The home of the future… It’s here! How apps will soon run our lives by remote control
Every year, the world of technology comes up with a buzzword that plunges me into a black mood so profound that I’d reach into my drawer for my service revolver – had my wife allowed me to decorate my office the way I wanted.
Sadly, my desk doesn’t even have a crystal decanter of whisky in the corner, never mind a gun drawer.
This year, that phrase is ‘the internet of things’.
Californians spout this sort of garbage effortlessly, of course, but otherwise sane British people have begun to drop this verbal dirty bomb into idle chat, despite many not understanding it in the slightest.
You might wonder why ‘things’ need an internet, but the idea isn’t that wheelie bins are going to start their own glum blogs – instead, ‘things’ like Belkin’s Crock-Pot, a Wi-Fi-enabled slow cooker, respond to commands from an app (such as ‘Cook my dinner’) delivered, for instance, as you leave the office.
This sort of stuff has been hyped for decades but it never quite worked, unless you had thousands to spend, and didn’t mind practically demolishing your home to wire it up, in order to listen to CDs in the bath.
Generally speaking, ‘Smart Home’ systems used to be a pretty good indicator of a gentleman with too much disposable income, and often an intellect around the level of a garden snail.
Footballers loved them, naturally. Craig David had one in his old Hampstead flat, with control panels right next to the six-seater hot tub and indoor waterfall.
Now it’s the turn of sane, ordinary people – courtesy of systems that work simply via Wi-Fi, with silly control panels replaced by apps.
Belkin already offers light switches and other gizmos that can be controlled via the same app, as does EnergyEgg.
And it’s a testament to the heroic laziness of Britons that we’re already buying them, saving us from intolerable chores such as getting up from the sofa to twiddle the dimmer switch.
Maplin says sales of such gizmos were up 50 per cent this Christmas.
And consider the $3.2 billion Google just paid for Nest, a company whose main product is a web-connected thermostat.
Sure, the controls on the average boiler are a bit fiddly, but that’s enough money for a nuclear defence system. Maybe they just had problems with the air-con at the office, and it was an impulse buy. Google could do that.
But it’s clear that ‘smart things’ are a real trend – and now aimed at real people, not Craig David.
Systems shown off at Las Vegas’s Consumer Electronics Show added extras such as control over the curtains, music systems and air conditioning – and even, scarily, the front door lock, all controlled via an app over Wi-Fi.
I fully expect battles over who has ‘the app’ to make previous decades’ fights over the TV remote look like polite, reasoned debates.
These apps – from makers such as Zonoff, Canary and Ambient Devices – will probably be mentioned in divorce cases.
‘He had Brothers In Arms in the toilet on a loop, for four years – and he put a lock on his phone.’
The new systems have big icons and a lightswitch-esque simplicity, which means you could hand one to aged relatives without (much) fear of that call where they go, ‘This app thingy – is it supposed to make the boiler explode?’
It’s going to keep coming too. In ten years’ time, most homes will have 50 ‘smart’ objects, according to the Organisation for Economic Co-Operation and Development – although, for the life of me, I can’t quite imagine needing quite that many ‘smart’ things.
A sofa that says, ‘You have gained 5lb, you pig’? A ‘smart’ comb that tracks hair loss, day by day? I wait with interest…