Given the excitement at technology shows like CES, it would be fair to say that the era of the smart home has arrived in earnest. Yes – you read that correctly: smart home, not smartphone.
It’s all been made possible thanks to the growing ubiquity of WiFi routers in people’s homes. Technologists realized that smart homes didn’t have to have a bunch of new wiring: instead, all they had to have was equipment that connected via the WiFi signal to the rest of the home network.
Interesting, that equipment could be just about anything, and so over the last three or four years, we’ve seen manufacturers trying to put brains into literally everything in our houses, including the toaster.
There’s been a bit of a backlash against this of late. Many smart people in the tech community are asking whether it’s really worth it. Do people really want a toaster that they can switch on from an app on their phone? How helpful is that really when they still have to go to the toaster and put their toast in any way?
The good news is that not all gadgets in the home are pointless. In fact, they can help enormously and make life not only better but more futuristic. Here are some of the smart home gadgets that’ll make a real difference to your life.
For years we’ve had webcams attached to our computers. But it’s only been in the last few years that tech companies realized that there was a market for internal CCTV. It turns out that people are interested in the comings and goings inside their homes. Usually, it’s not to catch criminals in the act, but to keep an eye on anxious pets.
One company, called Logi, has developed the Circle, a camera device designed to sit on your desk. One of the cool things about the Circle is that users are able to talk through it via an app on their phone. This means that if you’ve got an anxious dog, you can sooth it by speaking to it and watching it through the Circle. It can also be used to make sure that your cat stays off the furniture and doesn’t scratch it to bits.
Logi is clear that this product isn’t really about security – it’s more about having fun. But that doesn’t mean that it can’t be used for both purposes. Nothing is creepier that talking to a thief while they’re taking all your stuff.
Another company called Canary take security more seriously. Their idea is to provide one security system that can do everything, rather than connect lots of different devices together in the network. Not only does the system continuously monitor visual feeds, but it also has a bunch of sensors designed to warn homeowners of any unusual activity if it detects movement. There are also onboard air quality and temperature sensors.
Lock and key have been around since the middle ages. Since then, the underlying technology hasn’t really changed all that much. Yes, keys have gotten harder to copy, and yes, locks have become stronger. But there’s still the fact that your lock has no idea whether it should let you in or not.
This is where smart locks come in. The idea here is to create locks are able to tell the difference between somebody who is allowed to get into the home and someone who isn’t. Not only is safer than having a key that anybody can use, but it’s also more convenient, as pointed out by this August smart lock review. Imagine that you’ve just been shopping and you’re carrying groceries in bags in both arms. To get into your home, you’ll have to drop the bags, fumble around in your pockets for your door key, and then let yourself in. But with smart locks, this isn’t what happens. Instead, you simply approach your front door, and it knows whether or not to let you in, whether that’s because you’ve programmed it to let you in, it’s learned your habits, or you’re wearing a tag.
There are many different smart locks on the market, all with varying levels of integration into your smart home. Prices start at around $100.
The Smart Kettle
If you’re the sort of person who gets annoyed with having to wait for hours for the kettle to boil to make a cup of tea when you’ve just got in from work, then a smart kettle might be what you’re looking for. Smart kettles connect to an app on your phone which you can use to power-on the kettle and get it boiling your water, warming it up for when you get in. Yes, it’s a bit gimmicky, but it might be useful for people who are impatient.
The Smart Switch
The smart switch by companies like Belkin is an ingenious idea. Instead of forcing people to go out and buy things like smart lights, it connects their existing to their WiFi network.
The idea is simple. Users plug an adapter into the plug socket on their wall. This adaptor has another plug socket which they can then use to plug in their favorite lamp. The adapter then sends out a signal to the WiFi and can be told to turn the power on or shut it off, no matter where the owner might be.
When RGB (red-green-blue) lighting came to computers, enthusiasts were thrilled. But now it’s something that has also come to the home, thanks to companies like Philips. Right now, Philips are marketing something they call the Philips Hue starter kit. Essentially, it’s a set of three bulbs and a control panel. The control panel allows you not only to change the brightness of the lights from an app, but it also allows you to change their color too, using different combinations of the inbuilt LED lights.
What’s more, Philips have taken that little notification light on your smartphone to the next level. There’s an option on the lighting system to have your entire room flash when you get a text. It’s either a dream come true or a nightmare, depending on whether you like notifications or not.
The system is highly scalable, even for the largest homes. You can connect up to 50 lights to a single app.
Connected Smoke Detector
Nest has been making smart home devices since the beginning of the craze. For most of that time, they were making thermostats, but recently they’ve moved into the smoke alarm market.
The company realized that there was a problem with smoke alarms: they’re loud (obviously) and tough to switch off. Nest thought that rather than having to grab a step ladder and poke a button on their underbelly to shut them up, it would be better if users could just switch them off from their smartphones. As such, the Nest smoke alarm can be silenced with a simple tap of your phone screen. Job done.