Smart home technology lets you stay in bed

October 2014

In August Lowes, the home-improvement chain, released a survey that found a major appeal of the new smart home technology is that you can do things such as adjust the lights and thermostat without getting out of bed. Are we lazy or what?

Fully 70% of the 2,088 of the respondents said they'd like to be able to use their smartphone to control the lights and heating/cooling, to turn on the coffee pot, to let the dog out, to turn on the shower, and to turn on the kids' alarm clocks to wake them up — all from their bed.

But the appeal of a smart home is not just being able to stay in bed. The survey found that 62% like the idea of greater security. Forget to lock your door? Use your smartphone to lock it remotely. Forget to set the burglar alarm? Use your phone. Want to monitor what's happening in your home while you're away? Use your smartphone.

Lowes, of course, is prepared to serve your needs with their Iris smart home system. But all eyes are on Apple, who announced their smart home system, called HomeKit, in June. Once Apple jumps into a market, you can expect two things: it will be easy and intuitive to use, and it will begin to have mass appeal.

Here's a neat feature coming from Apple: a smart thermostat made by Apple partner Honeywell uses the GPS capability of your smartphone to determine when you're headed home. It adjusts settings to a comfortable level when you're a few miles away. And it's smart enough to fine tune heating and cooling levels based on existing indoor and outdoor temperatures, humidity, and weather.

In general, one of the big features of smart home technology is being able to control your home without being there. In fact, the Lowes survey found that the three things Americans most wish they could do after leaving home or before arriving home is turn the lights off or on, adjust the thermostat, and lock or unlock the door. They also would like to be able to start cooking before arriving home by preheating the oven or turning on their crockpot, etc. And they'd like to be able to let their pet in or out.

In addition, parents like smart home features that help monitor their kids. For example, a smart home can automatically send a text message when their kids lock or unlock the door.

Locks, lighting, cameras, doors, thermostats, plugs, switches — all can be controlled in a smart home. And these systems typically let you create groups of settings, which Apple calls "scenes." For example, you might create a scene for heading out the door that, with a single touch, automatically adjusts the thermostat, locks the doors, and turns on the security camera. Or with the use of Siri, the iPhone's voice-controlled assistant, you could simply ask Siri to turn on that scene.

In addition, almost any appliance that uses electricity can be connected into the smart home system. And appliances themselves are getting smarter. As they do, you can expect a seamless connection between them and your smart home system. For example, there are now washers and dryers that will send you a text message when their cycle is done.

The amazing Samsung smart refrigerator has built-in WiFi and an integrated 8-inch LCD touchscreen that runs specialized apps and widgets, such as weather, news, streaming music, recipes, and Google Calendar. If you use the latest Samsung phones, the phone's display can be mirrored on the fridge's touchscreen. You can actually make calls from your fridge. The "Kitchen TV" feature lets the fridge play video transmitted from Samsung TVs that have the capability of streaming to external devices. Of course these features don't come cheap, at $3,600.

One smart device that I find particularly appealing is the Philips Hue smart light bulb kit. Again, it's not cheap: $200 for a base station and three LED bulbs. You screw them into regular sockets and use your phone to not only turn them on and off and adjust brightness, but also adjust the color. You can schedule the bulbs to turn on at particular times, or in conjunction with your smartphone, can have them turn on or off depending on your location.

Downloadable apps are even available for the bulbs that enable them do things such as change colors in time with music or in response to stock market fluctuations.

And, most important, you can adjust the lighting from your bed.

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© 2014 by Jim Karpen, Ph.D.

E-mail Jim Karpen