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This story is part of The Year Ahead, CNET’s look at how the world will continue to evolve starting in 2022 and beyond.
It’s been nearly a decade since the smart home introduced voice commands. Today, there are thousands of smart home devices, apps, services, skills and ways to add the internet to every inch of your home. In 2021, we saw small but significant updates to the smart home that set the stage for a big 2022. Here’s what the next year in smart home tech could bring.
Every year, we look forward to new products from major smart home brands and exciting new ideas from startups, too. Perhaps the two most widely anticipated devices of 2022 are Amazon’s Astro home robot and the Ring Always Home Cam drone.
Read more: The CES 2022 trends we’ll all be talking about this year
Amazon Astro could be our first real smart home robot. We’ve had robot vacuums for years, but Astro is a robot designed to interact and assist its owners in a different way.
Astro is, in some ways, like an Alexa on wheels. It will come equipped with a 1080p periscope camera that can extend up to 42 inches above the floor. Wheels allow the Astro to roam around your home providing Alexa services like video calling. It can also integrate with Ring’s ecosystem to serve as a home security droid. The $1,000 robot is currently available for preorder by invitation only.
Speaking of Ring, the Always Home Cam is a $250 drone designed to patrol your home. It’s reportedly debuting in 2022. The drone can learn a flight path around your home and be triggered manually or by other Ring alarm products. You can also schedule route patrols for routine monitoring. There are some limitations to the device. It can’t fly up stairs, record footage while it’s docked or be controlled remotely.
Then, of course, there are the privacy concerns that seem to always accompany Ring and Amazon devices. Can consumers trust those brands with flying cameras and roaming robots? It will be interesting to see how many folks give these autonomous cameras a chance in their homes.
Still, it’s a new category of smart home device we’re eager to test this year.
Astro and Ring’s drone camera are both security-oriented gadgets, but arguably the biggest pattern in the home security market isn’t headline-grabbing stand-alone devices like these: it’s the push for deeper integration with the smart home.
It’s no secret that home security systems are moving more and more toward DIY structures, where you can personalize your setup, do the installation yourself and monitor your own devices. Brands like Ring, SimpliSafe and Wyze are blazing a trail into a la carte systems.
Some offer professional monitoring, and what used to be long-term contracts are now going the way of traditional television subscriptions. You can choose the perfect subscription service for you and cancel it at any time. Ring, for example, offers $3, $10 and $20 monthly plans with increasing levels of service.
Read more: Best DIY home security systems for 2022
Both professionally installed and DIY systems share one thing in common, though: they’re both getting way smarter. Whether by including smart home routines in the app (so when you open a door your lights turn on), or by connecting traditional devices to smart speakers, routers and thermostats, these systems are creating more integrated home experiences.
ADT and Comcast Xfinity both offer smart home device installation and incorporation into their larger home security ecosystems. This pattern will likely expand in 2022 — united by smart routers like the Eero W-Fi 6 and speakers, the de facto hubs of the modern smart home.
Then there are smart home brands that seem to be backing their way into home security as a product category. TP-Link, for example, announced four security cameras, two sensors and a hub at CES. It’s not uncommon or new for companies to attempt a home security branch out, so expect to see more of it in 2022. The apparent urge to unseat Ring from the leaderboard doesn’t appear to be going away any time soon.
The biggest change in smart home software and integration this year won’t come from a security system: it will likely come from Matter. This multi-brand project started its life as Project Connected Home over IP (CHIP for short), but has since been renamed Matter.
The idea is a universal protocol that lets smart home devices across major brands connect and integrate with each other much more easily. Matter is a single, IP-based, open-source standard that works over Wi-Fi. It supports all major control platforms and acts like a universal language that smart home devices will use to connect with and understand each other. Dozens of companies have already made announcements about Matter compatibility.
“New products will come, but what will be fun to watch will be the integrations. Before, developers and brands had fewer resources dedicated to use cases and more on development and certifications,” said Blake Kozak, a senior principal analyst at technology research firm Omdia. “For everyday users Matter will likely mean fewer returned products. If everything with the Matter logo just works together in any app, consumers will have an easier time setting the products up and growing their smart home.”
Amazon, Apple, Samsung and Google are all invested in making Matter happen. Amazon already promised that Echo, Echo Dot, Echo Plus, Echo Studio and Echo Show devices will be compatible. Google and Apple also announced compatibility for Android and iOS devices. In fact, the protocol was originally scheduled for 2021, but was pushed into 2022. Given the bulk of Matter support announcements made at CES, it’s likely that the protocol will go live this year, and it has the potential to do quite a bit of simplifying for the smart home.
What we don’t know yet is what Matter might mean for smart home security and your personal data. Kozak noted that the multi-administrator nature of the protocol raises questions about how data will be shared between platforms and brands.
“If an Amazon device is being controlled through the SmartThings app, who has access to that underlying data remains in question,” said Kozak. “I think what could be the biggest game-changer here is if a spec for video cameras is added. This would flip the current smart home business model upside down because many brands rely on video cloud storage for recurring revenue. If this is taken away, consumers benefit due to lower costs and more privacy, but brands could lose revenue.”
Finding the groove
The smart home has been around for years now, and it there’s a fixture or device around your home that can be brought online, chances are someone has a smart version of it. While it still has plenty of room to grow, the smart home has largely moved out of its initial novelty phase (in-home robots and drones notwithstanding). In 2022, the smart home will take a much-needed step toward maturation, especially through Matter. That might not have the same headline-making, gee-whiz appeal as the first smart lock or connected light bulb, but especially for those who have bought into smart homes and found it reality doesn’t quite meet the home automation hype, Matter sounds enticing.
We’ve wrestled with privacy, compatibility issues, pricing for smart home services and plenty of other questions in the smart home space. This year, many of those issues may take big steps toward being resolved or at least improved.
The possibility of a more compatible, more customizable, more secure smart home is reason enough to have hope for this new year in tech. And hey, we might get robots, too.