If you're as much of a techie as I am, you may dream about the world of the future where everything's automated and you control your environment with your voice. We're not there yet, but technology has evolved to the point where you can remotely control a good portion of your home environment. And the best news is that you can do it from your iPhone or iPad. Whether you want to view your security cameras, unlock your front door, adjust your thermostat, dim your lights, play a different song in every room, or even pause your TiVo, you're in luck. "There's an app for that."
However, adding environmental control capabilities to your house is a little more involved (and expensive) than simply downloading a few apps. When I did it to my house, it involved running wires to different parts of the house and installing a lot of home automation equipment. For example, I had speakers installed in every room and replaced every light switch with Z-Wave-enabled dimmers. (Z-Wave is a wireless home automation control protocol.) Here are some of the accessories and apps I used.
The Schlage LiNK (link.schlage.com) system is one of the most consumer-friendly home automation platforms available. It provides the ability to control Z-Wave-enabled door locks, light dimmers, electrical switches, security cameras, and thermostats from both the Schlage LiNK iPhone app (free, app2.me/3053) and a Web interface. Control is delivered through a cloud-based service that provides simple, secure access to your system from outside your home system's firewall, anywhere in the world.
Compared to many other systems I've tried, Schlage LiNK was a breeze to install; I got it up and running in just a couple of hours.
The Schlage LiNK starter kit ($299, link.schlage.com/Products/Pages/KeypadLeverStarterKit.aspx) comes with a deadbolt or lever keypad lock, a lamp controller, and Z-Wave base station. Additional keypad deadbolt or lever locks can be added for $199, a Trane thermostat for $149, and additional light controllers for $49 each. Because it is Z-Wave compliant, you can use most other Z-Wave accessories with the system. I had already installed Z-Wave adapters on every light in my house and was able to control them with my iPhone as soon as I configured the system.
The interface on the iPhone app is pretty simple, but it could be improved by reducing the number of taps needed to dim a light from two to one. However, comparable systems can cost many times as much and lack the same mobile control capabilities from your iPhone. The Schlage LiNK system is probably the best value you can find for a home automation system.
I love listening to music, and Sonos is a music-lover's dream come true. The platform, which includes physical hardware and software, allows you to control whatever music you want to play in any room in your house, either independently or grouped together. For instance, I can be listening to a Pandora radio station in my master bedroom and bridge that music into my master bathroom, to create a single zone of music. So if my wife is listening to a separate Rhapsody playlist in the kitchen, and I decided that I wanted to hear that too, I could bridge my zones and listen to what's playing in the kitchen. I also love how it comes with the capability to support Audible audio books. If I'm listening to a book in my office and decide to move to the living room, I can move the audio from my office to my living room without missing a word.
The best part is, the entire system can be controlled using Sonos Controller (free, app2.me/3054) from your iPhone, iPod, or iPad. Even though I have dedicated Sonos controllers, I find that I don't use them nearly as much as the app running on my iPhone or iPad. The current Sonos app is my most-used apps on my iPad, and they recently released their iPad-optimized version that provides an absolutely incredible user experience.
More home automation solutions coming
Now that companies like Schlage and Sonos have proven that useable solutions can be successful, other vendors will jump into the home automation space. And if solution providers leverage an existing device like the iPhone or iPad as a system's control, they can reduce costs and make their home automation solution even more attractive. If you've had an interesting experience with home automation, or have a favorite app or accessory relating to it, please drop me an e-mail at email@example.com—I'd love to hear about it.