Home and health devices controlled by apps on the rise

Reuters, TORONTO

Tue, Apr 23, 2013 - Page 13

Tired of checking the washing machine to see if a cycle has completed, or worrying that the lights were left on at home? Apps are increasingly helping people monitor and control objects remotely on their mobile devices.

From Internet-connected washing machines and smart refrigerators to bathroom scales, gadgets that connect to the Internet are on the rise in homes, and apps are the means to monitor and control them.

By 2022, the average household with two teenage children will own about 50 Internet-connected devices, up from approximately 10 today, according to estimates by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD).

“On one hand you’ve got all these devices giving out information, and on the other you have people accessing them increasingly through their tablets or mobile phones,” said Stephen Prentice, vice president and fellow at research advisory firm Gartner.

Home control is a popular use of the technology. A washer and dryer produced by Samsung, for instance, can be remotely controlled with an Android app to start and stop the machine, and control factors like temperature.

Overhead lights called Philips Hue can be controlled with the accompanying iPhone or Android app.

Temperature in the home can be controlled remotely with Nest Mobile for iPhone, iPod Touch, iPad and Android, while air quality can be measured with Netatmo, a personal weather station and air quality monitor. With the iPhone or Android app, users can view information on indoor air quality, such as the level of carbon dioxide and humidity in the room, and the app suggests ideal times to ventilate.

There is even an app and gadget for plant owners. Koubachi, a plant sensor placed in the soil of a potted plant, connects to an iPhone app to send notifications when it needs watering, misting, sun or shade.

“The diversity of these devices is huge,” Prentice said.

“The vast majority of the future devices of this type don’t exist today — they’re new things. If you can measure it, then someone is going to have a device to do that and someone will find a use for that data,” he said.

Apps and gadgets are also playing a role in monitoring health.

The Withings Health Mate app for iPhone and Android automatically tracks a users weight by connecting to one of the company’s smart bathroom scales. A similar app for babies tracks a baby’s weight and compares it to others the same age.

Those who want to improve their posture can turn to the LUMOback, a device worn around the waist that connects to an iPhone app that notifies users when they’re slumping.

To track calories burned or steps taken, there are a flurry of options available, including wristbands like the Nike+ FuelBand and Larklife, which connect to iPhone apps, and the Jawbone UP and Fitbit One, which connect to iPhone and Android apps.

However, Prentice is concerned that privacy laws may not yet account for the collection of personal data that these gadgets and apps may have access to.

“The regulatory environment just hasn’t caught up with the technology. At the moment it’s a case of buyer beware,” he said.