Years ago we were promised the “smart home.” Along with that, we were also promised flying cars. If the documentary “Back to the Future 2” is correct, we should also have hoverboards next year. In the future as portrayed by Marty McFly, there’s a great scene where he enters his future home. Aside from being a hilarious mashup of gaudy old ‘80’s decor and future technology, there are a lot of things that came true from that fantasy view of the future.
In that movie, they portray the smart home as a voice activated, nearly seamless operation. We’re getting close to that today, but we’re not quite there yet.
The smart home that was promised and delivered years ago was a proprietary, all-in-one solution that was best installed in a new home during the wiring phase of construction. That’s not great, or even possible for people remodeling, so the market is severely limited. The new way we’re seeing the smart home manifest itself is the “appification” of the home.
Typically this means installing a smart phone controlled device to smarten up a particular part of the home. I’ve had the pleasure, and displeasure, of playing around with a lot of these devices, and I’ll walk you through them so you can better explain them to your kitchen and bath clients looking for smarter home automation.
Lockitron is an app-controlled add-on for a deadbolt lock. You just snap this device over your lock and it will lock or unlock your door with a smartphone app. It’s easy to install, and non permanent. This is great for renters or places where you can’t modify or change your existing lock set.
The promise here is that you never have to use your keys again. The company has come close to that promise, but not close enough. To use this, you have to use the app to unlock your door. This is fantastic for those moments when you’re away and you can’t remember if you locked your door or not. Where it’s not fantastic is when you have armloads of groceries and you just want your door to be unlocked. Having to pull out your smartphone and open an app is no more convenient than using a traditional key, which is what I find myself doing in this situation. Lockitron says it’s working on this, but there aren’t any updates as of yet.
Having had trouble with the Lockitron, I turned to the Kevo Smart Lock. This is an app-controlled smart lock much like the Lockitron. The difference here is that you actually replace your deadbolt.
Additionally, when you approach your door, you leave your phone in your pocket and just touch the metal part of the lock. Upon sensing your phone, the lock will unlock without you ever having to take your phone or your keys out of your pocket. As with the Lockitron, you can still use your regular keys. While I think this is a great implementation, I found my particular unit to be less than reliable.
Moving on from locks, I also purchased some smart lights. You may have seen these for sale in Apple stores; they’re called the Phillips Hue. These are smart phone controlled lights. They can come on when you come home, turn off when you leave, and the colors and dimmer levels can be changed any way you want.
These lights are great. Out of the box installation was as simple as changing a light bulb and plugging a little box into your router. After that, I’ve been enjoying dim candle-colored lights during movies, and bright and cheerful lights when I’m cleaning or working. The ease and simplicity of these things is really futuristic. You can also use them with a traditional lightswitch if your smartphone isn’t around.
This is by far one of my favorites. If you haven’t yet encountered this device, it’s the most beautiful thermostat you’ve ever seen. It was designed by the former product designer from Apple who created the first iPod.
On paper, it’s a programmable thermostat with much the same feature set as any other dreary white plastic thermostat available in your local hardware store.
What’s different here is the thought put into its design. This thing is incredibly easy to install. In just a few minutes, you can have it connected. Once done, it asks you a few simple questions and it’s off and running. There is no programming needed.
This thermostat learns how your furnace and AC work; it knows the weather outside, and it also knows when you’re home or away. All you need to do is turn it up when you want to be warm, and down when you want to be cooler, and it does all the thinking for you. This device is truly design and technology melded together in one beautifully simple and easy-to-use device. Just as the iPhone made smartphones fun and easy to use, Nest does that for thermostats.
So, do we have a modern smart home? In a way, yes. But everything is separate. This is good on the one hand as we can install these devices easily (and as needed) into existing homes. But now we’ve got one company making a great thermostat, and another company making some fantastic lights. To be truly smart, these devices and services need to talk to each other.
Right now when my thermostat knows that I’m sleeping, it can’t turn off my lights. If I leave my house and I lock my front door, my smart garage door doesn’t go down automatically.
There have been a few companies that have tried to solve this. Google made an attempt with Android Home a few years ago. Apple recently announced a universal method for devices like this to communicate with each other. If they pull this off, you’ll be able to ask Siri to turn on your lights, and even set “scenes.” These “scenes” will allow you to have your lights go off, garage door shut, thermostat down and lock the front door when you go to bed.
Apple typically has a way of coming into a market and solving problems like this. Keep an eye on the smart home space. There are a lot of great products out now, and a lot more innovation coming. Today’s tech savvy consumers are going to be demanding this in their designs. Marty’s future home is coming!