Even with the amount of attention the smart home is getting from the tech press and the exhibitors here at CES, we have to consider it something of a bust. Unlike smartphones, which were in-demand almost from the off (at least once the iPhone launched), the smart home is a panoplistic mish-mash of platforms, proprietary standards, buggy hardware, and failed interoperability.
Oh, and there's the fact that — aside from super-nerdy types who would buy a Crestron system if it weren't so damn expensive — consumers don't seem particularly excited about the smart home, outside of a few gadgets like the Nest Thermostat that are actually useful on their own.
Actually smart homes might eventually become a thing, but there's something that might be more actually useful brewing in the halls of the Las Vegas Convention Center this year: the smart city.
the smart city is coming
Companies all over CES are talking about smarter cities, from AT&T and Panasonic to BMW and the US Department of Transportation.
This is significant because unlike a single company like AT&T, Facebook, or Google, which might have a lot of customers but not 100 percent penetration, everyone needs to interact with their local government. Whether it's driving on the roads, walking through parks, or simply taking a poop (your local sewer department is probably owned by the government, after all), what the government does affects all of us.
A traffic light that changes to green before you get there. A water meter that notifies you of unusual spikes in usage that could be related to an unknown leak. A sewer valve that tells the city when it needs maintenance so it won't break (ew). Unlike many aspects of the smart home which have questionable utility, it's easy to see how a smarter city could make life more trouble-free. AT&T's Ralph de la Vega shared his ebullient view of smart cities in an interview at The Verge Lounge earlier this week at CES.
make government more effective and efficient
It aims to make government services more effective and efficient, something that's sorely needed as anyone who has ever waited in line at the DMV can attest. We've been dancing around the fringes of smart cities for years with subway signs that notify you of approaching trains or highway signs that tell you how long it'll take to get to a particular destination. Now, we might be on the brink of a technological leap to benefit all of us.
But, if CES predictions from past shows are any indication, nothing can be predicted with certainty — except, perhaps, that the red light in front of you will eventually turn green, even if you have to wait a little while.