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Smart home technology: Our take on the latest trends

By Zak Stoiber

December 2016

A smart home is the new frontier: a combination of convenience, comfort and security taking place in every room of your house — and in your pocket. Unlike a smart phone, a smart home isn’t something that you necessarily buy or upgrade all at once. Rather, a smart home uses a number of different devices that contribute to the cumulative “intelligence” of your home. Smart homes are similar to the last game-changer in technology, the smart phone — only bigger… much bigger.

Below I’ll highlight the major components that make up the modern smart home. It’s up to you to decide whether a smart home is a smart use of your money. Although I won’t be going into the details of each product (there are hundreds), I will list some solid options I’ve researched at the end of each section to give you a good starting place.

Smart home, luxurious lighting

If all you really want to do is impress your friends (and who doesn’t?), look no further than the simple wonder of smart lights. With Philips Hue, the most popular and highly rated smart light system, you can paint the room with a palette of more than 15 million colors with up to 50 special LED light bulbs. You can adjust the lighting in real time with your smart phone or choose a “scene” — a pre-made collection of colors — that fits the mood. Watching the big game? Set the scene using the colors of your favorite team. And if you really want to show off, you can even program your lights (using a third-party app) to flash and change colors when your team scores. Who knew a light bulb could be so sexy?

The options are many:

  • Control and program your smart lights from your phone or computer 
  • Sync the lights to change in real-time with music, movies and TV 
  • Automate your lights or program wake-up lighting that simulates the sunrise 
  • Control the lights with your voice using Amazon’s Alexa or Apple’s Siri (no clapping necessary)

Check out: Phillips Hue, Samsung SmartThings, Lifx Color 1000

Smart home, smart security

You’re feeling warm and comfy in bed, on the verge of falling asleep, when you worry you didn’t lock your front door. It’s probably fine, you tell yourself, so you try to go back to sleep. Thirty minutes later, woken by a terrifying nightmare of someone stealing your favorite mug, you lumber to the front door, only to find that you DID lock it. Memory is the worst, right? If only your smart home could assure you that your door is locked. You know where I’m going with this…

If you never want to wake up at 3 a.m. again to check whether the front door is locked, then smart locks are worth looking into. Main features include:

  • Scheduled locking (e.g., lock the doors at 10 p.m., unlock them at 8 a.m.) 
  • Remote locking (letting in a neighbor to feed the dog when you’re out of town, unlocking from your car so you don’t have to fiddle with your keys while also balancing 5 bags of groceries) 
  • Unlocking through touch, vicinity, smart phone or voice command 
  • Automatic locking when you leave

Check out: August Smart Lock, Kwikset Kevo, Schlage Sense

Security cameras are another option for your smart home. In addition to taking video, smart security cameras can offer motion alerts to your phone and connect to your smart lights to flash or turn on when it detects motion. There’s even a smart doorbell that doubles as a security camera. What a world!

Check out: SkyBell HD Wi-Fi Video Doorell, Nest Cam, Icontrol Networks Piper nv

Smart home, smart hub

Through steady research and careful selection, you may find yourself living in the future with a full-blown smart home, complete with smart lights, smart locks, smart security cameras, smart thermostat, smart washer and dryer, smart espresso machine (Santa, are you listening?)… The list goes on. Most of these smart things will have their own independent applications to use, which means you may get overwhelmed with all of the different app interfaces you’ll use to access your devices. If your house were so smart, you’d think you could just talk to it and tell it what you want it to do. Here’s the thing: You can, with the right system.

With products like Google Home and Amazon Echo, you can program your smart home devices to respond to your voice, though it may take a little work to program it correctly. In addition, your hub can also work as a personal assistant and online encyclopedia, scheduling meeting notices and answering your questions, like which year was the original Star Wars released, or what will the weather be like tomorrow.

Check out: Amazon Echo, Google Home, Apple Home

The future is now?

Imagine this: Your friends come over for the big game, and you tell your smart home to set up for a party. The lights in every room turn on, curated music plays from your speakers and your doors unlock. The game starts, your lighting shifts to the colors of the hometown favorite, and when you ask your hub “Who do the Green Bay Packers play next week?”, your home responds correctly. Then your team scores, your friends go wild and the lighting responds with the same level of enthusiasm.

The above scenario is not a picture of the future — it can happen now. However, that experience won’t come cheap, and the technology won’t set itself up. You may be spending hours trying to get all your devices to work together, and even then, since the technology is new, it won’t always work exactly how you want. But when it does work? Well, you really will feel like you’re living in the future.

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Zak Stoiber is a digital marketing program specialist at MGIC who enjoys reading books, some of which do not contain pictures. He recently became a homeowner mostly to house his board game collection.
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