As 2018 gets into gear, many are predicting that this year the smart home revolution will enter the stratosphere.
Domestic automation has never been more advanced or more affordable, so what are some of the devices and systems that are set to define the next 12 months?
The Hubs To Watch
Back when Apple first introduced Siri with the iPhone 4S in 2011, the idea of talking aloud to a voice-controlled virtual assistant seemed faintly preposterous. Cut to seven years later and people are much more at home with the concept, not least because the rise of smart speakers and hubs has helped to eliminate a lot of these inhibitions.
By far the most prominent product range in this niche at the moment is offered by online shopping stalwart Amazon. The Echo family of smart speakers, including the full sized model, the more compact Echo Dot and the touchscreen-toting Echo Show, have brought Alexa into millions of homes worldwide. And in doing so, expectations about what smart home hubs should offer have skyrocketed.
From allowing users to order their groceries and play tracks from Spotify to integrating controls with home cinema systems and a slew of other connected tech, Echo in combination with Alexa is giving the masses a glimpse of a smarter future. Amazon’s solution is by no means perfect, but it has the benefit of a huge public profile that could help it to steamroll the competition.
Discerning fans of home automation who are looking for a hub that goes a little deeper and leans towards the premium end of the price scale will probably turn to the Wink Hub 2 in their droves this year. It lacks the brand recognition of the Echo range, but packs a huge list of features and impressive compatibility capabilities, allowing it to work with everything from the smart light bulbs sold by Philips to the voice-controlled Home speaker championed by search giant Google.
Critics have raved not only about the Wink Hub 2’s excellence when it comes to interoperability with other devices, but also its consistency. While some hubs might suffer glitches and ticks, this is solid as a rock and the gold standard for unobtrusive operation. Furthermore its sleek looks lend themselves to being displayed in contemporary living spaces.
The Cameras to Consider
A big part of the growing interest in smart automation has been driven by the superior security and surveillance capabilities that homeowners can access without having to splash out vast sums on complex, wired CCTV setups. Being able to monitor a property remotely via a smartphone is another asset offered by modern devices. But the upcoming crop of cameras kicks things up a notch.
Netgear is arguably ahead of the pack with its Arlo range, encompassing outdoor cameras that are built with smart home functionality in mind. The Arlo Pro 2 is the current flagship, and this is reflected in its fairly steep price point. But with a beautiful design ethos, 1080p video capture, cloud storage and compatibility with Amazon’s Alexa for streamlined voice control, it goes a long way to justifying this.
The less wallet-punishing options around today include the Secure Lynx Indoor from Tend Insights. The brand name may not carry much weight, but it more than makes up for it with its wealth of baked-in features. Impressive after-dark performance means that it is great for overnight in-home surveillance, while its extremely compact form factor makes it easy to install almost anywhere without being intrusive or unsightly.
For those who have already started out on their smart home journey by committing to the systems offered by Nest, the firm’s latest Cam IQ Outdoor may be at the top of the wish list this year. It can record video at full 4K resolutions and goes above and beyond the call of duty in terms of both security and convenience by having the ability to distinguish between humans and wildlife. This means that it is less likely to alert owners unnecessarily if the only thing intruding on their property is next door’s tabby cat.
The Quirky Outliers
Smart home tech makes sense to most people when it comes to things like controlling the heating, providing access to entertainment and delivering remotely accessible surveillance. But as the Internet of Things continues to expand, there are some new devices on the horizon which you might not expect will be joining its ranks.
The Precision Cooker from Avona is amongst the most intriguing of these outliers, with its latest iteration offering built-in Wi-Fi connectivity so that it can be monitored and managed wherever you happen to be. Whether you are in the other room or on the other side of town, this immersion circulator lets you rustle up some succulent grub using your smartphone to check on its progress. Its boil-in-the-bag approach might not be for everyone, but its futuristic design is hard to ignore.
Even fitness is finding its way into the smart home scene, with the new QardioBase 2 connected scale system able to collect a vast amount of data on a user’s body, letting them keep tabs on their progress through a mobile app.
More than anything the QardioBase 2 manages to get its aesthetics right. It is slim, circular and subtle, seeming to float above the floor and almost begging to be left on display to be used daily, rather than tossed in a cupboard and neglected. It is just another example of how home automation is making life easier while keeping us safer and healthier in one fell swoop.