Wednesday 12 December 2018

Your smart home starts here

Smart speakers are only the start of it. Nathalie Marquez Courtney explores the high-tech home trends you need to know

Whether we're prepared for talking washing machines or not, we're hurtling towards a future where everything in your home will be connected to the internet, and can be controlled from your phone or speaker.

But which smart home trends are genuine game changers and which are soon-to-be-forgotten novelties? Here are the technologies set to transform some of the most important rooms in your home.

Every room: Say it loud

Just a few weeks ago, Amazon's voice-activated smart speaker range officially launched in Ireland, and will see a huge number of Irish homes embracing voice commands and shouting at their speakers. You can already listen to RTE News, get weather reports from Met Eireann and even check when the next Dublin bus is departing from your nearest stop, as well as setting timers and playing music, but this is really just the tip of the iceberg.

Selje wireless charging bedside table, €39 - No need for cables, just pop your (compatible) phone down and walk away, ikea.ie
Selje wireless charging bedside table, €39 - No need for cables, just pop your (compatible) phone down and walk away, ikea.ie

As voice recognition and artificial intelligence technology improves (and as smart speakers' own voices start to sound less robotic), these devices will be able to handle more complex tasks, such as walking you through recipes, as well as becoming a central 'hub' for lots of home automation tasks, such as controlling lights, alarms and heating.

Though many of these 'smart' products already exist - the Philips Hue range being one of the most popular - they are currently all quite disjointed, with different systems, set-up instructions and apps.

The rapid adoption of smart speakers is going to act as a gateway to a huge range of other connected products that up until now may have seemed unnecessarily fiddly. This will make it easy for you to automate routine tasks - for example, saying "Alexa, good night" might simultaneously pull the blinds, set the alarm, turn off the lights and set your favourite radio station to come on at 7am, all without you having to open multiple different apps.

One thing is for sure, voice-powered technology is only getting started - a recent report by Juniper Research predicted that more than half of all US households will have a digital voice assistant-enabled device by 2022. Apple's new smart speaker HomePod launched on Friday in the US, UK and Australia, but there's no news yet on when we may see it in our homes, while Google also has skin in the game with its Home smart speaker series. Samsung has also announced that it aims to make all its products intelligent, thanks to it own digital voice assistant Bixby, as well as internet-connected, by 2020.

Living room: Stylish sounds

While many speakers have been busy getting smart, others have been getting substantially easier on the eye. Bang & Olufsen's Beosound Shape is a customisable wall-mounted wireless speaker system that lets you create a unique wall pattern in varying shades, while light panel company Nanoleaf recently introduced Rhythm, a sound module that will sync their wall-mounted panels to your music, giving you your very own living room disco. The Bang & Olufsen release in particular shows that consumers don't necessarily want high-tech devices to look high tech; rather, the trend is towards products that are smart under the hood, but blend into your existing home decor.

Amazon Echo smart speaker in Sandstone, around €85 - Now available in Ireland, you can listen to your favourite Irish radio stations as well as ask for localised traffic and transport info, amazon.co.uk
Amazon Echo smart speaker in Sandstone, around €85 - Now available in Ireland, you can listen to your favourite Irish radio stations as well as ask for localised traffic and transport info, amazon.co.uk

Kitchen: Cord-free everything

Right now, wireless charging is just beginning to filter into our homes (although it has been available on Android for some time, the latest batch of iPhones is the first to be compatible with this technology).

Ikea's wireless charging range has been on the market for almost two years now, and features bedside tables and lamps that can charge your devices.

But the technology is only getting started. If you're overhauling your kitchen, think about going cordless - installing a countertop that can charge small appliances like mixers, juicers and kettles. Companies like Philips are now working to create compatible devices, predicting that cordless will soon be the new standard. These products all use the same Qi (that's pronounced 'chee') wireless charging technology, meaning mixing and matching brands will be easy.

Bathroom: Smart showers

So far, splash-proof speakers, electric toothbrushes and smart weighing scales have been as techie as bathrooms got, but that's set to change.

Philips Hue white and colour ambiance starter kit, €189.99 - Design personalised lighting scenes for different moods and events and control your home's lights remotely using your phone, currys.ie
Philips Hue white and colour ambiance starter kit, €189.99 - Design personalised lighting scenes for different moods and events and control your home's lights remotely using your phone, currys.ie

Smart showers are on the way, many with the noble goal of helping us reduce our water consumption.

French firm Start & Blue recently released Hydrao, a shower head with built-in LED lights that flash red when you've used too much water.

It pairs with an app over bluetooth, helping you track usage and educate the kids about how to avoid water waste.

Bathroom tech doesn't stop at showers either. Anyone who has visited a toilet in Japan knows our loos leave a lot to be desired, but we're starting to catch up. US homewares company Kohler recently launched Numi, an ''intelligent toilet'' that comes complete with voice-activation, a heated seat, ''mood lighting'' and advanced bidet functionality.

At $6,000 a pop, the cost per poop ratio probably guarantees you won't be seeing it in the average household any time soon.

Bang & Olufsen BeoSound Shape, from €4,000 - Create a literal wall of sound as you match your speakers to your room's decor by customising the shape and colours, bang-olufsen.com
Bang & Olufsen BeoSound Shape, from €4,000 - Create a literal wall of sound as you match your speakers to your room's decor by customising the shape and colours, bang-olufsen.com
Hydrao smart shower head, €69.90 - Designed to help you reduce water consumption, this head fits any standard shower and doesn't need batteries, hydrao.com
Hydrao smart shower head, €69.90 - Designed to help you reduce water consumption, this head fits any standard shower and doesn't need batteries, hydrao.com

Sunday Independent

Life Newsletter

Our digest of the week's juiciest lifestyle titbits.

Editors Choice

Also in Life