The smart home is a wonderful place, packed with so many innovations and ideas that it can be hard to know where to begin.
One of the most popular ways into making your home smarter is through the smart plug - a simple device that slips between the plug socket in the wall and a non-smart device and makes it cleverer in the process. That’s because the smart plug is well-connected, using built-in Bluetooth, so it can connect directly to your iPhone or iPad, for instance.
So, what should you use it for? Well, the most common use is to plug in a lamp so that you can turn on the bedside light in your bedroom before you stumble across the room in the dark. That’s pretty good, but here are five other ideas for making the way you live richer, simpler and, well, smarter.
Incidentally, some smart plugs, like the Elgato Eve Energy, can monitor energy usage, so by choosing the smart plug in the Eve iPhone app, say, you can see whether the gadget to which the plug is connected is on or off. It will then tell you the amount of electricity it’s consuming, a projected cost for the year and the total cost of that lamp, or whatever, to date.
This gives a much more detailed analysis than smart meters can manage.
1 Turn the electric blanket on or off
Although some gadgets have timers built in, many more do not. Well, if you have a smart plug, suddenly they do! You can use the Eve app or Apple’s Home app to add a timer or create a scene so that the electric blanket on your bed turns on before you go to bed, so it’s toasty when you get there. And if you’re worried that you’ll fall asleep with the blanket continuing to warm you, you can set it to turn off after a set period of time like an hour.
When summer comes, you could unplug the blanket and plug in a room fan, changing the timer so it comes on at the best time to keep the room cool, turning off when you head for bed.
Better still you could connect the plug to the Eve Button having it turn on or off at the same time as a host of other smart connected devices at the same time.
2 Control the kids’ TV
If the children like to watch TV in their bedroom, and you suspect that your last gentle request for them to turn it off and go to sleep hasn’t quite been taken seriously, you can simply turn the TV off from your iPhone without even needing to head to the bedroom. Of course, this works just as well with a gaming console…
3 Surprise the fish
No, seriously, controlling your fish tank is a possibility. Lighting in a fish tank can be critical: too much light can encourage the growth of algae, corals in salt water tanks need lighting where the colours and brightness can be carefully regulated. With an Elgato Eve plug you can turn the tank lights on and off when you like, either on a timer or on demand. If you want further control, a smart bulb like Philips Hue or LIFX can add this sophistication, so you can turn the bulbs to mimic moonlight after sunset, for instance.
4 Turn the radio on and off when you walk through the door
You can set the Eve Energy to turn on or off not just on timers, tapping the app or saying ‘Hey, Siri’ to your iPhone. No, you can also set it so that it responds to occupancy. When you leave the house, the Eve Energy can spot this through the presence or absence of your smartphone, say, and behave accordingly. So, as you leave, the radio can turn off, switching on again only when you walk back in. Or, try it the other way round, using the radio as a security deterrent, turning on as you leave the house.
And if you keep forgetting to tune in to a particular programme until just too late, setting a timer will turn the radio on just in time.
5 Charge your gadgets better
Your smartphone probably sits next to the bed, charging overnight, right? Assuming you sleep for seven hours or more, you may be charging it too much which in some cases can shorten the life of the battery. Use the Elgato Eve to turn the charger on at, say, 5AM and your phone will be ready to go by the time you wake up at 7AM, for instance. You could also use the same technique for an electric toothbrush, with a timer setting that only charges it once a week, perhaps.
And there’s more. We’ve only scratched the surface here. If you use a slow cooker, you can set that with a timer so it reaches perfection just before you come home. Or turn the coffee maker on for the time you set the alarm, so it’s ready to deliver your caffeine rush sooner.
The truth is, the only thing that limits what smart plugs can do is your imagination.