At CES this year, I took some time to attend a few panel discussions about the challenges and future of smart home technology. My motivation for attending these discussions is to highlight a side of CES beyond technology consumerism with its bright lights, clever marketing and shiny new products.

Last year, I went to CES to see the latest smart home gear, but there was so much ground to cover, both literally and figuratively, that I didn't have time to take it all in. While I attended press conferences and product demos and talked with company representatives, I only scratched the surface. CES is also about connecting with like-minded professionals to build knowledge and expertise, which, in my case, pertains to the smart home.

Here are the latest trends in the smart home for 2017. This isn't an exhaustive list, but it might affect your smart home plans until 2018.

What's New in the Smart Home?

Last year, Amazon's Alexa voice control platform was a buzzword. This year, however, almost every major manufacturer has plans that involve Alexa, whether this means creating new skills for Alexa or integrating the service with third-party products such as smoke detectors, cars, security systems and robots.

The possibilities for Alexa integration are exciting, since you'll be able to get the service from a variety of manufacturers without needing an Amazon Echo, though you still need an Amazon Prime account to get the best out of Alexa. Amazon's dominance in voice control will face real challenges this year from Google Assistant, Microsoft's Cortana and Apple's Siri.

Security is another trend this year. It comes on the heels of a Mirai malware attack on smart home devices last October, which brought security practices of connected home manufacturers under closer scrutiny. While security has been a primary concern for many smart home manufacturers from the outset, it often gets overshadowed because it's a passive feature that many customers don't ever see or think about. As such, you're going to see more companies talking about what they do to secure their products. We'll do our part by highlighting products that keep your personal data safe and away from prying eyes.

Finally, the biggest trend that I noticed this year is that more smart home companies are embracing cooperation and open dialogue, even with their competitors. This doesn't mean that the walled garden approach to technology is going away. Instead it means that companies are recognizing that if they look at home automation from a perspective of making products communicate more easily, consumers and manufacturers both benefit. Having a more open smart home will allow you as a consumer to choose products that fit your life without worrying whether they are compatible or not.

On the surface, not much has changed in the last year. The smart home still faces the same challenges it always has: growing pains, security issues and interoperability. Unlike last year, which had the Amazon Echo, there isn't any truly disruptive innovation happening that's going to help push the smart home to mainstream consumers. However, there's still innovation that's slowly getting us to a smarter future.

As the Smart Home Editor for Top Ten Reviews, I'm passionate about the smart home, both professionally and personally. I want to give you real solutions, not just gimmicky products to get quick page views. There are so many hours of research and testing that go into our smart home reviews for your benefit.

But the smart home's not just about products that make life easier – it's about solving human problems in the 21st century. This year, we're excited to take a look at the latest smart home categories and do more hands-on testing. But in all reality, if we can find at least one solution for you, then we've met our goal.

Tweet your smart home questions to me @jbthepaysonite and I'll do what I can to answer them.

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