As reported on Wired.
BY CHRISTINA BONNINGTON
LAS VEGAS — Your smartphone is going domestic. In the age of the connected home, your mobile devices are becoming the central command, the brains, if you will, of the entire smarthome experience.
It makes sense. Rather than remote controls with menus to memorize and knobs, dials and switches to manipulate, your smartphone or tablet becomes one remote to rule them all. You’ve always got it with you when you’re out and about, it’s never far from hand when you’re sitting on the couch and it’s dead-simple to use.
What we’re seeing started with the birth of the smartphone, when gadgetmakers realized smartphone integration could add tremendous value to consumers’ product experiences. It started with simple apps that transform your phone into a remote control for a DVR or set-top box, letting you use a touchscreen to navigate complex user interfaces. It grew with apps that tie into our home security systems and, more recently, our appliances. Remembering if the milk in your fridge is past its prime or whether you have recipes based on the things in your freezer was once the stuff of The Jetsons, but is increasingly commonplace today.
Still, the trend has been slow to take off, perhaps because it seems so futuristic, even if a lot of the tech is available right now.
“Connectivity in the home is a very old topic, but the truth is that consumers are not embracing it,” Scott Ahn, LG’s chief technology officer, said at the company’s CES press conference Monday.
That’s changing though, and fast.
There will be some 24 billion connected devices by 2020. That figure certainly doesn’t seem beyond reach given the number of smartphones out there (300 million shipped in the first half of 2012, according to Qualcomm CEO Paul Jacobs) and the number of connected devices and appliances seen at CES 2013. The theme of LG’s entire booth, for example, was “Touch the Smart Life.” The Korean company had 20,000 square feet of space dedicated to showing people how appliances that can communicate with the web, and one another, will transform their lives for the better. Dozens, if not hundreds, of other booths stretched across the North and South halls of CES showed how this “world of tomorrow” technology is here now, in everything from web-connected TVs to vacuum cleaners.
In the coming years, you’ll be able to control three main aspects of your home life from your mobile device: appliances, entertainment and the living environment. Here’s how.
Your smartphone or tablet is perhaps the best, most capable and feature-filled TV remote control on the market, if you don’t mind that it doesn’t have easily tappable gummy buttons.
Apple’s Remote app lets you control an Apple TV with an iOS device, Google has its own remote app for controlling Google TV units, and there are dozens of third-party remote control apps for TVs and set-top boxes from companies like LG and D-Link. The experience varies from app to app, but for most of these, you get generic TV controls, like the ability to browse menus, pause and play content, and switch channels or content platforms.
You can also mirror or throw content from your mobile device to the TV using things like Apple’s Airplay, Panasonic’s Miracast, or the Google YouTube app‘s “send to TV” feature, providing for a seamless video-viewing experience no matter what device you’re on. It seems every company is coming up with their own way for you to get video from your phone to the TV in a snap. LG uses NFC so you can share photos and videos to your TV with a tap (inventive, but perhaps less practical than just being able to flick a photo from your tablet to the TV like with Panasonic’s Swipe and Share app).
But it’s not just the controlling and video sharing aspect that makes a smartphone or tablet a killer remote, and a remote killer.
“Pairing TVs with tablets and smartphones provides users a more intimate, natural way to navigate and find their content through a natural user interface,” said Joel Grenier, director of UX and ecosystem at Youi Labs, a company that demoed its smart-TV interface. “Both of these screens should provide value while being more connected with each other.”
The entire second screen experience is key, as a tablet in particular can provide rich information and additional tools to make TV watching more convenient and more social. Youi Labs’ Flip smart-TV OS concept provides onscreen controls like pause and play paired with facial recognition, so when you leave the room, the TV automatically pauses and a marker notes where you left off on the scrub bar in its iPad app.
Every major TV manufacturer (Sharp, LG, Panasonic, Samsung, and the like) touted smart, web-connected sets with improved user interfaces and smartphone or tablet integration. Pricing for most of these units is still yet to be announced. For those happy with their current set but yearning connectivity, Samsung TV owners can soon snap in the company’s Evolution Kit, while the rest of us can choose from an ever-growing assortment of set top boxes, like the $150 Lukup Player, which debuted this year.
For home appliances, a mix of apps and proximity-based technologies like NFC will let you start your washing machine remotely, give you vital stats about what’s going bad inside your fridge and even check on that roast in the oven.
LG has championed the smart home for a couple years now with web-connected refrigerators, washer/dryers, TVs and ovens. But this year the company added NFC to the mix so you can control these devices with a handset like the Nexus 4 or Optimus G.
Dave VanderWaal, director of brand marketing for LG’s home appliance section, says smartphone connectivity makes it easier and more efficient to manage your home, while offering peace of mind at home and away.
Take the company’s smart refrigerator. A Smart Manager feature lets you check the food stored inside remotely, and its freshness tracker lets you inventory the perishable items (via voice recognition, selecting icons, or scanning receipts or barcodes) and keep tab on expiration dates. The fridge can even suggest dishes you can cook using what you’ve got on hand. You can also create a shopping list using the app. A Smart Diagnosis feature will send you an alert if there’s a minor issue, like the door was left-open.
Even the vacuum isn’t immune to the smartphone’s domination. LG’s HOM-BOT can be started and steered from your smartphone using an on-board camera. With the Smart Oven, you can check cooking settings like time and temperature, too — super convenient if you need to run a quick errand, or eliminate trips to the kitchen to check those things if you’re in another room.
Unfortunately, pricing and availability for these smart appliances is still TBD — and likely fairly hefty.
Another DIY-style option if you’re not up for upgrading your entire house to smart appliances: Stick Samsung’s programmable NFC Tectiles ($15 for a set of 5) around the house to share information or send a message to your smartphone. Living in a house with roommates, this could be super useful to alert other roommies that the shower or oven is occupied, or in a dorm setting, that the house is a rockin’ (don’t come a knockin’). Samsung stuck a bunch of these around Vegas hotels to give CES-goers information like dining recommendations and entertainment schedules.
And whether you’re focused on energy efficiency or just want to set the right mood, your smartphone can take the place of light switches and thermostat buttons — and then some.
Like the Philips Hue LED lightbulb that launched late last year, companies like Revogi and Greenwave Reality showed off WiFi lightbulbs at CES, which you can control using an app. Turn them off and on with the app, and choose the exact shade you want to bathe your room in.
Eversense 2.0 is a home environment and energy management unit (a smart thermostat along the lines of the Nest) that pairs with an app so you can control the temperature from afar. It uses your mobile device to identify where you are in the house and personalize the thermostat and lighting settings in the room to your preferences. It’ll be available in the first quarter of this year.
Even routers are taking on new tasks with smartphone controls, like Securifi’s Almond+, a Kickstarter project. It’s an integrated smart home hub, letting you control heating and lighting from your phone, and get security notifications when home doors or windows are opened.
And on the security front, you’ve got options like Oplink’s TripleShield alarm and surveillance platform, which lets you monitor live video or audio streams from your home and get notifications (with photo snapshots) if someone tries to invade your home. There are quite a lot of home security companies that offer mobile apps to keep tabs on your digs while you’re out.
In 2013, if your home product doesn’t integrate with your smartphone, you might as well be living in the stone age.