Controlling a whole house from a smartphone may sound like science fiction, but it's more feasible than you might think. Thanks to price cuts, advances in tech and better software support, Internet of Things (IoT) technology is no longer just the domain of the early adopter. These six products are an ideal starting gift for people interested in getting their home connected to the future.
Nest Learning Thermostat ($249)
The thinking thermostat. Nest learns the house temperature patterns, setting it at similar temperatures every week and detecting when the home is empty. Nest is also controllable via Wi-Fi. Warm the house up before arriving home, or switch off the central heating on the way out the door. Nest can even detect when someone is nearby, lighting up the display to show the temperature hands-free. The Nest does not, however, support Apple's HomeKit system, so those deeply embedded in the Apple ecosystem may want to look elsewhere for Siri voice controls.
Philips Hue Wireless Ambiance Starter Kit ($199.95)
This kit comes with three bulbs and the "Hue bridge" base station. The system can connect up to 50 bulbs together, and it's all controllable from a smartphone or tablet. Hue lightbulbs can change color, allowing for a wide range of mood-lighting scenarios. Hue really shows the potential for all these smart home-connected appliances: The Syfy series "12 Monkeys" used the bulbs to add an extra dimension to the viewing experience. Audio cues from the show would trigger specific lighting patterns, making for a truly immersive experience.
Petzi Treat Cam ($169.99)
Ever wonder what the dog is up to when the house is empty? The Petzi Treat Cam has a camera for keeping an eye on pets, with Wi-Fi connectivity for viewing anywhere with an internet connection. A built-in speaker accepts voice messages, so the family pet need never feel left out when home alone. The device can even dispense treats.
Anova Precision Cooker Wi-Fi ($199.95)
This uses sous vide precision cooking to heat food in a saucepan. Put the food in a bag, pop it in a saucepan with water, choose a curated recipe, and press start. The Anova Precision Cooker cooks it to perfection. No need to even be in the same house: Anova's Wi-Fi connectivity means food can start cooking via remote activation from a smartphone. After the process is complete, the food is ready to eat. The dish can also be seared in a pan if desired, for example to give a steak a harder coating.
iDevices Switch ($59)
This clever little box sits between the plug socket and the appliance, connecting to a smartphone or tablet anywhere in the world. Switch on the fan before getting home from work, switch off the lights from the comfort of your bed, or make sure the appliances are switched off while on holiday. The system comes with full HomeKit support for Siri voice activation, and even supports scenes that group together multiple switches. Set up a "garden" scene that automatically turns on the outdoor lights and switches the indoor lights off, or set up a "morning" scene that switches the coffee maker on and turns on the TV.
Apple TV (32GB $149)
It may seem like an unusual addition to the list, but an Apple TV helps power HomeKit-enabled devices remotely. Products that support HomeKit will accept Siri commands from connected iOS devices like "set the temperature to 66 degrees" or "turn off the lights," but normally these commands work only at home. Connecting an Apple TV up to the same Wi-Fi network enables remote Siri commands, like "turn on the kettle" when you're driving toward home. If a home has a lot of HomeKit devices, this is highly recommended.