Simplify, streamline, and soup up your daily life—morning 'til night—with these game-changing gadgets.
Mark Ellwood 1 / 5
Wake Up to a Brighter Future
In a world of self-driving cars and smartphones with thumbprint scans, it shouldn’t come as a shock to see marketers selling things like backyard “telegardens” tended to by green-thumbed robots, dog collars that alert you when your Labrador’s running a fever, and toothbrushes that collect “hygiene data.” But welcome to “the Internet of Things,” or “IoT”—which, as silly and brazenly Jetsons-esque as it sounds, is the catchall term for all the new, Internet-enabled products that early adopters promise will populate our homes and ultimately make our lives easier.
It’s a movement that sprang to life with the 2011 arrival of Nest, the smart thermostat gobbled up by Google.
“This is what happens when computers get so cheap you can literally put a chip in just about anything,” says influential IoT designer Alexandra Deschamps-Sonsino.
But, ever the skeptic with my wallet—especially when it comes to new tech—I decided to dive deep into the IoT wormhole, talking to experts and trying out new products, to see which futuristic items, if any, actually live up to the hype. What I discovered is that you don’t strike gold with every gizmo—but if you sift through enough of these (sometimes gimmicky) products, you eventually find a few nuggets.
Check out these seven products—divided into four different levels of tech factor—that promise to revolutionize your life (or at least the lightbulbs in your house).
Countless IoT products purport to improve home security—chiefly remote cameras and alarms. Frankly, I’m no fan of any of them, because they seem to fuel paranoia more than anything else. (Sure, you can see your apartment’s being robbed, but what good is that unless the camera alerts the authorities immediately?)
So, instead of buying into one of the many CCTV systems out there, I’d suggest shelling out for the August SmartLock (shown, $199, august.com).
The SmartLock replaces your conventional deadbolt with a device that lets you lock or unlock your door using a smartphone, whether you’re on the doorstep or 10 miles away. This is especially useful if you’re renting your apartment out on Airbnb and want a temporary digital key for a guest, or need to unlock the door so your friendly FedEx guy can deliver a package when you’re not home.
Best of all, August has a bona fide pedigree: It (along with other great items) was conceived by Yves Béhar, the renowned industrial designer behind the Jambox speaker and Jawbone headset, and has been successfully sold for two years. It looks good and is truly easy to install in about 15 minutes using just a standard screwdriver. The SmartLock also operates on standard batteries that need replacing only once a year. Plus, it has nifty features like Auto-Unlock, which geolocates you via your phone and opens the door when you approach.
And if you’re dead set on keeping a watchful eye on your house, shell out for August’s Wi-Fi-enabled Doorbell Cam ($199) and Connect box ($79) as well.
Most major electronics firms have made ham-fisted attempts at creating IoT devices (see: Whirlpool’s Web-enabled WTF washing machine). Philips, meanwhile, managed a seriously well-executed exception.
The Philips Hue lighting starter system (shown, $200, meethue.com) lets you turn ordinary lamps and lights into a light show worthy of the Vegas Strip. It comes with a control bridge and three smart LED multicolor bulbs; additional bulbs are available for about $60 each. (Sure, that’s pricey, but if it helps to know, they’re made to last around 15,000 hours, or more than a year and a half.)
Each bulb is individually controlled by the Hue app on your smartphone (free on iOS and Android), so you can turn it any color with just a swipe. You can preprogram the app to tweak the lighting at a certain time of day, or even to slowly brighten in the morning for a gentler “alarm” using the built-in Sunrise program. And if you’re going away, you can set the bulbs to switch on or off to suggest someone’s home.
You’re not limited by built-in settings, either: With a few clicks you can create and store a custom “scene,” so you can use your favorite team’s colors to ramp up the spirit before a big game, or strike the right mood with sexy lighting after a successful date.
With your home now secure and perfectly lit, you’re ready to move from the basics to a couple of slightly stranger, but very useful, IoT innovations.
At first glance, the Drop Scale (shown, $99, getdrop.com), which pairs a weighing scale with an app on your Apple device, might seem like a gimmick. Look closer, though, and you’ll find a clever kitchen gizmo that makes cooking such a no-brainer you’ll have no excuse for blowing your eating regimen on lazy take-out.
Here’s how it works: Choose a recipe from the hundreds available on the Drop app. (The company’s also working on app tweaks to allow users to add their own.) As you add each ingredient to a bowl you place on top of the scale, the app will signal you when the right quantity has been reached—no measuring spoons or cups required. It can even suggest a simple substitution if you’re out of an ingredient or, if you have less of something than the recipe calls for, recalibrate all the measurements to go with it. It’s programmable, too, so you can cook one meal or an entire week’s without fiddling with calculations.
And, bonus: The firm just added cocktail recipes—so once dinner’s in the oven, use Drop to mix the perfect aperitif, then sip, smugly, as you wait.
The other intriguing IoT gizmo is one of those rare Kickstarter success stories you hear about. Sammy Screamer Motion Alarm ($43, bleepbleeps.com) is a tiny, triangular motion sensor that’s Bluetooth enabled and has a magnetized back and hanging loop. Attach it to an object, and if it’s moved, it will emit a high-pitched scream (at whatever volume you set) and send an alert to its Android or iOS app up to 100 feet away.
It’s designed to be a parenting tool (think booby-trapped jars of cookies), but I think it’s the perfect theft-proofing device hidden in the frame of a pricey bicycle, or stashed in the backpack hanging on your chair in a coffee shop.
If you’re just dabbling in IoT products, you can skip this section. But if you plan to go off the rails with a dozen or more Internet-enabled products (which can drag your Wi-Fi down to dial-up slow) and even time them to work together (say, to program your Hue lights to trigger within seconds of your August lock activating), you’re going to need a hub.
To make sure you can operate all your IoT devices seamlessly together, buy only products flagged as using Z-Wave. Put simply, there are countless competing IoT systems—nerd back-end technology that’s involved in Internet connectivity but is mutually incompatible—and in my experience, Z-Wave is the most commonplace and possibly the best of them.
You can also opt for Yonomi (free on iOS and Android, yonomi.co), an app that subs for this hardware, detecting and controlling smart devices from almost every major IoT brand from your smartphone.
However, if you do see yourself enthusiastically buying into the IoT movement, here’s one last piece of advice: Be cautious with crowdfunded gizmos.
“About a third of the projects never see the light of day—the failure rate is very high,” says designer Deschamps-Sonsino. “If you see something you like, put a reminder in your calendar for six months from now, to see if they delivered or not.”
You’ll want to put that same patience to use when trying out any new product. This tech is pioneering, and it’s prone to hiccups—both Nest and Wink have had multiple user-reported glitches over the past year. Think of it as the price of impressing your buddies with your cutting-edge tech. That “world of tomorrow”? It’s already here.