For the past several years, technology has been popping up at KBIS more and more, showing up in places and products not necessarily expected. If you’ve been reading this column for the last few years, you’ll know that it’s also becoming an increasingly important part of our industry.
While it’s easy to spot cabinet companies, appliance makers and other vendors at KBIS, sometimes the technology can be a little harder to find. The key is knowing where we’ve come from, where we are and where we’re heading in each category.
For a long time, appliances were analog. Your stove had a manual timer and temperature settings. Even the first microwaves were the same way. Gradually, more and more technological advancements have found their way into these devices. In the mid ’80s and ’90s, we saw a lot of the analog displays get replaced by digital. We even saw the beginning of what we’re calling “smart” appliances today. Microwaves started to have programs in them and even temperature probes to monitor cooking. Ovens started to have programmed start and end times. There was even a wave of coffee makers that could have coffee ready for you in the morning.
That level of technology leveled off for a while, but now we’re starting to see a big resurgence of new technology being integrated into appliances. In the past few years, we’ve seen refrigerators ship with an entire touch screen in them. There are even some that have cameras in them so that you can monitor what’s inside. Some ovens let you control them from across your house or the world. They often have many built-in functions that far surpass the digital timers of old. These “smart” ovens can guide you along as you cook and, in some cases, monitor food as it cooks to ensure that it comes out correctly.
Take a look around for these types of appliances. And make sure your clients would actually use them. Just because something has a touch screen, Wi-Fi, Bluetooth or any other technological wizardry in it doesn’t mean it’s good unless it actually works better.
Tech can also hide out in places that you least expect to find it. There’s a range of new faucets that have come out over the years that offer touch control and even completely hands-free experiences. Sometimes the functions aren’t immediately obvious when first walking by, but they are definitely worth taking a look at. I’ve used many different types of these faucets, and they range from life-changingly good to frustratingly awful. KBIS provides a great chance to try them all out.
Toilets are another category to keep an eye on. We’ve seen units that have hidden wireless operation so that you don’t have to touch the toilet at all to flush. There also have been units that offer incredible water-saving technology, including dual-flush. Last year I even witnessed a toilet that had more entertainment functions than my car and home theater combined. You’ll never be able to spec and sell a $5K toilet unless you’ve at least pushed all of the buttons yourself!
All kinds of things are getting remote controls that work off of your phone. I’ve seen lights, appliance and TV lifts, servo-controlled doors, shades, garage doors, locks, windows and cameras. The list goes on and on. Just about anything you can think of can be – or already has been – augmented by some sort of smartphone remote control. Go up and try these out. I’ve used so many different systems over the years and it’s totally worth trying them out in person and asking reps what it takes to spec and sell them.
This is where things get tied all together, and where it can be the hardest to identify what’s going on. As I’ve said in the past, a lot of the “smart home” tech is very siloed.
Let’s say you have two smart home devices, such as a smart door lock and a set of smart lights. My smart lights have an app that knows when I’m at home or away and they can turn the lights off when I leave, and turn them back on when I come home at night. I also have a smart door lock. This door lock lets me lock and unlock my door from anywhere in the world. My door lock doesn’t talk to my lights to find out when I’m gone, so it’s on me to make sure that I lock the door.
This is just a basic example, but it’s an example of smart devices living in silos. You’ll likely find a lot of this on the show floor. Working in silos is fine right now because often, people purchase a single smart device and are happy with it.
What will be really important in the very near future is how all of these devices will work together. Many large tech companies such as Amazon, Google and Apple are working very hard to marry all of these devices together.
Amazon has a voice-activated speaker that you can talk to and instruct to lock your door, dim your lights and play some music. This allows manufacturers of all kinds of devices to hook into Amazon Alexa so that the speaker is your center point of control.
Google has a similar system called Nest. The system is less focused on voice activation and more focused on being smarter. Their thermostat can talk to some smoke detectors to turn off your furnace in the event of a carbon monoxide leak. Nest can also tell certain dryers to run when the electricity is cheapest.
Apple has a system called HomeKit that uses your iPhone as a central remote control in your phone for any smart home device you have.
The key here is that there are three competing platforms right now that are all very young. It’s hard to say which one or two are going win out to be the dominant platform. For you, as you’re walking the show floor and learning about tech, ask these companies what system they work with. It’s likely they’ll have a speaker, thermostat or a smartphone handy to demonstrate.
The kitchen and bath industry is starting to really embrace technology. This year is a great year to see what’s out there, and where we’re headed. If you ask good questions about these products, you’ll learn a lot. Keep the focus on what makes them better than their analog counterparts. Ask how they are integrating with the aforementioned systems as well.
Lastly, if you want to get a really good indication of what our future is going to look like, find the Virginia Tech booth at this year’s show. I won’t spoil it for you, but I can promise you that it is an incredible look into our technological future. It is a booth that is worth seeking out and shouldn’t be missed!