New technology significantly affects the way we live, making our daily routines easier, quicker, and sometimes even more entertaining. All the innovations and gadgets we use in our homes have given the word “comfort” a completely new meaning. More and more home features and appliances are becoming automated, providing convenience, energy efficiency, and security. Thanks to the newest home tech trends, we are able to remotely control devices such as vacuum cleaners, fridges, security systems, lighting, and even blenders.
In this article, we focus on the newest tech trends that could make everyday life for Vancouverites a little bit easier. Together with Brian Zingle, a Vancouver-based home technology consultant who boasts an electrical and computer engineering background with expertise in networking and wireless solutions, we’ve created a list of the top nine tech trends for your Vancouver home in 2013. Brian applies his unique knowledge and skill set in his company called Simpleer, which creates homeowner-friendly plans for music integration, Wi-Fi networking, and home automation. Here are our top nine picks.
The Nest Learning Thermostat is much more than any other gadget. It’s a cool, easy-to-install and effective way to heat your home while saving significant amounts of energy. This thermostat from the creators of the iPod and iPhone, Tony Fadell and Matt Rogers, learns your temperature preferences and creates a schedule for your home that helps you save energy.
The installation is really simple, and it takes no more than 30 minutes — including removing your old thermostat. All you have to do to set the Nest thermostat up is answer a few questions, and then Nest will optimize itself for your system and start learning from your temperature changes. It connects to a WiFi network to enable remote control features. As Brian points out,
It also makes it really easy set your home to ‘away’ to save energy when you’re not around, and equally easy to use its smartphone app to heat things up as you’re heading home
Nest has a simple yet stylish design and is developed to fit in most homes and offices, as it is compatible with many home heating and cooling systems — even those without a dedicated power wire. Nest’s auto-schedule helps you save up to 20 per cent on your heating and cooling bills, and these savings can be even increased if you combine all of Nest’s features.
Wall outlets with USB outlets
Are you fed up with all the chargers and adapters that you have to store and carry around for your devices? USB wall outlets provide a great solution to eliminate clutter in our Vancouver homes, allowing us to charge electronic devices directly from a wall outlet. Several manufacturers offer USB wall outlets, including Leviton and Cooper. However, according to Brian,
Newer Technology gets props, as it turns off the charger to save power when nothing is plugged in.
The Philips Hue lighting system consists of three Hue lights with a Hue Bridge that allows you to remotely control the lights. We’ve already learned we can turn the lights on or off using a smartphone or tablet, but as Brian informed us,
These light bulbs allow the usual scheduling and control of your lights from your smartphone or tablet, but they also allow colour control!
Hue is a great way to set the right mood for different occasions in our Vancouver homes. And setting the mood is just the start! The Hue system allows its users to do all kinds of cool tricks. For example, you can set the system to full brightness when it’s time to wake up, or to flash red light when it’s time to go somewhere.
Even though the initial pack includes just three connected bulbs, you can add up to 50 lights throughout your home. Each bulb includes 11 LEDs and is able to glow any colour of the rainbow — including all the shades of white that are normally used in indoor lighting. Each bulb has a built-in wireless sensor, using Zigbee’s Light Link standard so that the bulbs can communicate with each other outside the range of the controller. Note that Hue is targeted primarily toward iOS and Android users.
Belkin’s WeMo is a set of simple and customizable products that allow users to control their home electronics from anywhere. It provides a reasonably priced solution for Wi-Fi connected, remote home automation. Brian described WeMo as “a good first baby step to home automation.“ It currently offers four options: Switch, Switch+Motion, Motion, and Baby. Brian informed us,
We’d started with the WeMo Switch as it can be used to replace those cumbersome mechanical timers, plus you can use your smartphone to turn stuff on and off at a whim. They are easy to set up and use. If you have or are about to have a baby, the WeMo Baby monitor is definitely worth checking out as well.
In addition, Belkin announced that the WeMo team is finally addressing customer requests for an Android control app for WeMo systems. Beta versions should launch soon for devices such as the Samsung Galaxy S III, and we can expect an extensive launch sometime during the summer.
Wireless Music Systems
Music is becoming more and more portable. Nowadays, it’s very easy to share music with different devices for playback. Wireless Music Systems provide a convenient way of creating our home sound systems without being limited to the length of wire that connects to your audio system. All you need is a device that can stream music from the Internet or play MP3 files and transmit audio files directly to a receiver attached to your stereo. Brian gave us some advice:
For Vancouverites with iPhones, iPads or Macs, we’re huge fans of Apple’s AirPlay products to distribute music and media wirelessly around the home. Other manufacturers are also supporting the AirPlay standard, including Bowers & Wilkins, Altec Lansing and Denon — some real quality choices available. Sonos also has excellent music systems. We can help make sense of this for you and your home to get you rocking out (or chilling when required) at the touch of a button.
A huge advantage of wireless music systems is that you don’t need to store all your music on hard drives, as the products allow you to play your music directly from your cloud data storage services, such as Box, Google,iCloud, Dropbox, or SkyDrive. These services provide users with instant access to a wide array of resources and applications hosted on remote servers via a web service interface. The newest trend in wireless music systems allows us to grab the music from the cloud and play it in our homes.
Network cameras allow us to stream live video and audio directly to our smartphones or tablets and can be used in a wide array of situations. Moreover, the quality of network cameras is increasing, while the price is coming down. Brian introduced a couple of gadgets that use network cameras:
For cameras to keep an eye on your baby at nap time, your vacation home or even your pets’ antics while you’re out, companies like D-Link and Linksys have some great options. If you’re looking for a convenient method to check and talk with who’s at the front door regardless of whether you’re home or not, the DoorBot Doorbell with built-in network camera may fit your bill.
With DoorBot, you don’t have to worry about dropping everything to answer the door anymore. Setting up DoorBot is very simple. After installing it next to your front door using four screws and four AA batteries, you just download the free app and sync it with the home’s wireless network. Its perforated, brushed aluminum faceplate is designed to look good on almost all kinds of front doors. Furthermore, DoorBot works with the Lockitron, a gadget that fits over your deadbolt’s interior thumb button and allows you to check if your door is locked or unlocked from anywhere.
Built-in speakers allow us to enjoy incredible sound in places where external speakers can’t be placed. They provide a stylish solution that integrates music into our Vancouver homes. Furthermore, Brian adds:
They’re also great to use with Apple’s AirPlay products and for stealth home theatre systems. There are tons of choices at all price points, including Polk Audio and B&W. If you’re looking for something distinctive, then Bang & Olufsen’s new built-in speakers might be for you. Either way, we can help find the right speaker for your ears, aesthetics, and budget.
The new Bang & Olufsen sound system includes the Beolab 15 speakers and the Beolab 16 subwoofer, which incorporate outstanding sound with discreet design. The speakers include a motorized tilt function that allows you to direct the sound exactly where you want. In addition, the tilt function allows you to change the direction of middle and high tones according to your preferences. The speaker automatically tilts back as soon as the device is turned off.
Phone Finder Apps
It seems like every Vancouverite has a smartphone and tablet, and we all spend a lot of time every day searching for our misplaced belongings —especially these two devices. According to a study conducted by Lookout, a mobile security company, Americans lose an average of one cellphone per year. Losing a phone or tablet doesn’t mean only losing all data such as music, photos, apps, or contacts, but it also grants the person who has your smartphone or tablet access to your online accounts like Facebook, Twitter, and personal email — and in the worst scenario, also Internet banking. Brian told us that there’s a way of avoiding such inconveniences:
Have no worries, as Apple has Find iPhone and there is Find My Phone for Android. Apple’s app is compatible with iPhone, iPads, iPods and even MacBooks. You can make it play a loud ring to find your device or to erase it if you think its stolen. Find My Phone covers your Android devices. These apps are very handy to keep a tab on your loved ones too if they are open to that. These apps are very powerful for elder care to help guard their independence, while still offering support when needed. Just remember to install the app and set it up now before you need it later!
As Brian pointed out, “The need for owning multiple cars or any car at all is shrinking in Vancouver. With most homes here, parking is also getting tight. There are times when you just need a car for a quick trip though.” An innovative and sustainable solution for such situations are car shares and micro rentals. Together with Brian, we have chosen one of our favourites, Car2Go. They offer a network of several hundred environmentally compatible smart “Car2Go edition“ vehicles for rent. You can find the cars parked around the city using their smartphone apps. All you have to do is sign up for membership, and afterwards you just scan your card, use the car, and park the car when you’re done. Plus you only pay for the time you’re actually using the car.
The pick-up and drop-off area in Vancouver encompasses about 47 square kilometres. The south border follows 41st Avenue, while the north border follows the Burrard Inlet, the east border is located at Nanaimo Street, and the west border is at Alma Street.