Reduce life’s little annoyances with the latest automated tech for your home. Here are four ways to make your busy life a bit easier
Picture never using a TV remote, light switch or scribbled shopping list again. Or, never having to worry if your pet has been fed, calling your kids to the dinner table, or pressing a button to hear your favourite song. With voice-activated assistants and the latest smart home technology, many of life’s chores and annoyances are simply being erased.
What’s more, home automation is growing more affordable, more accessible and more intuitive every day. There are voice assistants, smart lightbulbs and digital doorbells that sell for under $50. It all adds up to the prediction that smart homes will soon be like smartphones – ubiquitous.
There’s no need to worry about leaving lights on once your home is equipped with smart lighting, complete with timers and scheduled lighting moods. Sleep mode allows lights to automatically switch on if someone gets up in the night, and if you’re out of town, your lights can mimic your behaviour to make it look like you’re home. While you can set up a full smart lighting system so your home lights up as you walk through it, you can also buy individual voice-activated LED bulbs, such as those in the Philips Hue range, for a few key areas.
The Nanoleaf product is only available online and not available in stores.
2. Important items
Misplacing things like your keys or your bag can be infuriating when you’re busy and ready to rush out the door. Save time and never lose an important item again with the help of a Tile Mate. This cost-effective finder can be easily attached to everyday things which can then be tracked via Bluetooth. With a range of 200 ft. this smart little device will save precious minutes in your hectic schedule.
Streaming services, smart TVs and wifi- and Bluetooth-enabled speakers have brought smart audio and video into the mainstream. You probably already stream content on various devices, but integrating these devices into your home will take your tech experience to the next level.
“Whatever audio and video equipment is selected for your home, the key part that makes it all usable, which is missed by all but the specialists, is the control system,” says Dan Howard from The Audio Consultant, who specialises in audio and video automation and creates custom home theatre rooms.
It’s not that expensive to streamline your audio and video systems, he says. Pricing depends on the scope of the project and existing infrastructure, but “most owners of lounge-room TV and audio systems could eliminate the pile of remotes on the coffee table, simplify their control and add smart music streaming for under $2000”.
Your outdoor area can be as tech-savvy as your home’s interior, from heating, security and audio systems to cordless lawnmowers and pool cleaners and intuitive awnings and screens which open or close to suit weather conditions.
Smart, eco-friendly irrigation systems can be set up to ensure a scheduled watering won’t go ahead if it has rained or if it is forecast to rain that day. Outdoor lights can be activated at sunrise and sunset, connected to alarm systems or triggered by the opening of a door or gate.
Style tip: Look out for speakers and other tech in sculptural shapes, on-trend colours or cool retro designs – or opt for discreet styles if you prefer the ‘invisible’ look.
Privacy is an important consideration with the advent of new technology. Charles Mabbett, spokesperson for the Office of the Privacy Commissioner, recommends that consumers purchase products from companies that value and prioritise customer privacy.
“Learn about the product you are looking at buying,” he says. “Do your homework. Understand how it collects information, what information it collects and how the company intends to use that information. And if the manufacturers allow you, learn how to turn off the features that concern you.”
But are voice-activated assistants really listening to, and recording, everything you say? Yes, says Martin Cocker, CEO of Netsafe. “Smart devices that respond to voice commands are constantly listening for their wake word,” he says.
“However, the major players have confirmed that they only capture and use the information provided after the wake word, with all other recordings being discarded. This means those services are not listening to your conversations or providing services based on them. While scepticism remains, as far as these claims can be externally verified, they have been found to be accurate.”
In addition, there is the risk of being hacked, with Charles Mabbett saying that some connected devices can have weak security. Martin confirms that Netsafe has had a report from someone who believed their smart home device was compromised.
Privacy tip: Remember that anything you say after a command prompt – eg “Hey Siri” or “Okay Google” – is being recorded and logged by the service.
Interior designer Annick Larkin, worked with Antenna Co to set up smart lighting, Yale digital locks, a Ring doorbell camera and alert system, smart alarm system, security lights and smart TVs.
“One advantage is that we no longer have to carry keys,” says Annick. “We can go out for a walk and literally take nothing with us! We simply unlock the door with our phones or use the digital pin pad.”
Annick also says the system is “super easy” for the kids to use. “For added peace of mind we can arm and disarm our alarm system remotely, plus we can access a live feed from our security cameras at any time from our phones, so even when we are away we can keep an eye on the house and any comings and goings.”
Smart home safety tips with Martin Cocker, Netsafe CEO
- Use unique passwords and two-factor authentication for all online accounts connected to a smart home device.
- Restrict purchasing/payment permissions especially if there are children in the home. Accounts can be configured to require explicit authorisation or passcodes when payment is required.
- Turn off personalised results where possible to protect your personal data. Your information is collected to create a custom marketing profile but this can be disabled/reset with most services.
- Routinely check bank statements and emails for any payments or orders you never requested. The sooner you dispute a charge the more likely you are to stop a bogus order using your details.
- Consider turning off or muting your smart speaker/digital assistant when it is not in use.
- Keep your devices up to date. Devices will have new features added and system upgrades rolled out periodically. If you’re prompted for an update, it’s important to follow through.
- Consider covering the camera in your smart device when not in use so people can’t see what’s happening inside your home.
New to smart homes?
A Q&A with Micah Dickson, Noel Leeming Tech Solutions Expert
What are some key considerations for people who want to set up smart technology in their home?
Some things you may consider before embarking on your AI adventure are your internet connection, tech skill level and desired outcome. Over half my visits are to give recommendations on fixing a home wifi network. We often suggest upgrading the router or using a mesh network (multiple access points throughout the home).
How does Noel Leeming help those new to smart homes?
Smart home products aren’t hard to use but they can be tricky to set up. We recommend a Tech Solutions Specialist or our myTechSolution service and product protection bundle. Whether it’s music throughout your house, a daily schedule read out to you, or ambient lighting on cue, it’s all achievable with smart home tech and our free service provided by in-home consultations. We will provide expert advice and instructions that will give you confidence on your journey to creating your own smart home.
What home automation products would you suggest for first-time buyers?
Smart TV, Amazon or Google AI voice assistant and wireless smart speakers. Wireless speakers are easy to control and provide atmosphere. Some of the more advanced speakers can be used as intercoms, AI voice assistants, or to take TV sound throughout the home. Taking phone calls or using a smartphone while you’re busy in the kitchen can be problematic – but with smart speakers, phone calls are easy, converting cooking measures is a breeze and switching on a song or the radio can be done without lifting a finger.
What are some of the latest home tech?
Personal security camera systems, such as Arlo, Ring, Nest, and Swann, provide apps for 24/7, worldwide viewing. Being able to easily check in with family, friends, the house or the bach is something many people think is too expensive or requires a level of expertise that’s beyond them. With smart security cameras, alerts come directly to your phone or tablet. This gives you the ability to rest easy as you see your pet or family return home, or see who arrives at your door whether you are at home, in the garden or out and about, and to alert police or security if needed.
For more smart home tech head to Noel Leeming.co.nz
Words by: Fiona Ralph