The Internet of Things. Connected devices. The devices we use in our everyday lives are getting a makeover, and with that makeover comes an unprecedented amount of control over and automation in our homes. Lights know when to turn off and on. The house is already cooled down when you get home from work. Menial tasks fade into the background.
Though so-called smart homes (have you seen Honda's?) are still largely a thing of the future, many gadgets are available right now that will transform your domicile into a connected haven that you can control entirely through your smartphone.
Slapping for light switches, stumbling through the dark to find the lamp, and waking up to the sound of a grating alarm are all quickly becoming a thing of the past. With smart lighting, the lights in rooms can be programmed to turn on at certain times of the day, dimming in the late evening hours and turning off past midnight, as an example. Alarms can be replaced with lights that slowly illuminate to simulate sunrise. The kids forgot to turn off the hallway light? You can do it yourself using your smartphone.
All these are benefits that come with connected light bulbs, with offerings including things like the Philips hue and GE's smart bulbs. For those who would rather use their favorite ordinary light bulbs but want the same type of lighting control, a so-called smart socket is the solution, such as the newly unveiled Emberlight.
As mentioned above, a connected device that automates the temperature in your home is a convenient way to both save energy and avoid waiting for the place to heat up or cool down, depending on season. Rather than turning the heat up in the morning and turning it back down when you leave, a smart thermostat will learn your habits or operate according to your configuration to do the work for you
Nest's smart thermostat is perhaps the most notable offering in this category, but other options exist as well: there's the Honeywell Lyric (check out our hands-on), and even Spark.io's open source alternative for those who like to tinker.
On their own, no single thing takes up much of your time: flipping a light switch, turning up the thermostat, or adjusting the temperature of your slow cooker. When combined, however, they add up into a bigger chunk of time, one you didn't realize you were missing until these tasks are no longer necessary. That's where smart appliances come in, and there's one for every lifestyle.
There's the new smart slow cooker from Crock-Pot, which offers WeMo and a couple mobile apps that offer total control over the device, from adjusting the temperature to shutting it off. If sous-vide is more your style, there's the "kitchen robot". Smart appliances aren't limited to just cooking, however, with everything from Internet-connected refrigerators to robotic vacuums existing to make your life easier.