2014 was year of growth for the home automation industry. So many start-ups and ideas flourished from viral Kickstarter campaigns while the tech behemoths of Microsoft, Apple, Samsung and Google opened their smart home platforms to third-party innovations.
If you have someone special in your life who loves new tech, this year could definitely be the time to buy some clever gifts that connect homes to the Internet of Things. Home automation gadgets not only make the perfect Christmas gift for people who love technology, but also for anyone keen to make their life easier.
Here are six great smart-home gadgets that any gift recipient would love to find underneath the Christmas tree:
1. Ninja Sphere
The all-in-one smart home hub, Ninja Sphere, is set to make home automation a whole lot easier (and less expensive). The device has been created to make all of a home’s devices work together, connecting gadgets around the house into one central hub. The Sphere interacts with an app that it suitable for both iOS and Android devices. The system allows users to set rules for how devices interact with each other based on inputs from any of the connected appliances.
For example, pet owners can set up the Sphere to unlock a smart-locked door when their four-legged friend (wearing a smart tag) needs to go outside. Or home owners can save energy by turning lights on and off in their house, according to the room that they’re in at the time.
The Ninja Sphere is designed to work with a variety of devices, reducing the need to go out and buy only products from the one brand. According to Ninja’s website, the Sphere will work with products in areas such as lighting, cameras, motion sensors, power, watches, tags and media.
The hub is currently available for pre-order on Ninja’s website at US$329, including free worldwide shipping.
2. Philips Hue
A simple way to start incorporating automation into the home is through a system like the Philips Hue light bulbs. The well-regarded Wi-Fi system allows home owners to control the colour of their lights from the convenience of their smart phone. Hue LED light bulbs plug quickly and easily into the same fittings as normal bulbs, meaning no electricians need to be called, or large expenses outlaid.
The bulbs connect to a main Hue hub, or “Bridge”, that plugs into the home’s Internet router. (The Hub can connect up to 50 light bulbs). This integration allows users to control the colour and on/off function of their lights from their phone, tablet or computer, even when not in the house. The Hue lighting starter kit is sold through Harvey Norman and the Apple Store for $249. The kit includes the Bridge, three light bulbs, and the required cables to set up the system.
3. Dropcam Pro
Anyone looking to install a home security system at low cost would appreciate the Dropcam Pro. This Internet-connected video camera doubles not just as a security device, but also as a baby monitor or a remote-viewing gadget to keep an eye on pets at home.
Dropcam connects to the Wi-Fi network in the user’s home, and sends ongoing video footage to a cloud storage system that can be easily accessed remotely. Home owners can therefore view the camera’s feed from anywhere, and at any time they desire. In addition, the gadget sends notifications to a user’s smart phone anytime it detects sound or motion in the home. Dropcam can be purchased from the Dropcam website or online stores like Amazon for US$199.
4. Amazon Echo
Online shopping institution Amazon has recently entered the home automation market. The company’s new connected smart speaker, the Amazon Echo, is a voice-activated speaker.
This device provides not only great sound, but also brings automation to a household. The Echo can perform a variety of tasks such as answering a user’s questions, creating shopping and to-do lists, and setting timers. The technology can also set up voice-controlled alarms, give directions, and supply information it gleans from the web. Amazon Echo can be controlled via smart phones and tablets, and also features seven microphones and enhanced noise cancellation. These additions mean that the system can hear voice commands even over the sound of music being streamed into a room.
For now, the Echo is available to Amazon Prime members only. Those “elite” customers can register their interest for the product on Amazon’s website and request an invitation to purchase the device. Early purchasers will pay USD$99 for the Echo, a saving of $100 off the regular price.
5. Withings Activite Smartwatch
Tech and design lovers are sure to appreciate the Withings Activite Smartwatch. On top of stunning design, the Swiss-made watch is chock full of handy functions. These include a distance tracker, to take note of a user’s movement throughout the day; a calorie tracker; and a sleep monitor that wakes wearers up with light vibrations at optimum rising time. In addition, the Activite also syncs with smart phones. This means that, as the user moves time zones or their phone updates, the watch updates in sync.
The Activite’s first release has sold out already, but eager buyers can register their interest in the next batch of products on the Withings website. The watch retails for USD$450.
6. Netgear WiFi Range Extenders
Considering that so many smart home products rely on a connection to the Internet, it’s important to have reliable service and coverage. Items such as the Netgear WiFi Range Extenders help home owners ensure that no “dead zones” occur in their house. Boosters such as these help keep devices connected to WiFi all day long with a reliable connection and expanded coverage that can reach more of the home than a main wireless router can. Netgear makes a number of WiFi range extenders at various price points from $79AUD to $120AUD. Products can be found at Bing Lee, Harvey Norman, JB HiFi and online.