Making Home Mirrors Smart: Where, Why and How

“Smart” mirrors have been envisioned for years, part of the broader trend in imbuing everyday objects with various “smarts” to improve our lives. Generally the humble mirror gains such sentience in one of two ways: adding layer(s) of smart coatings, or embedding a variety of electronics: sensors, cameras and display, touch interface, lighting, and the software and processing to stitch everything together.

These electronics-enabled features, especially multiple integrated functions, are what best define what a smart mirror can do, and is evolving into. In fact, incorporating more electronics, and with more sophisticated software behind it, further blurs the definition of what these products actually are. Is it an embedded display behind mirror glass, or a display with (or without) a mirror overlay? The march of digitization and proliferation of mobile electronics upends all kinds of assumptions about products and usage.

Self-dimming interior mirrors have been used in vehicles since the 1980s, and this remains the only real commercial success story, but we don’t see a great deal of future growth opportunities here due to a number of factors: a relatively mature technology (self-dimming), market dominance by Gentex, and the introduction of cameras and displays into vehicles whether in mirrors or not.

Instead we believe growth opportunities lie elsewhere. One of them is in retail and advertising, where we’re seeing a new crop of interesting pilot projects being rolled out now across major brands including Neiman Marcus and Nordstrom. The other area where we’re anticipating growth, and also seeing a new crop of prototypes emerging, is in smart mirrors for consumer home applications.

Household Smart Mirrors: Bed and Bath

Whereas the primary function of a smart mirror in automotive is safety, in consumer applications the core function is basically twofold:

  • Be a general informational hub, derived from viewing one’s reflection as well as augmented with other useful information
  • Provide some style and comfort benefits, in addition to mirror reflectivity and other functions
  • In a home context, a smart mirror likely would derive such functionalities through some combination of motion sensors, information display (for weather and traffic reports), network connectivity, and perhaps self-cleaning (to handle humidity/condensation).

Unsurprisingly, the usage case for smart mirrors in a household centers on the bathroom and bedroom, the two places where people tend to look at themselves for hygiene and “getting ready.” So how can a smart mirror improve on either of these experiences?

Incorporating a camera and display could improve the mirror function itself, by magnifying a portion of the mirror to enlarge the viewing window, and let the user more clearly see details (as with a makeup mirror) or simply provide assisted viewing for visually impaired.
A smart mirror also could deliver additional information to the user. This could be information about the user him/herself (e.g. gauging skin quality), or augmenting with other information, such as weather, news, traffic, calendar appointments, etc.

In some cases the smart mirror could incorporate lighting and lighting controls, and even track water usage.

A New Class of Smart Mirror Concepts

Smart mirror concepts embodying such functionality have been proposed for several years — even the New York Times R&D Lab had a concept smart mirror — but haven’t made it beyond a developmental stage. Nevertheless, we’re now seeing some new entrants that seem promising, including a couple of high-profile companies now dipping their toes into the smart mirror waters. Some examples:

Toshiba’s “Multi Display in Black” concept mirror with a ~40″ screen presents information such as weather, and also synching to nearby connected devices such as a personal fitness monitor. The product was described as a “future home innovation,” although media reports suggest that such a product might be timed to make a big splash for the 2018 Tokyo Olympics.

A “proof-of-concept” smart mirror developed by Oral-B and iconmobile connects with Oral-B’s Pro 7000 SmartSeries smartphone-linked toothbrush. It uses data from proper brushing techniques to narrate a story on a large screen embedded in the mirror, while also displaying a brushing timer on the side plus other informational fare (time, news, weather, travel, etc.).
Belgian bathroom furnishings designer Alke offers a Smart Mirror “multifunctional mirrored wellness cabinet” with various audio/visual and lighting functionalities. The mirror itself incorporates a screen for digital clock and touchscreen controls for the sound system and ambient lighting, plus a motion sensor and a humidity sensor tied to a heating filament to counteract mist buildup.

Around the House: Mirror TVs and Other Aesthetics

There are other locations where a smart mirror might make sense. Toshiba’s aforementioned prototype smart mirror, for example, also was shown in a kitchen environment paired with a camera and Kinect sensors for gesture recognition, used to look up recipes and even link to a home security camera.

We also include mirror TVs in our definition of smart mirrors, which at their most basic design are an LCD screen behind two-way mirror glass. These can be used in practically any room in the house, though generally we expect them to be mostly in bedrooms and living rooms. Their main function is aesthetics, achieving user comfort through decoration: simple elegant mirrors that convert to a TV screen (in whole or in part) when turned on, and when turned off becomes a mirror again.

Mirror TVs have been available for years now, with models sold by Philips and Samsung and Toshiba, plus a host of smaller firms. Initially these are finding traction in hospitality (hotels) and high-end residences.

Smart Mirror: Earning the Pedigree

There’s more to the story of smart mirrors than just a diversity of components one can add or how they are added together. Arguably, earning the “smart” label means leveraging those pieces to perform specific actions, when and how the user wants, or even autonomously. A truly smart mirror won’t just dim, or hide a TV screen, but intelligently perform a function to serve a user’s needs. To that end we highlight one example from the related end market of hospitality (hotels) as an example of how the definition of a “smart mirror” is evolving.

One company, Electric Mirror, has expanded its business to include lighted mirrors and mirror TVs. Instead of embedding a TV screen or camera into a mirror, though, this company has developed several iterations with lighting controls and automation. One of its patented technologies, dubbed “Keen,” incorporates three capacitive touch controls embedded into the face of the mirror to provide lighting controls (on/off, dimming, and nightlight). An embedded sensor triggers automatic dimming to the lowest light output (~30 percent) after one hour of inactivity.

In the case of Electric Mirror, the value proposition of a smart mirror is energy efficiency — the company claims its technology can reduce energy costs of such mirrors by 60 percent, translating to thousands of dollars in annual savings.

Smart Mirrors and You: Our Market Forecast

Overall smart mirrors in household contexts are still largely in the development phase. They have yet to prove that they can pry significant market share from tried-and-true standard mirror technology, outside of some very specific niche and luxury applications.

Nevertheless, we see them potentially topping achieving $200 million in revenues by the end of this decade — and potentially much greater than that within our eight-year forecast window, potentially topping $1.7 billion.

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