LAS VEGAS — You thought choosing a smartphone or deciding whether to buy an Amazon Echo rather than Google Home was hard.

Now try coming to grips with which smart light fixture, faucet, or fridge to buy. Get past that, and good luck setting everything up.  

As CES 2018 winds down, the tech industry is on the clock to start making good on the near and long-term prospects for our increasingly connected and artificial intelligence-driven society. These are the voice-driven devices, appliances and cloud-based products populating our kitchens, living rooms, and bathrooms, not to mention outside and in the car.

Kohler Verdera Smart Mirror is activated by talking to Amazon's Alexa digital assistant. (Photo: Kohler)

I‘m willing to buy into this idea of ubiquitous virtual assistant-infused devices that get to know our routines and serve our needs, whims and passions. They‘ll help us find something to watch on the TV, warn us if we’re out of milk, signal there’s an intruder in the house or a pipe is about to burst.

“Our vision is if Alexa is truly your assistant, you can imagine her getting smart enough to say, ‘you left the lights on in the basement, do you want me to turn them off?’” says Tom Taylor, senior vice president for Amazon Alexa. “That for us is where it is truly (becomes) an intelligent assistant instead of a simple replacement for a switch.”

Samsung Electronics’ new South Korea-based president HS Kim wants the abbreviation IoT to connote “Intelligence of Things,” rather than the term currently used, “Internet of Things,” a nod at where the business is growing.

And yet for all the ambitions the industry has for the intelligent home, you are left wondering how to make sense of it all. 

“We used to talk about computers being complicated. Now we’re talking about a whole new range of products. It’s mind boggling,” says veteran tech consultant Gary Arlen, the president of Arlen Communications.

While there‘s a degree of cooperation, big tech’s usual suspects—Amazon, Apple, Google, Microsoft and Samsung—all want to protect and expand their sphere of influence: to compile data on everything there is to know about you and ultimately to make gazillions selling you more things.

That‘s party why some of the people I talk to haven’t been persuaded yet to buy a connected washer, air conditioner or even smart bulbs.

“Each have their own business models and reasons to do what they’re doing. It’s not in their best interests to help their competitors be successful,” says Tim Bajarin, president of Creative Strategies.

The major tech companies are trying to streamline their own platforms, using artificial intelligence and cloud computing to get devices to talk to you — and each other. With Samsung, for instance, its SmartThings smart home platform connects with third party products and you‘ll be able to use one app to operate different household devices. Its products add one more voice to the mix: Bixby, a digital assistant that‘s trying to catch up to rivals Alexa and Google Assistant. 

“Our message to the market is that there is more complexity than necessarily is needed. We‘re working to take complexity out of the process,” said Tim Baxter, the president and CEO of Samsung Electronics North America.

The company spent $14 billion in the last year on R&D to fuel Internet of Things innovation, and has declared its intention to connect and infuse all its devices with intelligence by 2020. 

Amazon and Google of course have similar goals. You certainly didn’t have to go very far patrolling CES to find numerous products boasting kinships with Alexa or the Google Assistant: Not just smart speakers anymore, but bathroom mirrors, security systems, PCs and TVs, augmented reality glasses, and automobiles.

Google plastered “Hey Google” signs on the monorail and all around the Las Vegas Convention Center. It claims 400 million devices have the Google Assistant, though the figure mostly accounts for Android phones. In the home, the Google Assistant now works more than 225 brands and more than 1,500 devices.

Amazon says more than 4,000 devices from 1,200 brands now work with Alexa.

Meantime, Apple‘s assistant Siri was also in shadows at CES. Though Apple had no direct visibility at the show, more than a dozen announced products, from Moen’s smart shower head to Yale’s smart lock, are compatible with Apple’s HomeKit home automation framework. 

The Consumer Technology Association that runs CES forecasts that 2018 smart home products will reach $4.5 billion in revenue and 40.8 million units in 2018, up 34% and 41%, respectively. 

One voice or many

Alexa on Amazon Tap, Google Assistant on Google Home, and Siri on an iPhone: A medley of voice assistants are crowding our home. (Photo: Reviewed / Julia MacDougall)

As the companies arm-wrestle for your affection, you‘re left wondering whether you have to choose sides? And what if you choose wrong?

Fortunately, you can have a cacophony of voices, and many of the security and smart home companies that used to rely on proprietary systems are gravitating towards more open systems.

The products that are compatible with Samsung‘s SmartThings can respond to voice commands from Alexa, the Google Assistant, Microsoft Cortana and Bixby. Only Siri is notably absent.

Bixby is coming to select TVs and Samsung Family Hub refrigerators. But Alex Hawkinson, CEO of Samsung-owned SmartThings, says Bixby won‘t get a home court advantage over the other digital assistants when it comes to SmartThings.

Last year Amazon and Microsoft reached an agreement in which Cortana and Alexa can team up. But Alexa, Siri and the Google Assistant still don‘t directly talk to one another, and there‘s no telling if they ever will. 

Competing interests are the nature of the beast in the tech business, even in these still relatively early days for Internet of Things. For now you can certainly live with more than one voice.

As you contemplate building out a smart home, Hawkinson, recommends you choose products that are compatible with any of the major smartphone platforms, including Amazon‘s, Apple‘s, or Google‘s. And while he wants you to choose SmartThings, he says any of the major approaches carry with them a promise of reliability, security, and support that consumers can trust and rely upon.

“This is all very different from where the industry was even just a couple of years ago,” he says. 

And that is a refreshing change.

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Casio‘s G‘s Eye is a wearable action on display at the 2018 Consumer Electronics Show at the Las Vegas Convention Center. The G‘s Eye is waterproof to 50 meter, wth a super wide angle lens, has slow motion capabilities and image stabilization.  Robert Hanashiro, USA TODAY NETWORK Tomer Yehezkel takes part in a virtual reality demonstration in the automotive area of the Samsung display a the 2018 Consumer Electronics Show at the Las Vegas Convention Center.   Robert Hanashiro, USA TODAY NETWORK People crowd around a display of service robots at the LG display at the 2018 Consumer Electronics Show at the Las Vegas Convention Center.  Robert Hanashiro, USA TODAY NETWORK People crowd around a display of service robots at the LG display.  Robert Hanashiro, USA TODAY NETWORK People take snapshots before entering extensive Samsung display.  Robert Hanashiro, USA TODAY NETWORK People walk through LG‘s tunnel of OLED TVs at the 2018 Consumer Electronics Show.  Robert Hanashiro, USA TODAY NETWORK The TLC display at the 2018 Consumer Electronics Show is filled with their OLED TVs.  Robert Hanashiro, USA TODAY NETWORK People crowd around the Huawei display to look over the company‘s cellphones.  Robert Hanashiro, USA TODAY NETWORK The Huawei Mate10 Pro cellphone on displayed.  Robert Hanashiro, USA TODAY NETWORK Weibin Chen, left, and Zhuo Li look over the Huawei Mate 10 Pro cellphone.  Robert Hanashiro, USA TODAY NETWORK Attendees watch a 3D version of the classic movie “It‘s A Wonderful Life” at the Stream TV display.  Robert Hanashiro, USA TODAY NETWORK Stream TV, based in Philadelphia, showed off their Ultra 3D technology at the 2018 Consumer Electronics Show at the Las Vegas Convention Center. The Stream TV 3D does not require the viewer to wear glasses or goggles and provides content conversion from any 2D or 3D source.  Robert Hanashiro, USA TODAY NETWORK The Tainerz, a rap and dance group from New Orleans, entertain a large crowd at the Monster display at the 2018 Consumer Electronics Show at the Las Vegas Convention Center.  Robert Hanashiro, USA TODAY NETWORK Cara Tass takes a selfie on an adjustable bed at the Ergomotion display.  Robert Hanashiro, USA TODAY The R-Pur is an anti-pollution mask. The company says their product will clean air filtered of toxic particles, allergens, viruses and bacteria.   Robert Hanashiro, USA TODAY ProGlove is a smart glove that features sensors and scanners embedded in them. The company says the ProGlove will allow manufacturing and logistics staff to work faster and more safely.   Robert Hanashiro, USA TODAY The Mito underwater drone is demonstrated at the Navatics display. The Mito can be used at depths up to130 feet, with a 2 hour run time and has video recording and live-streaming capabilities.   Robert Hanashiro, USA TODAY Morgan Sanserino, of TotoUSA, demonstrates the company‘s toilette bowl cleansing system. TotoUSA says their Water+ mists the bowl with electrolyzed water, which has a slightly acidic pH value, keeping the bowl fresh and clean longer.   Robert Hanashiro, USA TODAY A robotic prosthetic hand is controlled by CES attendee Ephraim Sng at the BrainCo display. In the Background is BrainCo‘s Matthew Hur.   Robert Hanashiro, USA TODAY Orbit is one of several companies showing off bluetooth tracking products and apps. Orbit gives users the ability to find keys, wallets, glasses and other personal items at the touch of a button your connected device.   Robert Hanashiro, USA TODAY Autel Robotics showed off their Evo Drone.   Robert Hanashiro, USA TODAY Robomart is a driverless, electric, mobile market that delivers groceries on demand also allows customers to select their own fresh produce.   Robert Hanashiro, USA TODAY Attendees get a chance to play the Golfzon Vision Compact Simulator.   Robert Hanashiro, USA TODAY A Jimu Robot dances at the Ubtech. The Jimu Robot gives children 8 years old and up the ability to design and program their own robot.   Robert Hanashiro, USA TODAY Orbit is one of several companies showing off bluetooth tracking products and apps. Orbit gives users the ability to find keys, wallets, glasses and other personal items at the touch of a button your connected device.   Robert Hanashiro, USA TODAY A new app for the Litter-Robot Open Air, an automatic self-cleaning litter box, is demonstrated. The app will allow pet owners to receive status notifications, monitor litter box usage and view the waste drawer level.   Robert Hanashiro, USA TODAY Juliana Fernandez tries DJI‘s immersive goggles that monitor the action of their drones and cameras.  Robert Hanashiro, USA TODAY James Hill looks over Kodak‘s Super 8 movie camera. The camera has a digital display but will shoot several different films the company will have available.   Robert Hanashiro, USA TODAY Attendees at the 2018 Consumer Electronics Show try the Dr. Fuji Cyber Body Shaper FJ700 at the Las Vegas Convention Center. The Cyber Body Shaper is a platform fitness massage full body vibration machine that the company says increases blood flow.  Robert Hanashiro, USA TODAY A Jimu Robot dances at the Ubtech booth. The Jimu Robot gives children the ability to design and program their own robot.   Robert Hanashiro, USA TODAY Attendees stream into the Sands Convention Center for the 2018 Consumer Electronics Show.  Robert Hanashiro, USA TODAY Natsuka Nakauchi takes a snapshot of a Polaroid instant print camera.  Robert Hanashiro, USA TODAY “Samsung City” is what the company is calling their extensive display of smart products.   Robert Hanashiro, USA TODAY Retired astronaut Captain Scott Kelly talked to a large crowd at the Nikon display. Kelly is an avid photographer and is one of several guest lectures Nikon has scheduled for CES.   Robert Hanashiro, USA TODAY An attendee at the opening day of the 2018 Consumer Electronics Show gets up close to look at an LG AI OLED television.  Robert Hanashiro, USA TODAY George Chityat participates in a demonstration of Samsung‘s VR technology.   Robert Hanashiro, USA TODAY Shuichun Peng looks over retro-50‘s products at the Victrola display.   Robert Hanashiro, USA TODAY Shuichun Peng looks over retro-50‘s products at the Victrola display.   Robert Hanashiro, USA TODAY Steve Murray tries Flexisport, which combines work and exercise by incorporating a desk with a stationary bike.   Robert Hanashiro, USA TODAY Attendees at the opening day of the 2018 Consumer Electronics Show get shaken up during a demonstration of Samsung‘s VR technology.   Robert Hanashiro, USA TODAY Simon Carlback looks over the variety of humidifiers demonstrated at the at the Objecto booth.  Robert Hanashiro, USA TODAY Bell Helicopter offered a sneak peek of its first electric flying taxi.  Robert Hanashiro, USA TODAY Polaroid‘s Pop is a camera and printer combined.  Robert Hanashiro, USA TODAY The controller for LG robot lawn mower draws a crowd.  Robert Hanashiro, USA TODAY TLC features their 4k curved televisions.  Robert Hanashiro, USA TODAY Xu Li goes upside down at the Samsung display showing off the company‘s VR technology.  Robert Hanashiro, USA TODAY Attendees walk by a wall of Haier televisions.  Robert Hanashiro, USA TODAY This is the newest generation of the Aibo robot, which uses artificial intelligences.  DAVID MCNEW, AFP/GETTY IMAGES Chinese tech company Baidu demonstrates Raven R a six-axis robotic arm.   Robert Hanashiro, USA TODAY Keecker, the first voice-enabled multimedia home robot.   Robert Hanashiro, USA TODAY Jeffrey Levy demonstrates the Coravin Wine Preservation Opener. The product allows users to pour wine without removing the cork preserving the rest of the bottle for weeks, months or years according to time company.  Robert Hanashiro, USA TODAY Alan Naim demonstrates Foldimate.   Robert Hanashiro, USA TODAY Jake Tivy tries Realmaxs new 100-degree mobile Augmented Reality Glasses.   Robert Hanashiro, USA TODAY Jack Mudd rides the Onewheel+ XR.   Robert Hanashiro, USA TODAY Drone pilot Colby Curtola flies a small consumer drone at the Fat Shark display.   Robert Hanashiro, USA TODAY Drone pilot Travis Ames demonstrates an aircraft during the annual during the Drone Rodeo held annually the day before the start of the Consumer Electronic Show in Las Vegas. Drone Shark is showing off their first drone, which will be sold in a complete kit for $249. The Drone Rodeo brings together manufacturers, pilots, media and drone enthusiasts where they can get a close up look at new drones and technology.   Robert Hanashiro, USA TODAY A Volocopter, the first Intel-powered autonomous air transport.   Ethan Miller, GETTY IMAGES These are the Sony WF-SP700N noise-canceling earphones.   John Locher, AP This is Sony‘s Aibo robot dog.   John Locher, AP People look through Sony PlayStation VR headsets.   John Locher, AP These are Vuzix augmented reality smart glasses.   DAVID MCNEW, AFP/GETTY IMAGES Eric Chen, of Bellus 3D, holds up a lifelike 3D rendering of his face that was captured by the companys new camera and app.  Robert Hanashiro, USA TODAY A woman takes pictures of the R-Pur face mask.   LARRY W. SMITH, EPA-EFE This is a SABINETEK SMIC recording condenser microphone.   DAVID MCNEW, AFP/GETTY IMAGES Saxophonist Eddie Rich plays at the Dassault booth. SYOS offers saxophone players an on-demand sound thanks to 3D printed custom mouthpieces using Dassault solutions.   Robert Hanashiro, USA TODAY A RAPAEL Smart Board, which assists rehabilitation for stroke victims.  DAVID MCNEW, AFP/GETTY IMAGES These are E-vone smart shoes.   DAVID MCNEW, AFP/GETTY IMAGES ZeTime hybrid smart watches.   DAVID MCNEW, AFP/GETTY IMAGES The Caveasy One connected wine rack.   Jae C. Hong, AP Gabriel Pleszowski gets his skin analyzed using Neutrogena‘s Skin360 and SkinScanner.   Jae C. Hong, AP The Electron Wheel converts a traditional bicycle into an electric, pedal-assist bike.   Robert Hanashiro, USA TODAY Victoria Roa-Stevenson shows myBrain Technologies‘s Melomind, a relaxing headset.   Jae C. Hong, AP An attendee creates a postcard with his selfie using Postmii, a tricycle based photo-printing service.   Jae C. Hong, AP Mirian da Silva demonstrates the HiMirror Plus smart mirror.   Jae C. Hong, AP The Benjilock, a rechargeable lock that uses fingerprint technology.  Jae C. Hong, AP The HiMirror Mini, an internet-connected smart mirror with Amazon‘s Alexa.   Jae C. Hong, AP Byton CEO and Co-Founder Dr. Carston Breitfeld talks about the new Byton electric car.   LARRY W. SMITH, EPA-EFE An exhibitor demonstrates the Virtual Reality headset and foot rudder by 3dRudder, Inc.  LARRY W. SMITH, EPA-EFE Some of GDU Technology‘s drones.   LARRY W. SMITH, EPA-EFE Raboo smart chargers.   Alex Wong, GETTY IMAGES The LG PuriCare TM 360 air purifier with SmartThinQ.   Alex Wong, Getty Images LooxidVR, the first mobile VR headset to provide an interface for the eyes and the brain with two eye tracking cameras and six brain-wave sensors.   Alex Wong, GETTY IMAGES CareOS, the first smart health and beauty hub for the bathroom.   Alex Wong, Getty Images Shane Chen rides his latest invention a self-balancing “hoverboard” called the IotaTrax.   Robert Hanashiro, USA TODAY “Buddy” a companion robot from Blue Frog Robotics.   Robert Hanashiro, USA TODAY Dingua Zhong and Bastiaan Vroegop (rear) try the Aurasens smart chair. The smart chair features 32 points of to give the user an enhanced music experience.   Robert Hanashiro, USA TODAY Austin Yu, of Neofect, shows off the company‘s Rafael Smart Glove a device with movement and position sensors on the fingers and wrists to help patients with rehabilitation.   Robert Hanashiro, USA TODAY A man walks past a sign for the 2018 Consumer Electronics Show at the Las Vegas Convention Center in Las Vegas on Jan. 6, 2017. The 2018 CES runs from Jan. 9-12.  MANDEL NGAN, AFP/Getty Images The registration tent can be seen at the Las Vegas Convention Center for the 2018 Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas on Jan. 6, 2017.   MANDEL NGAN, AFP/Getty Images Workers prepare a sign at the Panasonic booth at the Las Vegas Convention Center ahead of the opening of the 2018 Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas on Jan. 6, 2017.  MANDEL NGAN, AFP/Getty Images Workers prepare exhibits outside the Las Vegas Convention Center for the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas on Jan. 7, 2018.  DAVID MCNEW, AFP/Getty Images The 2018 Consumer Electronics Show is expected to as many as 175,000 people to Las Vegas, to see the latest in new gadgets, TVs, cars and the like. Companies exhibiting include Sony, Google and Samsung. The show starts Tuesday, Jan. 9.  Jefferson Graham, USA TODAY The 2018 Consumer Electronics Show is expected to as many as 175,000 people to Las Vegas, to see the latest in new gadgets, TVs, cars and the like. Companies exhibiting include Sony, Google and Samsung. The show starts Tuesday, Jan. 9.   Jefferson Graham, USA TODAY The 2018 Consumer Electronics Show is expected to as many as 175,000 people to Las Vegas, to see the latest in new gadgets, TVs, cars and the like. Companies exhibiting include Sony, Google and Samsung. The show starts Tuesday, Jan. 9.   Jefferson Graham, USA TODAY The 2018 Consumer Electronics Show is expected to as many as 175,000 people to Las Vegas, to see the latest in new gadgets, TVs, cars and the like. Companies exhibiting include Sony, Google and Samsung. The show starts Tuesday, Jan. 9.  Jefferson Graham, USA TODAY The 2018 Consumer Electronics Show is expected to as many as 175,000 people to Las Vegas, to see the latest in new gadgets, TVs, cars and the like. Companies exhibiting include Sony, Google and Samsung. The show starts Tuesday, Jan. 9.   Jefferson Graham, USA TODAY The 2018 Consumer Electronics Show is expected to as many as 175,000 people to Las Vegas, to see the latest in new gadgets, TVs, cars and the like. Companies exhibiting include Sony, Google and Samsung. The show starts Tuesday, Jan. 9.   Jefferson Graham, USA TODAY The 2018 Consumer Electronics Show is expected to as many as 175,000 people to Las Vegas, to see the latest in new gadgets, TVs, cars and the like. Companies exhibiting include Sony, Google and Samsung. The show starts Tuesday, Jan. 9.   Jefferson Graham, USA TODAY The 2018 Consumer Electronics Show is expected to as many as 175,000 people to Las Vegas, to see the latest in new gadgets, TVs, cars and the like. Companies exhibiting include Sony, Google and Samsung. The show starts Tuesday, Jan. 9.   Jefferson Graham, USA TODAY The 2018 Consumer Electronics Show is expected to as many as 175,000 people to Las Vegas, to see the latest in new gadgets, TVs, cars and the like. Companies exhibiting include Sony, Google and Samsung. The show starts Tuesday, Jan. 9.   Jefferson Graham, USA TODAY

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