On a daily basis, Ben Kittrell translates the jargon-filled world of technology for clients of his tech consultancy. The Words that Frustrate (WTF) series aims to offer readers some clarity in an industry dominated by techies’ confusing argot.
With Christmas right around the corner, you may be looking for that techie, geeky person in your life that’s hard to shop for.
One of the many hot technologies this year is the smart home, and there are all kinds of great gift options.
Basically a “smart” home has a number of different devices throughout the home that can communicate with each other and automate actions. You might tell your phone “good morning” and the shades come up, the coffee pot starts heating and an omnipotent voice tells you the weather for the day.
Once you’re ready for work you say “goodbye” and the garage opens, your security alarm is armed and your thermostat is set to a more economical temperature. When you get home, you may say “party time” and the lights start flashing, Beastie Boys starts playing and a Facebook invite is automatically sent to your friends telling them your rager going until question mark.
There are many different types of devices out there, and many from different manufacturers. The most popular starting place is probably SmartThings, which was recently purchased by Samsung. Every smart home needs a “hub” with which all of the other devices communicate. For $249 you can buy a kit from SmartThings that includes a hub, a motion sensor, remote controlled outlet and two open/close sensors for doors and windows. An app on your phone allows you to setup these devices and create automated actions.
Another popular option is the Amazon Echo, which is like Siri for your house. The Echo integrates with many different devices and services, including Amazon.com. I can say “Amazon, order some more Nature’s Miracle” and two days later it’s on my doorstep (I’ve got a puppy so this happens a lot). It also integrates with the SmartThings hub so you can tell it to “dim the kitchen lights” or “set the thermostat to 70 degrees”.
And of course you need something to control. Phillips entered the smart home market very early with their “Hue” bulbs. These bulbs are controlled from your phone or smart home hub and can dim or sometimes change color. From the SmartThings app you can say “if the motion sensor is triggered dim this bulb to 70 percent.”
At this point in time I would only recommend these gifts for the tech savvy. While most of these products are designed to work together, it’s not always plug and play. There are different wireless technologies like Zigbee and Z-Wave, but it’s sometimes not clear what’s compatible.
A few other quick smart home gift ideas: