Smart home technology: How to build the perfect high-tech home
The acceptable smarts
Still, there are still plenty of things I could add. There are dozens of companies selling smart lightbulbs, for example – including the Pulse by Sengled, which also works as a speaker – but Philips is still the daddy with its Hue system. What started as a basic kit consisting of three bulbs and a bridge for connecting them to your LAN – with brightness and colour being controlled from your smartphone – has now grown into a broad range including lamps, light strips and the delightfully geeky Hue Tap, a programmable light switch that is powered by the act of pressing it. I also have the Hue Go, a wonderful little battery-powered bowl of soft light, which hooks into the system (you can read my full review here).
My wife and I love the flexibility and personalisation of the Hue lights, and the fact that it’s now HomeKit-compatible means I can just raise my wrist and say “hey Siri, turn off the lights in the bedroom”. This is both pleasingly Star Trek and useful – as are optional geofences to turn lights off automatically when you leave. There was one occasion, however, when I had failed to link my wife’s iPhone to the system properly, leading to a plaintive text message asking me to switch the lights on in the living room when I was a hundred miles away.
“Our baby monitor, for example, connects to our Wi-Fi network.”
Also terrific are the Wi-Fi-connected devices from Withings. Our baby monitor, for example, connects to our Wi-Fi network, and because it works with an app, we can repurpose old iOS and Android devices to work as monitors. I set up our old iPad in the kitchen so that there’s a permanent station for keeping an eye on our daughter. If we wanted to add additional screens to, say, the most popular standalone baby monitor on Amazon, we’d be looking at £70 a pop, but even if you don’t have a retired iPod touch in a drawer somewhere, you can pick one up on eBay for a fraction of that. Being able to see my daughter sleep when I’m away on business is also a bittersweet joy.
Withings’ smart scales are also fab. I stand on them after my shower and they automatically send my weight and body fat percentage to the cloud. Being able to see your weight creeping up long before you notice your waistband tightening can make a huge difference. What’s more, because Withings has made its app talk to Apple’s system-wide Health framework, I can launch the Heath app and simultaneously check the weight data coming from the scales, my “number of flights climbed” from my iPhone and my number of miles walked from my Watch.
That kind of OS-level, manufacturer-agnostic data collection is key, not only to Health, but to the entire smart home concept. The major source of friction and overhead in this experiment has been that although you can buy a smart “this”, a Wi-Fi-connected “that” and a Bluetooth-enabled “the other”, each one has its own mobile app and interface. This means not just signing up for new accounts – which is increasingly tedious, and carries the risk that I’m just creating more opportunities for my details to leak – but also having to get my iPhone, unlock it, find the app and then navigate a custom UI that, simply by dint of being different from any other, slows me down in tiny, but galling, ways.
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