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Smart Phones Create Smarter Homes

By Nicole Dunbar

Flashback to the 1980s. Personal computers had just been invented, and technology such as

CD’s, the Walkman and cassette tapes were the epitome of high technology.

The concept of a “smart home,” especially one controlled by a smart phone, seemed confined to the imagination and cartoons such as “The Jetsons.”

Even today, the concept still seems far-fetched, despite the recent AT&T TV commercial showing a father turning off the water, locking the door and arming the security system of the family home while on the porch of a vacation cottage.

We may not be in the Jetsons era yet, but smart homes are on the rise, even here in the Fox Cities.

“In fact,” says George Webster, general manager of Suess Electronics in Appleton, “our very first home automation ‘smart home’ installations started back in the 1990s.”

Today’s smart homes include technology that integrates the audio, video, heating/cooling, lighting, door locks, security systems and more into one simple automated process, Webster says. As he points out, most of today’s consumers would not buy a car without this sort of technology, so why should homes be any different?

Some of the most popular of Suess’ services include home automation, flat panel television installation and home theaters. These technologies have become an essential aspect of smart homes.

In 2012, 66 million smart TVs were sold, and that number has not stopped climbing.

These wireless home networks rely on the communication between computers, televisions, Services such as these not only make homes smarter, but they also make life easier for home owners, especially since the programs can be run from devices that most of today’s consumers already own computers and smart phones.

In reality we are already almost there with services such as Hulu, Netflix, Pandora Radio and such.” smart phones, tablets and more. This communication provides services such as wireless printing and streaming movies from a computer in one room to a TV in another.

They will also allow you to “talk” with your appliances if you choose.

Long awaited smart appliances are appearing in the marketplace. At this year’s Consumer Electronics Show, an annual glimpse into the future held in Las Vegas each January, manufacturers such as GE, Samsung and LG debuted products that enable washing machines, robotic vacuum cleaners and refrigerators to tie into a home network and respond to text or other messages.

With the right setup, a microwave could search the Internet for the best settings to cook food while your refrigerator could tell you what groceries you need.

The next big challenge for manufactures and installers, getting all those different brands to talk with each other. But, one step at a time.

“Imagine you’re away on vacation and realize you left the thermostat set at 72 degrees or left a closet light on. IntelligentHome lets you make adjustments remotely using a PC or smartphone,” says Jack Herbert, Regional Vice President of Time Warner Cable. “You can also temporarily disarm the system so a neighbor can come in to check the house. You can even watch live video of your pets at home. The service really brings customers a whole new level of peace of mind and convenience.”

Services such as these not only make homes smarter, but they also make life easier for home owners, especially since the programs can be run from devices that most of today’s consumers already own computers and smart phones.

“The proliferation of smart phones with ‘always-on’ data connections are very useful in today’s world,” Webster says.

According to Digby.com, 56 percent of American adults are now smart phone owners, which makes smart home technology easier to access than ever before.

It is important to note, though, that a smart home cannot be achieved with simple hardware or devices from a generic store. An upgraded wiring infrastructure is usually necessary, which is where companies such as Suess and Time Warner come into play.

These companies are making smart home installations more common and realistic, and in turn making them more affordable. In an article for “GIGAOM,” Kevin C. Tofel estimates that by 2017, there will be around 21.5 million smarts home in Europe and North America—an incredible leap from the 2.3 million in 2013.

If technology has made our homes this smart, what else is in store?

Webster says its hard to predict too far into the future because of the speed at which technology changes. However, he is pretty certain that physical media is going away and home entertainment will soon be an all streaming, all the time experience.

“Although it is challenging to predict the future precisely of course, we feel that in the medium term we will see the end of physical media such as music discs and movie discs,” he says. “Instead, we will have instant gratification access to our entertainment.

While they might not be wiring for the microwave just yet, Time Warner Cable, recently introduced its IntelligentHome

system that provides customers with safer, more energy efficient homes. The system enables home owners to control the security settings, lighting and heating and cooling of their home from a computer or smart phone when they are away from the house.

—FC

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