Switch On the Phone-Controlled Home
Lock your front door from afar, let your thermostat set itself and more when you use your phone as a control device
Thanks to the smart phone revolution, however, it’s now possible for controls to be on the person, rather than on the machine. In the past year, a new category of home appliance has emerged — the smart phone–controlled device.
The great thing about smart phone–controlled stuff is that you don’t have to be anywhere near the appliance to control it. You don’t even have to be in the house!
Here are some of my favorite new smart phone–controlled home gadgets.
Insteon LED Bulb – $29.99 »
Smart phone–controlled lightbulb. A company called Insteon sells a lightbulb controlled by an Apple iPhone. No, it’s not a lamp that’s controlled, but the bulb itself, which fits into a standard lamp socket.
The Insteon LED Bulb is part of Insteon’s SmartHome line, and it comes with its own controller. You can add an optional SmartLinc controller for connecting to an iPhone. After downloading Insteon’s free app, you can turn the bulb on and off and also dim the light. You can even define presets: “working,” “romantic” and other settings that you determine.
The beautiful, futuristic-looking round Nest replaces your old thermostat. But it’s not just an electric box full of wires. It’s a little computer that connects through your home network via Wi-Fi. It downloads its own software updates, for example. So when the company improves the software, your thermostat automatically improves, too.
The best thing the Nest does is learn. Here’s how it works. You just set the temperature as you normally would, either at the device, on the web or on your phone. The thermostat keeps track of the temperature and humidity conditions that exist when you change the temperature, as well as the time of day and other variables.
Over time it learns what you do and when you do it, and starts doing it without you.
The thermostat can even tell if someone is in the room. It maintains upper and lower limits (set by your previous actions) for both when people are in the room and when they’re not.
Best of all, you can set and control the sprinkler system either on the web or on a smart phone (iPhone and Blackberry only).
The phone interface is especially useful for failure alerts. If something goes wrong, you get a notification on your phone.
Schlage makes an electronic front-door lock with a deadbolt that can be locked and unlocked from your phone. The Schlage Nexia lets you control the lock conventionally, too. You can manually lock it, and unlock it with a PIN code.
But the phone adds security and convenience. For example, you can choose to get an alert when someone uses the PIN code to get in. And if you’re not sure the door has been locked, you can check and lock it, even if you’re in another state.
Smart phone–controlled coffee maker. Java junkies, rejoice. Danish coffee machine maker Scanomat makes a sleek, built-into-the-countertop coffee maker/refrigerator you control with your phone.
Marketed predominantly to hotels and companies for their employees’ coffee areas, the deluxeTopBrewer looks like a pretty typical kitchen-sink faucet. But instead of tap water, you get a cappuccino, foamed milk and all.
Sure, the spigot also dispenses cold water and cold milk, as well as hot water for tea or steaming vegetables, hot chocolate, carbonated water and nine other drinks. Blah, blah, blah. Did I mention cappuccino?
OK, let’s back up for a second. The cabinet is basically a refrigerator where cold milk and cold water are stored, connected to the faucet. On top is a clear container for fresh whole coffee beans, which are ground before brewing.
You use an iPhone or iPad app to program any drink that uses these ingredients — basically it’s an automated Starbucks in your kitchen with a computer instead of a barista. Then you use the app or the keyboard built into the tabletop to select a drink. Press the double Americano button, or the espresso macchiato button, and out it comes.