The Internet of Things (IoT), which encompasses networked, Bluetooth and Wi-Fi enabled devices ranging from smartphones to smart fridges and security systems, is expanding with new, shiny products being paraded in front of consumers every day.
Google's Nest range, Amazon's Echo and Samsung's SmartThings products, to name but a few, are some of the most widely-known entries into the connected home space.
The concept behind the "connected home" is the ability to rig up a system of networked devices to talk to each other and accept remote commands which make your life easier -- whether you wish coffee to be automatically brewing when you wake up, you want to be warned when a burglar has broken into your property, or you want your children to be able to text you when they return from school with the press of a button.
There are countless uses for IoT and many of which remain to be explored. The price range for such devices can go up to the thousands, but you don't need to spend a fortune on improving your home.
Instead, in this feature, we are going to take a look at some of the IoT and smart devices in my house, what their functions are -- and what I tend to use them for.
Starting from the outside, what options are available to the average homeowner?
Not much time? Check out the abridged version in the gallery below:
Maximus smart security light
Before we cross the threshold, let's take a look at how IoT can be implemented from the outside. The first device you come across at my place is the Maximus smart security light (SSL), in the Coach style, which is a security system that also acts as an outdoor porch light.
The SSL looks good once installed and appears hardy, and in the six months or so mine has been installed, I have had no issues with durability or breakdowns. The lighting fixture is also equipped with a two-way speaker and camera, and so if anyone enters your grounds without consent, footage is recorded and you can also potentially scare off intruders. (Subscription plans are also available if you wish to keep recorded footage for longer.)
Via: Maximus Lighting
When I first came across Ring, I considered the whole idea a bit of a joke and nothing more than a gimmicky product that is capitalizing on the emerging IoT market. I mean, who needs a video-equipped doorbell? What is the point of replacing a fully functional, traditional, ring system?
However, I have surprised myself at how much I rely upon it. While you don't need the video function while you're at home (unless you wish to avoid certain people or see who is at the door before opening the gate to the threshold), while you are out, the product comes into its own.
There have been many times over the past year I've used it to assure delivery guys I will only be a few minutes and can-they-please put the parcel in the shed. It's been handy when ignoring one or two dodgy-looking characters at the door and also acts as a de-facto, small security system which can be used to see who is in your driveway.
Ring has a lot more applications than I thought originally, and with the introduction of the Chime accessory which brings back the traditional ring rather than forcing you to check your phone at all if you do not wish to, Ring is well worth the investment and does provide additional peace of mind.
Price: £159 ($199)
Using IoT devices in the home does not have to be a fashion statement or status symbol; instead, the smallest devices can make the biggest differences. The TrackR bravo, a small, incredibly lightweight Bluetooth/GPS tracking system, for example, can be attached to everything from your set of keys to your wallet, and then you use your smartphone and the TrackR app to locate them quickly should you use them.
Alternatively, if your phone is always the item that goes walkabout, you press the button on your TrackR to make the smartphone ring (even on silent mode) if they are paired.
For myself, I use it to keep track of my once-housebound rehome cat. She's not necessarily impressed by the accessory, but it is small and light enough for her to wear without discomfort -- and lets me keep an eye on her travels while she is exploring the outside world.
In my hallway, a small, aqua button is stuck to the side, which more often than not earns a questioning glance from visitors. The button is flic, a wireless device which can be programmed to perform a variety of tasks. Each button costs $34 and, in my opinion, can be a good entry-level product to begin experimenting with IoT device controls in your home.
Flic works on the "if this, then that" programming protocol, allowing you to use "recipes" to control your devices. This can range from playing a Spotify playlist with one click to sending out automatic tweets or controlling Philips Hue lighting with two presses of the button. While I'm yet to fully explore the ITTT protocol, I currently use it to automatically set my Nest thermostat to certain settings.
See also: ZDNet review
I first became interested in indoor security systems when I suspected an old landlady of mine -- who unfortunately lived next door -- was letting herself in uninvited, and I needed to know firstly what she was doing, and secondly have proof of her entry should anything go missing. (It turned out she was, and it took evidence for her to desist for the few months I had to continue living there.)
I've tried out various options through the years, some complicated, some easier but with poor recording quality. My favorite so far, which is currently used at home, is the Canary security system.
It is small, can blend into your environment, and I am impressed with the depth-of-field and quality of footage the device produces. You can choose from three options; "armed," which activates recording and alerts you through your mobile device, "disarmed," which records if anything is detected, and finally "privacy," which turns the camera and recording off so you don't have to concern yourself about being recorded in your own home.
If you are alerted remotely to a break-in, then my favorite feature comes into its own: the ability to press a button on your smartphone and set off a very -- very -- loud siren. That should be enough to scare them off, but in the meantime, you can also directly call the police or fire department from the Canary app. Thankfully, I haven't needed to test this setting yet.
Another option which I used before Canary, if you have any old phones lying around, is to recycle them to create your own indoor security system (albeit with less clear footage) through the Manything app.
Price: $199 | £159
Click & Grow
I manage to keep cats and fish alive, but when it comes to anything leafy or green, I tend to fall into trouble after only a few days (I still remember my bonsai, no matter how tragic its death by watery grave, fondly). However, it is handy if you can grow your own herbs if you enjoy cooking, and so even people like me can use them if the process is idiot-proof.
The Click & Grow smart garden aims to do this by automating light and watering cycles for you, so you do not end up over-watering or losing your plants due to poor sun exposure. All you need to do is stick the herb pots in, put water in the side tank, and leave it alone. Once your plants begin to push on the transparent plastic orbs (which create a "greenhouse effect," the makers say), you take them off.
Mine is on my kitchen table, close enough to the kitchen but also providing an additional source of light during the right cycles -- which I find an improvement due to a few naturally dark areas in my home.
While I did find a few of the pots failed over time and you can no doubt just fill your own with seeds once you've acquired the main tank, you can also purchase refill pots if you wish that have plants including different herb types, tomato, strawberry, chilli and moss roses.
Via: Click and Grow
There is a deluge of portable chargers and battery packs on the market, and with the inclusion of wireless charging in many of today's modern smartphones, vendors have followed suit. One that I am fond of is the Fone QiStone+, a 4000mAh capacity charger which aesthetically will fit in any modern decor, due to the gray, stone-textured casing. You simply put your device on top and let it do its work.
A word of warning, however -- this is not a product you should use if you need a rapid, emergency charge. This is something which fits in with modern decor, looks more ornamental than functional, and is good for use when your smartphone is on your coffee table, for example, and you're happy to have an incremental charge while you get on with other tasks.
Via: Fone salesman
The QuickLock is a Bluetooth and RFID-compatible door lock which will fit in modern homes. The lock, which I currently use to keep my office secure, takes no more than 10 minutes to install on a standard, internal door, and can be opened with your mobile device, fobs, cards and wristbands, depending on your preferences.
If you close the door it will lock automatically, but you have to manually turn the lock to set up a deadbolt.
The lock is compatible with Android or iOS devices -- I use my Samsung Galaxy 7 Edge without any issues -- but Windows Phone users are out of luck, at least for now. A few additional, handy features are the ability to temporarily grant access to someone to a room through your smartphone and also check a log to see when the room was entered -- and by who.
Via: The QuickLock
IoT and connected lighting systems, such as the Philips Hue, can be expensive investments for your home. However, as the market increases in size, so do the products on offer -- and price points.
Playbulb, for example, is a product range from Mipow which are an affordable alternative. The Playbulb Comet is a simple strip of LED lights which, once connected to your smartphone or tablet through the Playbulb app, can be placed in your home wherever you want an additional light source. The strip is stuck on using a sticky adhesive layer on the back, and once plugged in, you can use the app to control color settings, effects, and brightness.
Personally, I use it as a replacement for an office desk lamp, which reduces the clutter on the desk but also allows me to work with the level of lighting I prefer. Turned up to full, the LED strip produces a surprising amount of light.
Another affordable option from Mipow is the Playbulb ceiling lighting ranges, the Color and Rainbow. I use these lights throughout my house, which can be controlled through the Playbulb mobile application.
The difference between these two ranges is thus: the Color includes an inbuilt speaker, while the Rainbow is simply for color control.
I have two Rainbows for my bedside lamps, while I use the Color in my lounge for quiet background music (and when I cannot be bothered to set up my standard speakers).
You can use any Bluetooth-enabled player to hook up to the light to change both color and music settings -- but while the music quality isn't bad for such a small speaker, don't expect exceptional quality.
However, as an alternative to more expensive IoT lighting products, they do the job.
The Nixplay Seed is a digital photo frame which can replace traditional, physical frames with a screen which can display however many photos you wish. You sign up for a Nixplay account, upload your images into the cloud to compile different playlists, select transition effects if you wish and the product is ready to go.
You control the Seed with a small, square remote. While I would love to see a premium version with frame sizes bigger than 10 inches, as a gift or way to display family photos in your home, it is rather an adorable IoT device. I've had two in my time, the first of which became a gift for Father's Day, set up with family playlists.
You can currently pick up 7 - 10-inch versions.
While not 'smart' in an IoT manner, the MantelMount TV bracket, as the engineering itself is rather interesting and smartly designed, was worth inclusion. Suitable for flat screen televisions from 48 inches up to roughly 80 inches, you can pull the mount down up to two feet and move it up to 40 degrees horizontally.
In the picture I've shown how it looks without the television and handle in place, and even on old, victorian walls it is sturdy and while I would recommend two people to drill it in, the mount is a good option for those looking to create a central viewing point in a lounge -- movie nights, perhaps? -- as well as being able to view a show at a more comfortable height when there are other pieces of furniture to consider, such as fireplaces.
Playbulb is not the only smart lighting system I use at home. Due to the position of my house, my lounge tends to get dim very quickly in the evenings, and I don't always like to simply rely on ceiling lights.
The Elgato Avea dynamic mood light, an elongated sphere, is charged on a small dock and then can be moved with you around the home (should the mood take you). If you hook up to the light through either your Android or Apple device, you can either select your own colors or choose from a number of rather pretty presents -- such as "magic hour," "northern glow" and "cherry blossom" which change colors gradually over time.
More for ambiance and surroundings than bright, light function, this product is a surefire bet for entry IoT homes.
In the last few years, Google-owned Nest has joined the connected home fray with a range of IoT products. One of which, the Nest Learning Thermostat -- currently third generation -- is a stylish device which fits any modern home.
The thermostat has a very quick and easy install through the device's circular touchscreen and once connected to Wi-Fi will update automatically. You can use the Nest to determine the range of heating or cooling you want in your home -- which is handy if you are away, for example -- and this can also be changed via the Nest app. In terms of the display, you have a lot of options -- such as a digital clock, display of target temperatures or an analog clock which is my personal preference.
To round up with the latest device I have managed to get my hands on, the Nest Protect (second generation) is a smoke and carbon monoxide alarm. Available in both wired and battery versions, the alarm connects to your smartphone or tablet and once a safety check is complete, you're good to go.
The physical installation is very easy -- just requiring the included bracket to be screwed onto a surface -- and there is a faint glow at the front which lets you know it is operating normally. If the alarm detects anything, you will be alerted through your phone and the Nest Protect has a clear, loud sound so you are made aware of potential problems while you are inside.
Personally, I like one particular feature -- the option to turn the Nest Protect off through your phone should it go off. Considering how many times I would have to wave a tea towel over my old alarm outside the kitchen, it's enjoyable not to have so many false alarms.
As one disadvantage, however, the path light feature -- which senses you walking around at night and creates light so you can do so safely -- is too sensitive to my pets. This is worth keeping in mind if you plan to install it anywhere near a bedroom.
Do you have any favorite IoT devices? Let us know in the comments below.