Control your home from afar with apps

Last updated 12:03 31/07/2014
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Technology has a way of controlling our day-to-day life like never before, one app at a time, and now your home is no exception. The phenomenon is dubbed The Internet of Things, and this connected network of sensors and devices only looks set to expand if the below examples are anything to go by...

MY SKY

If you have My Sky and have - heaven forbid - gone out to dinner without setting My Kitchen Rules to record, the free Sky TV app will save the day. Any smartphone can download the app, and it gives you access to SKY TV's electronic programme guide, as well as listings for every channel. Then for MY SKY customers, the app supports Remote Record, so when you are out and about, and have forgotten to record your favourite show, open the app, go to the guide and make a booking. It has been around a little while but it's a simple, helpful app functionality to have on your phone.

HEATING/AIRCON

A great example of living made more comfortable through technology; most heat pumps coming to the market now can be controlled through your smartphone or tablet, meaning you can manage it (turn it off/on, temperature up/down) during the day with an app. As the whole country feels the chill of winter, being able to have your home toasty warm on arrival is a very big plus. This kind of ability is also a winner in the power usage stakes.

For Mitsubishi Electric heat pumps you need to upgrade to get Wi-Fi capabilities (an adapter is installed into the unit) so you can choose units starting from $1,349 at Noel Leeming.  

WASHING MACHINES

Nobody really wants to have a load of washing waiting to be hung out after a long day, but being able to tell your machine to start an hour before you get home is quite a handy thing to be able to do, why? No more all-day-stagnant-wet-washing to greet you of course! It is probably more of a nice-to-have rather than a have-to-have, but for a busy household it is potentially quite helpful. One or two brands also have the ability to help diagnose a problem (only with regards to its own functionality, not your own personal issues), going as far as 'speaking' to customer support.     

The options are a little pricey though compared to the average cost of a washing machine - with a $3,298 price tag on the Samsung 9kg front loader at Harvey Norman and slightly more expensive, $3,499, at Noel Leeming.

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LIGHTING

Move over 'clap on' lights (although we still think they are pretty cool), because here comes app-controlled lighting. Your smartphone or tablet may get a little bit overcrowded if we start turning every small household function into an app, but this definitely does have merit for both security and power saving (or for playing tricks on people?).

A starter pack from Wifi Lights is $149, and it is also interesting to note that apparently these bulbs last 50 times longer than traditional lights, and use 80 per cent less power!  

COOKING

Just when you thought crock pot cooking couldn't get any easier, out comes the Smart Slow Cooker that - you guessed it - allows you to control it via an app. Turn it on/off, temperature up/down and adjust cooking time. Its description goes as far as to say it will 'eliminate concern and worry', but we think it will just be a nice option to have if you are someone who uses a slow cooker a lot. There have been some positive reviews on the product, with users saying it is helpful to be able to adjust the temperature on their dinner if they are going to be home later than expected - perhaps there is some merit in this kind of functionality. 

It's not available in New Zealand just yet, remember that it prides itself on being slow, but in the United States its retail price is $130 (NZ$150). 

SECURITY

While remote access security monitoring has been around for some time (after all, that's the main purpose of having a security system aside from the obvious), the use of phone apps make it all that much simpler and in the home owner's control (without needing an external monitoring company). From live feeds, to motion detection, two-way talking and SMS alerts, there is a bunch of features that security apps offer users.

Cost will come down to what you decide you want. If you are relatively tech savvy there are DIY options where you can buy your own cameras and hook them up to an app, or buy this complete pack from Dick Smith. Then there are a variety of security companies that come complete with their own product-specific app.    

ALMOST ANYTHING IS POSSIBLE.....

With the Belkin WeMo Switch + Motion kit you can practically control anything electronic in the home, which opens up a world of opportunities. Plug any appliance into the WeMo switch, which then goes into your house socket. Then, via an app on your phone - wherever you are in the world - you have control over switching that item on or off, or setting it up via a timer. It's kind of like a 'piggy in the middle' bridging the gap between the household appliances most commonly owned now, and future technology that will seemingly take over everything in our homes.

You can buy the bundle from Mighty Ape for $154.99 or Noel Leeming sell it a bit cheaper at $122.97. 

Reuben Bijl, co-founder of app software creator Smudge, says that he has even seen app technology that can monitor plant health, but whether that type of control would take off is another thing entirely. Then there is also the safety aspect around switching things on if you aren't at home.

"If you had an appliance that created heat, you may not want to turn it on remotely without being able to visually check it."

However is all this actually anything new? Bijl says not really in a lot of respects, in that a lot of the functionalities of home-based domestic devices coming out have been possible for a long time, it just required custom wiring and installation into a home which often meant it was only available to people building higher-end houses.

"But what we are seeing now is the ability to buy individual products that can fulfil these needs. For example you can buy light bulbs from a retail store that you can control without any special wiring, and you can also customise their colour." 

What do you think about having this type of control over your household appliances? Is it too much, or is it really useful? And what app would you love to have to help around the home? 

- Stuff

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