4 Trends in Smart Appliances and Features at CES 2021

 The Consumer Electronics Show revealed a push toward customization, integration, relaxation and cleanliness at home

by Nora Burba Trulsson

The Consumer Electronics Show, or CES, offers a snapshot of the near future through products and technology available now. The first home VCR debuted there in 1970, the first cellphone-camera combo in 2002. Traditionally held at the Las Vegas Convention Center, this year’s show, held Jan. 11-14, went all virtual with online panels and new product announcements.

Smart home appliances and technology are always an important topic at the show, and this year many panelists and speakers hoped for a future of more integration between appliances and technologies so that smart homes can one day become “intelligent homes.” In that vision, things such as lighting and temperature settings can anticipate the users’ needs without commands.

Some 2,000 companies launched new products at the show, dozens of them related to life at home. Here are some standout trends paving the way toward a smarter home.

1. Custom Appliances

Taking things a few steps beyond cabinet panels that blend refrigerators, freezers and dishwashers into your cabinetry, some appliance companies let you choose materials and finishes for fridges, microwaves, dishwashers and more to give a custom look to smart appliances. For example, homeowners and designers can pick any combination of colors and materials for LG Electronics’ Furniture Concept appliances, shown here, so they blend into the kitchen setting.

Samsung’s Bespoke 4-Door Flex refrigerator comes with four customizable panels in eight colors and two finishes. The interior features a beverage center with a filtered water dispenser and a filtered water pitcher that refills automatically. Here’s the Samsung fridge in a navy lacquer-style finish.

2. Even Smarter Kitchen Appliances

By now we’re all used to appliances that beep, flash indicator lights and link to apps. But increasingly appliances are all about multitasking.

LG Electronics’ InstaView range, shown here, has multiple cooking modes. There’s a convection bake technology without the need for preheating, an air fryer option that crisps food with less oil than a deep fryer and an air sous vide mode, which delivers a controlled low temperature setting for vacuum-sealed foods.

The range also comes with an app that can connect to your voice-activated assistant and another that connects you to scores of recipes. Tap on the oven window twice to see what’s cooking inside.

The InstaView door-in-door refrigerator from LG Electronics offers space to stash frequently reached-for foods and beverages, visible through a large glass panel that illuminates when you knock on it twice.

For the beverage dispenser, a UV light maintains a hygienic water dispenser. You can also use voice control to open the doors if your arms are full of groceries. Or you can ask the fridge for the day’s agenda, check the status of the ice and more.

Samsung’s Family Hub refrigerator features updates to frequently used interface functions, such as a larger music widget that includes personalized recommendations and an upgraded SmartThings widget that serves as a dashboard for all your smart home devices. Family members can upload photos, notes and more to any screen so you can use all of the Family Hub screens, such as the Family Board feature introduced in 2019.

A new service from Samsung’s SmartThings includes an automatic meal planner powered by Whisk’s Food AI that recommends meals for the entire week, makes shopping lists with the ingredients you need and connects to grocery retailers so you can get everything in one store trip. Recipe instructions can also be sent directly to synced Samsung cooking devices to minimize hassles and mistakes.

Kohler’s minimalist, stylish Purist ceiling-mounted kitchen faucet frees up counter space. A water-resistant puck on the counter takes wireless instructions, allowing you to adjust the hose height and rotate the swing arm; the spray head is weighted to eliminate excessive swinging. You can control the spray and flow styles and pause the water flow. The spray face is also designed to withstand mineral buildup for those in hard-water areas.

3. The Bathroom as a Retreat

Now more than ever, the bathroom is a sanctuary where we can escape from the world (or at least from remote-learning kids and work-from-home spouses) for a bit of self-care. Some new plumbing fixtures and gadgets can help along those lines.

Kohler’s new Stillness bathtub, shown here, takes its cue from Japanese bathing rituals. Water, light, fog and aromas converge to transform the bathroom into a spa-like environment. The tub fills from the bottom, then overflows into a wooden moat, making a soothing sound. Full-spectrum lighting provides chromatherapy while fog covers the surface.

You can’t have a relaxing bath without hot water. And while most water heaters are cylindrical, utilitarian objects hidden away in garages, basements or laundry rooms, LG Electronics’ inverter heat pump water heater is stylish enough to be on display. Its technology promotes faster water heating and lower electricity consumption.

Available in 200- and 270-liter capacities, the water heater is compatible with an LG app that allows you to monitor the system remotely, receive regular maintenance reminders and diagnose certain issues without having to call customer service. Users can also check the water temperature in real time and use the scheduling function to set the start time and length of operation.

Kohler’s Moxie features a portable, waterproof Harman Kardon speaker that snaps into the circular shower head and connects to Amazon Alexa. It’s tuned specifically to overcome the white noise of the shower and the acoustics of hard surfaces. Already have a shower head? The speaker can be purchased separately.

The new Innate intelligent toilet from Kohler includes a heated seat with an auto open and close function, intuitive remote and personal bidet functionality.

Kohler’s new integrated touchless flush sensor lets you flush with the wave of a hand next to the lever. Offered on several styles of toilets, the sensor promotes cleanliness and includes a light that can be adjusted through a Kohler app. For those who prefer a more mechanical approach, the lever can also be used manually.

4. Keeping Things Clean and Healthy at Home

Several new appliances might help with common household chores, and some just-introduced gadgets offer sanitation and health features, two big concerns these days.

Shown here, LG’s slim WashTower combines a washer and dryer in one unit with a single, intuitive control panel in the middle. Start the wash cycle and you’ll know how long it will take to finish both the washing and drying. The washer shares info with the dryer, which automatically sets the optimal drying temps and time, preheating the drum for better results. The washer also detects the weight and texture of the clothing to calculate the best, most energy-efficient setting for each load, while the dryer uses steam technology to deliver maximum hygiene.

Samsung’s Smart Dial front-load washer and dryer learns your preferred cycles and settings, then prioritizes them on the central control panel. A turbidity sensor determines the ideal amount of water and detergent to use. It also determines how long to wash, ensuring that clothes come out their cleanest. Use an app to alert you when cycles are done, remotely start or stop the laundry and schedule cycles from your phone.

The JetBot 90 vacuum from Samsung picks up pet hair and can watch out for your fur babies as well. A sensor that’s similar to one used in self-driving cars detects distance and tracks location for precise movements. Another sensor recognizes the difference between objects such as a toy and the leg of a chair, senses even small objects on the floor and recognizes a room’s shape to maneuver around it.

An object-recognition algorithm allows it to identify objects of all kinds and map the safest, most efficient route. When it’s finished cleaning, the vacuum heads back to a disposal unit, where it empties the dirt into a bag that needs to be replaced only once every two to three months. Use an app to connect the vacuum to your phone so you can control it remotely, schedule cleaning or even connect to its camera to keep an eye on your home and pets while you’re away.

LG’s CordZeroThinQ A9 Kompressor+ cordless stick vacuum features a new charging stand that automatically cleans out the dustbin and recharges the device, making emptying the vacuum more hygienic. The stylish charging station (and vacuum) might make you rethink keeping it in a utility closet, and it’s designed to neatly store the six accessories and nozzles, which clean all types of flooring.

Anxious these days about the health of those who enter your home? The Ettie smart video doorbell — a product that won one of this year’s CES Innovation Awards — has an infrared temperature sensor, two-way communication and HD video recording for audio and visual alerts on your cellphone to let you know if the visitor should enter. The capacity bar, a head count feature, was designed for public places, but use it at home to let you know if your teen is up to any shenanigans.

The instructions for Alarm.com’s touchless video doorbell couldn’t be simpler — they’re printed on the doormat. When a person is detected on the mat, the doorbell, which is mounted by the entry, rings the chimes and begins video recording, sending a mobile alert to the homeowner, who can see and speak with visitors through live HD video and two-way audio. The device can also be programmed to turn on lights and detects people, not raccoons or packages. The touchless factor? It’ll save you from running out with bleach wipes after each visitor.

Your phone isn’t loaded just with apps — it’s loaded with germs too. The Oblio — also honored with one of this year’s CES Innovation Awards — is designed to sanitize and charge your smart phone in an elegant, Italian-designed, vase-shaped container. A built-in UV-C LED light is meant to eradicate the DNA of microorganisms found in viruses, mold and germs within a 20-minute cycle. The wireless charger can get your battery up and running in three hours and comes with an indicator that confirms the correct positioning and charging status of your mobile device. Plug it in at night and your phone is clean and ready to go in the morning.

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