Why Tablets Are The Key To Making Smart Homes Go Mainstream

Easy-to-use, multi-functionality and widespread use of tablets and new services built for them are switching the smart home concept into a reality.

Portability, versatility and increasing computer performance of tablets are bringing completely new experiences, changing how we enjoy entertainment, shop, gather information, communicate and blend our digital and real worlds. This series by PSFK and Intel explores how improving tablet capabilities are changing the status quo in many aspects of our lives.

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The notion of a smart home has been around for decades. New digital home security services, smart wireless door locks, Internet-connected thermostats and other technologies have become more common for home owners in recent years, but the thing most responsible for pushing the digital home trend into the mainstream just might be the rise in tablet computers.

The Nest Learning Thermostat, recently acquired by Google for $3.2 billion, may be one of the more popular smart home technologies in recent years, but the sheer number of tablets being sold cannot be ignored. While there are many devices and services are bringing homes into the bigger trend known as the Internet of Things, tablet computers stand out because of their easy-to-use, multi-functionality and widespread use.

Morgan Stanley analyst Scott Devitt recently estimated that 100,000 Nest thermostats sell each month. By contrast, tablets worldwide are currently selling at a clip of 31.6 million a month, which is pushing the global installed base of tablets beyond 900 million this year, according Forrester Research.

“We’re expecting a lot more experimentation with Internet of Things-type of connected gadgets and home appliances,” said Ben Bajarin, principal at Creative Strategies, just ahead of this year’s Consumer Electronics Show.

“Your everyday objects are getting smarter through sensors and processors. Coffee pots, things to manage your garden, games and toys, microwaves, refrigerators, all types of common appliances are becoming connected” to mobile devices, he said. Today even your light bulb can be internet-enabled.

This transformation will hit home for many people this year, said Bajarin, as more people connect to the Internet and utilize a wide variety of new services.

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Nearly 40% of the world’s population of 7.1 billion were using the Internet last year, according to the International Telecommunications Union. Relative to the growth of the world’s population, records show that almost 10% more people connected to the Internet last year compared to just three years.

As heightened consumer expectations around connectivity in the home collide with emerging digital capabilities like sensors, internet-enabled appliances and remote monitoring, a range of applications are providing an always-on source of lifestyle support that can be tailored to our preferences.

These new controls and capabilities do not come without challenges. First and foremost is distilling the relevant information we need and making it easy to access and manage for the broader population. Next it’s vital to empower homeowners with tool, namely software that runs on touchscreen mobile devices, to co-create ideal home living scenarios. And security is essential, as the home is a prized possession for most owners.

For many today, their tablet is a portal for accessing and controlling a wide range of internet-enabled services that integrate seamlessly into the home. We’re using them prepare new gourmet recipes, manage home entertainment, control appliances, or monitor energy consumption, even while away from home.

Tablet devices are playing a central role as command center for their digital home ecosystem and some do-it-yourself home tinkerers are using them as remote controls for Internet-connected lights, drapes and other things around the home.

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While makers are exploring the fringes of how tablets can help around the home, many services from Netflix to ADT Pulse home security are accommodated more convenient ways of integrating the Internet into the way we live and manage our homes.

Chop-Syc is a digital chopping board that incorporates a tablet into its design and can connect to the internet via Wi-Fi and display healthy recipes, recommended daily allowances, portion sizes, and other information. A concept by Sustainable Product Design student Siobhan Andrews, the cutting board is made out of scratch-proof glass and can be powered up by placing it on a rechargeable mat.  When not in use, the board looks like a regular wooden chopping board, blending into the backdrop of other kitchen appliances and tools. By weaving digital capabilities into familiar products, the Chop-Syc creates a unique support system that merges naturally with existing behaviors for homeowners moving throughout the kitchen.

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Italian furniture company Toncelli Kitchens has created a high-tech kitchen benchtop with a sleek design and high level of functionality to control various internet-enabled products in the kitchen. The Prisma kitchen island includes a tablet encased in a glass panel that can allow users to control basic kitchen functions, such as adjusting refrigerator settings, or changing the heat on the stove top. That internet-enabled tablet also enables cooks to watch cooking tutorials or entertain their kids with streaming video. Intersperse a similar product throughout the home and one could easily imagine interfacing with various control stations, creating a programmable environment best suited to an individual’s needs.

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For some of us, a majority of our time is spent away from our homes and the ability to monitor and control certain functions would help us maintain a more symbiotic relationship from afar. The Wattio SmartHome 360º is an Indiegogo project that allows people to track and control home energy usage from anywhere in the world. The full system includes electrical items and components that are easy to set-up around the home, and where important information and settings can be viewed and controlled in real-time via the web-based app for phones and tablets. The plug, referred to as ‘The Pod,’ gets plugged into wall socket and gives the user full remote control of the device plugged into it. For example, the user can use his/her tablet to turn the device on and on, program working hours, and even estimate energy consumption levels, customized according to their requirements.

Another app that allow people to use their tablet as a remote control while away from home include IP Cam Viewer Pro, which allows you to use your tablet to view and control your Internet connected Web cam or network connected DVR.

On the hand, maybe you want your home computer to be a command center, allowing you to access say a child or grandparent’s mobile device to send alerts, remotely fix problems or retrieve files. That’s what Team Viewer  enables.

While there is a lot of experimenting around fitting tablets into home furnishings and other places around the home, more commonly they are close at hand even while away from home, allowing people to stay connected, informed and in control of their interests and prized possessions.

In this emerging home ecosystem where everything is programmable, tablets are providing access point to a two-way conversation between owners and their homes, providing peace of mind and facilitating better, more conscious ways of living.

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