Are you ready to control everything in your house with a smartphone app?
In the 1930s, magazines predicted a really exciting thing called the smart home – a home where everything was automated and easy to control. It’s taken its time to turn up, but smart home technology is finally here. From your boiler to your light bulbs, there’s an app for almost everything.
Most smart home technology is designed to connect to your Wi-Fi network, either directly or via a little box called a hub. Once it’s connected you can then control it from your phone. There are smart thermostats, such as Google’s Nest and British Gas’s Hive, that can automate your heating and even turn the heater up and down when you’re away from home. There are smart bulbs, such as Philips’ Hue, that can completely change the colour of your room with a single tap of your phone’s screen. There are smart baby monitors such as BabyPing that stream video of your (hopefully!) sleeping child to your phone, and there is a whole selection of smart cameras that you can use to monitor your house.
And that’s just the tip of the iceberg. Both Apple and Google have bet on home automation as one of the next big things, so they’re encouraging firms to make even more smart devices – although inevitably, Apple and Google’s systems aren’t compatible with one another so you need to pick sides. That’ll change in the longer term, because it’s in nobody’s interest to have rival, incompatible systems for such basics as light switches and heating controls, but at the moment it’s really important to check compatibility – so for example if you want to control smart home technology via an Apple iPhone or Apple Watch, you should look for devices that support Apple’s HomeKit. If you don’t, you could end up in a situation where you need a different app for each smart home product you buy, which is hardly making things simple.
If you’re wondering what’s so smart about smart home technology, the answer is that by connecting different things together you can make interesting things happen. For example, Philips’ Hue bulbs work with Apple’s Siri voice recognition, so you can say “Hey Siri! Set scene to movie!” and the lights will change. Nest learns your habits to work out the best times and temperatures for heating your home, and can talk to your phone, see that you’re heading home from work and make sure the house is nice and toasty for your arrival. Sky’s latest Sky Q system can send video – including your recordings – from your Sky box to any other room in the house, or to your phone or tablet when you’re far from home.
There’s a catch, of course. Because this is all brand new technology, it’s quite expensive – so if you fancy a Bluetooth-enabled DeLonghi coffee machine that you can command from the sofa, it’ll cost £1,500. Even relatively simple devices can be expensive, so for example smart plugs for remotely turning things on and off cost around £40, while a starter kit of three Philips Hue bulbs and a hub will set you back £149. Upgrading from Sky+HD to Sky Q costs from £99 to £249 and then comes in at £56 per month. As ever, being first on the block with new technology doesn’t come cheap – so maybe the really smart homes will wait until the technology gets cheaper before taking the plunge.
Images L to R: Philips Hue smart bulbs; British Gas Hive smart thermostat; Sky Q system; DeLonghi PrimaDonna Elite Wi-Fi coffee machine