How to choose the smarts for your smart home

DIY smart home hubs

Smart home technology options can make your head spin. How do you go about figuring out which smart home solution or solutions are right for you and your home? Its easy to get caught up with gizmos and sales pitches, so start with what you actually want to accomplish. For example, are you looking for some smart lights that automatically come on. Or a smart door bell to see who’s at the door no matter where you are? Or wireless speakers to make it easy to listen to more music? Perhaps you basically want it all!

Whatever you decide, think about what you want and why. Maybe its that you want your shades to close automatically at night and open in the morning. Sometimes its choosing smart lights because you have a frick-load of lights in the home you’re building, and you want a single lighting keypad vs. a wall covered with lights switches. Sometimes its to simplify home control for seniors or disabled people. Determine your targets and build out from there.

Once you have figured out your smart home targets, you can then start looking at how they will be controlled. There are three basic categories of smart home control: individual app based, DIY smart home ecosystems, and custom control systems.

Individual apps

If you’re looking at just a few smart devices, then maybe you don’t need a ‘master’ brain to control everything. For example, if you just want a smart thermostat and wireless speakers, you’d likely be well served using products like Nest and Sonos and their related apps.

Starting with a few apps to control your devices is great, but consider that you may want to add more device in the future. If you think that’s possible, its good to know what’s compatible with various ‘master’ brains. If you start using lots of smart devices, then it gets annoying switching between apps to control each device. This is where the next two categories come in.

DIY smart home ecosystems

This first level of ‘master’ brains are DIY (Do It Yourself) type smart hubs that tie your smart devices together. These allow higher level control such as grouping functions (like turning on music and setting mood lighting at the same time) or automation based on time of day or location, e.g. when you’re close to home – called “geofencing”.

There are various platforms such as Apple’s HomeKit, Samsung’s SmartThings, Amazon’s Alexa, and Google’s Nest. While all have their pros and cons, a big thing to watch out for is device compatibility. For example, some devices are compatible with HomeKit, but not SmartThings. Some devices like Sonos speakers have good cross platform compatibility, but some devices are restricted to only one platform. To complicate things further, some devices like smart locks make multiple ‘flavours’ of the same thing, so make sure you buy the right smart flavour (e.g. buy the box that is labelled compatible with HomeKit if you want it to work with HomeKit).

This category is changing fast as many manufacturers are updating compatibly with and without the need for smart hubs. Although these are called DIY, you’ll want to be fairly tech savvy to tackle the set up. You can see why even though these are called ‘Do It Yourself’, some people prefer to get help with them or DIFM (Do It For Me)!

Custom control systems

The next step in master brains, are custom control systems. The main benefits of custom control systems are to make complex things simple-to-use and orchestrate devices together at a higher level. Most products in this realm are only available to custom home technology integrators, as while they have great functionality, they are more technologically challenging to set up. Getting a professional to set up and program helps ensure that everything works smoothly for you. There are more control options available as well – e.g you can add wall control panels and handheld universal remotes to work in conjunction with a smart phone app.

The cool thing is that professional custom control systems such as RTI can also control many consumer and DIY devices. Custom control systems allow control of smart home devices that would become unwieldy in an app or DIY yourself type platform. They allow for total control of all your devices; from AV media systems to smart home devices.

There is no ‘one size fits all’ approach to smart home tech. A couple of app based devices may serve some people well, while DIY type system are better for others. Some people or circumstances require the use of a custom control system. We focus on solutions that make sense for our clients, so we help with all these categories. Feel free to reach out if you would like some help.

Top five simple home technology upgrades

We often get asked about what smart home technology upgrades are possible without major or costly renovations. Thankfully there is much that home owners and renters can do that doesn’t involve costly or messy construction work. Here is an overview of simple-to-implement home tech that our clients are most interested in.

Smart TVs

Many of our clients last upgraded their TVs when the original flat TVs dropped in price and these TVs are getting to the point that they need to be replaced. The timing works out as the next generation TVs, 4K TVs, are great value. They also come with smart features for watching streaming services like Netflix or showing pictures from your smartphone. While our clients are updating their TVs, they want the wiring and remotes cleaned up and simplified. We help them update and organize their digital audio/video worlds by determining which smart TV features work for them and provide programmed universal remotes to make it all easy to use.

Wireless and streaming music

Our clients are often curious about wireless speakers or have gotten the wireless speaker bug and want help expanding on it. Wireless speakers like Sonos and Bluesound, and streaming music services like Spotify and Deezer have revolutionized the way we listen to music. These great sounding speakers require a Wi-Fi network and power. You can also use them to augment that new 4K TV for updated sound for TV shows and movies.

Smart lighting

There is a lot of interest in updating light switches to smart dimmers and switches. Companies like Lutron and Leviton have very functional dimmers and switches at reasonable prices. They are also inter-compatible with other home technology upgrades such as wireless speakers and thermostats. While most devices replace your current light switches, there are also plug models that allow you to smarten up lights like floor lamps without any re-wiring required. From then on, you can control your rights from your smart phone or on smart timers when you’re away. These are not only convenient for everyone with features like lights that come on when you near your home, but may also be and asset for seniors and disabled people to simplify lighting control for them.

Automated shading

Automated shading is also growing in popularity. There are reliable battery powered options, so you don’t have to have your windows wired for power. People want these shades for privacy, light blocking and energy savings. Sometimes clients want convenient shades that open and close timed with sunrise and sunset. Maybe its to keep a bedroom dark when enjoying a sleep in. Sometimes it helps block out the afternoon sun before it heats their home like an oven. Whatever the reason, they can have great looking shades that are smart and easy to use. Plus, you will never have to worry about operating them in difficult to reach places like high windows.

Better Wi-Fi

It seems that everything in our lives these days requires Wi-Fi. When your building or renovating, you can make sure all the right wires get put into your walls to help create the perfect Wi-Fi system. For older homes or condos, you sometimes have to look for another way. As mentioned in the past, mesh Wi-Fi products provide a decent Wi-Fi system to use in these tricky situations.

There are many simple home technology upgrades available for those who want to smarten up their homes but are not building a new home or doing an involved home renovation. We’re always happy to help them, and its rewarding when we get to see their faces light up like kids on Christmas morning when they first use their new upgrades.

Top Smart Home Products from CES 2018

The Consumer Electronics Show (CES) is North America’s largest electronics and tech show. You can find everything from electronic gadgets to smart home gems. While there’s a lot of hoopla and noise around all the products, we think some of this year’s products were not only cool, but they could also be instrumental for smart home tech.

Samsungs “The Wall” TV

Samsung Electronics showed off “The Wall”, a modular MicroLED 146-inch TV. The self-emitting TV display is not only bright, but being modular – its like TV Lego – you can build TV screens sized to meet your needs. May be a nice way to dial in right sized TV for your room. Perhaps even literally create a TV wall that is a multimedia art installation until you want to watch TV.

LG rollable TV

LG demonstrated a prototype rollable 65” TV. When not being watched, it rolls away using a remote. It can be left partially unrolled to allow some information to be displayed, such as weather or what’s playing on a streaming music player. Looks like a nice way to have a large TV while minimizing its impact in your space when not being used.

Z-Wave makes a smart home splash

Z-Wave is a technology that enables low-energy wireless communication from device to device. There’s a growing list of Z-Wave devices including lighting, smart thermostats, locks, and window sensors. You start with a hub that’s the brains to control your personal universe of devices, and then add the devices as you like. This hub can be a DIY type like a Samsung SmartThings Hub, or a professional system such as RTI’s ZW-9 Z-Wave Interface Module with a control processor.

Smart devices to help prevent fires

There’s already smart smoke and carbon monoxide detectors such as from Nest and First Alert, but 2Gig, iGuardStove and Innohome want to prevent a fire in the first place. These new products intend to shut down stoves or burners before bigger issues develop. A very interesting direction for smart home smarts.

We’ll keep an eye on these, and we should know how these fare by next CES. We’re always hands-on testing products for their real world usefulness where we can, so we can provide advice where needed.

Top technology trends of 2017

There were many interesting technology trends this year, but for us, these stuck out from the rest. In no particular order, here’s what got us excited this year.

Samsung’s Frame TV

We’re big fans of technology trends that can help minimize technology’s aesthetic footprint in homes. We focus a lot of effort on this in our projects. For example with TVs, they can be hidden with TV lifts, covered by panels, or have projections screens that drop from ceilings. If not hidden, TVs in living spaces are great when they’re on, but often become black voids when off. Samsung’s The Frame TV wants to change that – it displays art when not used as a TV, but then switches to a TV when you want to watch video. It has a modern art frame (with optional colour options) and hangs on the wall like a frame. We see a fine future here, as not only can you display art, you can also load up family photos. No longer does your TV have to be a black scar on the wall.

Voice control

This month Amazon made their Alexa voice assistant officially available in Canada. Together with the Google Home, you now can have voice control of your home’s smart things. While these are a ways from being perfect, they are pretty handy and will only improve. They can also be integrated with home control systems. For those who prefer talking to their home to turn on music or lights vs. pressing buttons, this might be the just the ticket.

Expanding video streaming options

There have been other ways to watch Amazon Prime Video, but starting this month its now also available on the latest generation Apple TVs. For those of us with Amazon Prime accounts, this is very exciting, as it opens up our streaming world. Like Netflix, Amazon is vying to provide top-notch content in-line with HBO. Other content apps are emerging as well, such as CBC and City TV. This gives Canadians, many of whom have already cancelled cable TV service, even more incentive to cut cable and stick to streaming services only.

Affordable smart home control

It has a boring name:, “C2K1”, but RTI’s Custom Control Kit is an exciting and affordable starter kit to professional grade smart home control and automation. This brings high-end home control features to a level many home owners can afford. While it starts as a remote control for a single room, it can easily expand to control other rooms and devices in home. It comes with a 2-way remote with touch screen, a control processor (the ‘brain’), and unlimited licenses for smart phones and tablets. When custom programmed for your home, it can automate and seamlessly combine your home tech to work in concert, e.g. dimming the lights and closing the shades when you turn on your AV system. With the smart device app, you can control or monitor your home from anywhere in the world.

Improving remote support

Technology is great, but it can be frustrating when there is a hiccup. No matter how awesome equipment is or how well its integrated, there may be the occasional issue. Everything from cable boxes to Wi-Fi access points sometime need a bit of attention. This is where remote management shines. If a client needs something tweaked or restated, we can often do this without a visit – a win, win for everyone. We also program auto reboots for troublesome devices like cable boxes to proactively clear up glitches before they cause issues. New feature are being added too – for example OvrC now has parental controls.

Fibre is feasible

We’re all gobbling up data at an increasing rate, and video streaming is the hungriest of all – especially 4K video. While Ethernet wiring and sometimes even Wi-Fi are usually getting us by, fibre optic cabling is now an affordable option. It has allows for more data throughout to enable all these technology trends for a long time to come.

4K TVs (and projectors) for all

We’ve talked about 4K TVs and projectors a lot lately, so we don’t need to elaborate too much. 4K sets are now priced at levels thats accessible to everyone. While prices are coming down quickly, note that a 4K TV that is too cheap may have questionable quality and may not be deal at any price.

Check out these technology trends, as they can help make your home more enjoyable and convenient. Can’t wait to see what 2018 has in store. Happy New Year!

Holiday Tech Gift Suggestions

It’s holiday time again, and if there’s a tech lover on your gift list, there are lots of great tech gift choices again this year. Here is a roundup of some of our favourite home tech gift suggestions for this season.

4K TVs (and projectors!)

Once again this year, 4K TVs are out in full force. Prices are very competitive, including the larger models such as 55” and 65” TVs. But this year there are also 4K projectors joining the affordable fray. While there are great higher-end 4K projectors like those from Sony and JVC, there also more price friendly ones from Epson and Benq. While technically the ‘4K enhanced’ projectors like those from Epson, aren’t full 4K, they offer great bang for the buck, as they look really close to full 4K. Its likely that 4K projector prices will continue to fall, but they’re definitely offering good value if the person on your list just can’t live without a really big 4K picture!

Voice control assistant

While Google has had Google Home available in Canada for a while already, Amazon Echo officially unleashes Alexa here in Canada on Dec 5th, so you now have a couple options for voice control assistants. Voice control assistants can be fun for asking for the weather, asking for measurement conversions, or even asking for a joke. They can be useful for controlling compatible music players and lighting controls as well.

Better Wi-Fi

Basically everything relies on a strong network these days, so better Wi-Fi is a gift that keeps giving. If you have a modern home with all the right network wiring in the walls, professional grade Wi-Fi Access Points like those from Araknis will create a solid Wi-Fi experience. Although a professionally designed Wi-Fi network using a wired network is best, you may not have the luxury of having the right wiring in your walls. This is especially true in older homes. In such cases, you can look at mesh Wi-Fi networks that allow you to create a Wi-Fi network that uses wireless nodes to relay data.

Audiophile wireless audio

Sonos offers great wireless speakers for your home, but there are other options available as well. If you have an audiophile on your tech gift list, you can consider higher-end speaker systems such as those from Bluesound and KEF. Bluesound offers a product line similar to other wireless speaker systems, but their focus is on taking the benefits of wireless audio to an audiophile level. KEF has taken their award winning LS50 speakers and created a wireless version of them. The LS50 Wireless speakers make it easy for an audiophile to set up a simple but amazingly satisfying experience. Combine these with some high quality music, like some Master Quality Authenticated (MQA) tracks or compatible streaming service, and you’ll be on the path to audiophile bliss.

Whoever the techy on your list is, there are great tech gifts waiting. Hope some of our favourites will become their favourites as well.

Is fibre optic cable needed in your home?

Fibre optic cable is becoming more mainstream – Internet providers are even marketing it as a differentiator for their service. We’ve touched on fibre optic cable in the past, but now is a great time to delve into it more. So, what is it all about, and should you use it?

Pipe for light

Fibre optic cable is a solid ‘pipe’ of glass (or plastic) that allows light to travel down it. It’s actually a glass core surrounded by a cladding layer of another type of glass. This layering arrangement helps the light bounce nicely off the sides of the core as it travels down the cable. Technically this is called a strand of fibre. Each strand of fibre is slightly thicker than a thick human hair. One or more strands are wrapped with Kevlar or similar (for durability for pulling through walls, etc.). These are then protected by a plastic cable jacket.

You can’t see it with your eye, but fibre optic light is turned on and off very quickly to create light pulses. These pulses carry data that can include Internet, phone and video. If you use the right fiber (multi-mode), you can also send different frequencies of light (basically different colours of light) for more signals over the same fibre optic cable.

Fastest way to move data (i.e. video data)

Yes, fibre optic cable is the best way to get Internet and video to your home and around in it. Phone company Internet providers need something better, as their old technology, two wires, is maxed out. (It’s really quite impressive how much stuff they were able to put over those two wires though – phone, internet and TV!)  Alas, two wires just can’t provide 100 Mbps or faster internet, let alone 4K video. They’re the first to roll out fibre optic, as they had to to keep up with cable companies. (Cable companies can push cable TV wiring a bit more, but they’ll have to go fibre optic eventually.) That said, you might not need the fastest Internet service available though and will be fine with non-fibre service.

Video is the hungry data hog in your home. Regular HDTV is bad enough, but full 4K TV can use up to 18 Gbps. (That’s a lot of data, and much more that copper wires can handle over any longer distances.) Tweaks can be made to make metal (usually copper) wire mostly handle this large amount of data over shorter distances, but fibre optic cabling is the right cable moving forward. If your 4K TV isn’t close enough, you’ll need fibre just to get a 4K signal from your TV gear.

Fast, plus now quite strong and bendy

Fibre optic is best suited for faster data and longer runs as the light pulse can travel far (up to Kilometres, depending on the fibre cable) and still be bright enough at the end. It also doesn’t suffer from issues like impedance (resistance, capacitance and inductance) that metal wires do. Impedance can be a signal killer by simply making it too weak at the end of the cable or make it impossible to move an electrical signal fast enough down the cable. Even with a whole bunch of engineering wizardry, those wires just can’t handle anything faster.

Fibre optic cable is also immune to electrical interference. Metal wires are effected by magnetic forces that are around electricity wires (e.g. power wires). This interference can make data harder or impossible to run though a metal wire.

The knock against using fibre used to be its price – it was very pricey to buy and work with, but that is quickly changing now. It’s increasingly easy to work with and has improved costs of cabling and putting plugs on the ends. Fibre optic cable is also not as fragile as it used to be. It’s often easier to install since it’s thinner and can be bent and pulled as much as or more than metal cable. (It will break though, where a metal wire may still barely work, sometimes sporadically, when kinked or bent too far.)

What should you do?

If you’re building or renovating a home, consider running fibre optic cable. Running to/from your network hub (i.e to/from the street) and TV/media areas are the first places to consider. Next, think about other areas that could use a lot of data, e.g. den. You can consider pulling it to Wi-Fi access points too, as when Wi-Fi data rates increase, fibre can feed it. You might not use your new fibre cable for a while, but it’s likely you’ll leverage it when 4K video hits the mainstream. Its a whole lot more affordable and less messy to install wire in the walls at build time than trying to do it later when your walls are all finished.

Our current minimum recommendation is duplex (two cables together) multimode OM3 (up to 100 Gbps) fibre optic cable, as current fibre equipment expects duplex, and its fast enough for the foreseeable future. The cost of fibre and related equipment will only come down. Sometime in the future when you’re setting up a new 4K TV system (or 8K TV!) or other data hogging gear, you’ll be happy you have your fibre optic cable ready.

Home Tech Updates

Fall is a big time for home tech updates, as there are two tech shows that companies use to launch products. This year’s IFA in Berlin and CEDIA in San Diego revealed some great products. Here are some highlights that we thought were good additions to the world of home tech.

4K projectors

Projectors are finally catching up with TVs.  We’ve had great and affordable 4K TV options for a couple years, and now reasonably priced projectors are starting to appear. While Sony’s VPL-VW285ES cinema-grade 4K HDR projector isn’t cheap at $6,500, its an amazing projector for the price. Just last year you had to spend over $12,000 to get a Sony 4K projector! You should look at Epson’s PowerLite Home Cinema 5040UB is an ‘enhanced’ 4K (not really 4K but does a great job pretending it is) if you’re hoping for one for about $4,000. While these clearly aren’t bargain basement prices, they’re great value if you’re craving a 4K home theatre.

Lighting automation

There were all sorts of great lighting and automation announcements, but one that created a bit of a buzz was Lutron’s RA Select. Lutron’s Caseta is excellent value for small, simple projects, but you had to step up to the pricier RadioRA2 for more sleek controls and dimmer options. RA Select is designed to fill the gap with ready made scene keypads and dimmer options similar to RadioRA2. If RA Select delivers on Lutron’s reliability and functionality, it could be pretty interesting.

Aesthetic friendly gear

Another trend this year was finally tech gear that didn’t look like tech gear. There were speakers like Bang & Olufsen’s BeoSound Shape speakers that looked like wall art, but a show highlight was Samsung’s The Frame TV. Although announced earlier this year, they definitely made a splash at CEDIA. It can display art or your own photos. It fits close to the wall, goes into low power mode when no one is around, and has decor friendly frame options. Its a premium TV, but its within range of us mortals with the 55″ version starting at $2600.

IFA and CEDIA had lots of interesting gear and gadgets announced at these events. If you’re interested in checking out more, you should give them a Google. Perhaps some of these home tech updates will fit well into your home.

Home tech maintenance

Home technology is like many things in our lives, it needs regular maintenance to keep running smoothly. The good news is that most consumer home tech is quite serviceable, so most tech maintenance can be straight forward. Start by working on something that you’re comfortable with then expand from there. If you’re stuck, get help where needed. Let’s take a look at some tech maintenance areas that need attention.

Passwords

Passwords can be a tricky subject. In a perfect world, you would update your passwords every month using a random string of 20 letters, numbers and symbols. Of course, you would also use a different one for every account that you have. We know that’s not very realistic for us mere mortals.

While we do recommend a different password for each account, we try to use something more memorable in case you don’t have access to your 1Password or Apple iCloud keychain (if you don’t know what these are, you should look and use one or similar). A memorable short phrase with some letters swapped with numbers and characters is a good start. While something like “m3&Y0u” isn’t very secure, its infinitely better than “password” or “sunshine”. You can likely do much better than that with a bit of thought – check out some tips here.

While you don’t have to go crazy updating all your passwords every month, you should at least charge the defaults ones, the really easy to guess ones (e.g. phone number or kids name), or ones that have been anywhere near a security breach.

Software and firmware updates

You should regularly update all your software and firmware for your tech devices. We realize that this can cause an avalanche of interconnected updates, but its for your tech safety. Good manufactures keep up with the security issues and usually patch any deficiencies when possible. Plus, you’ll get any new features and services that they have added.

Network gear like Internet routers and network switches should be updated when the updates are released, but at the very least, try to check for updates every quarter. Absolutely make sure that all your network gear is protected with good passwords. The same goes for your Wi-Fi passcode. If you make it easy for someone to get onto your network, then they can cause all sorts of trouble and likely snoop through your computers too. Networking gear is an important tech maintenance focus.

The same basic tech maintenance rules apply to connected devices like cameras, smart doorbells, smart lighting, smart thermostats, etc. Although these devices are less important in the security food chain, they can be used for unscrupulous goals as well.

You can be a bit more relaxed about entertainment devices like TVs, universal remotes, streaming devices, Blu-ray players, etc. You will likely favour these ones though, as often these updates have fun new features like new streaming services or connectivity options. Entertainment devices often update automatically. If so, check that it has, and its up to date.

Smartphones and app updates

Aways try to keep your smartphone and tablet up to date with the latest operating system and updates. For example, Apple pushes out their updates and you get that little notification on your settings app icon. Updates can be a bummer when they change the way things are laid out or the way things work, but it often comes with some nuggets of goodness, and more importantly, any security patches. You can hold off a week or so to update for minor fixes or feature improvements until bug issues are ironed out, but you should install critical security updates asap. Apps are usually less security sensitive, so you can be more lax on these. That said, often developers make some cool changes and are constantly fixing bugs.

Computer tech maintenance

You should treat computers with the same concern as your smartphone. Good and bad, Microsoft now forces you to update Windows (usually at the worst time too it seems). Apple lets you control updates, but you should stay on top of them either way. The same goes for application software. Programs like MS Office and Intent browsers provide power tools that can be comprised by the wrong people if they have security holes.

Check on your network

Tech maintenance includes regularly checking on your network. You can run SpeedTest to keep you Internet provider honest. There are also LAN test applications (e.g. from Totusoft) if you’re nerdy and you’d like to check on your internal network. This may show that your network gear, e.g. router, is on its last leg. Yes, these things do wear or burn out, and sometimes its a slow death until it grinds to a halt.

Check on your router admin pages to see what and who is on your network (maybe your Wi-FI passcode isn’t as great as you think). Also look at your router logs to see if there are any weird errors (Google may be your friend here to help translate from nerd language to English).

Make changes

Its also a good time to check on how things are set up or programmed. Maybe you want your favourite channels on your remote updated with your actual favourite channels. Maybe its just to catch up your favourite channels after your TV provider moved all the channels yet again.

You can also look at things like smart lights and adjust programming like turn on time or add more lights or music to the ‘scene’ keypad button. You can also take advantage and clear up gear clutter – maybe its finally time to recycle that VHS player that hasn’t worked since the 90s.

Find a process that works for you

If you’re a casual user, don’t tackle this all in one sitting. Break up tech maintenance tasks over several sessions, so its easier on your time and brain. If its not your thing, don’t sweat it – look for some help or look at biannual, quarterly of monthly maintenance service (FYI, we’re happy to help). What ever way you address it, regular maintenance it all part of proper home tech hygiene.

Why we love remote power management (and our clients do too)

The other day I received an email from a client whose cable box wasn’t working. It turns out the cable box just needed a restart. Restarting cable boxes and other electronic gear is a common part of our modern world – from the most simple self-installed TV system up to mega smart homes. But what can you do to help people who aren’t comfortable with technology? You can use remote power management.

Please unplug your cable box

When you phone your cable or internet provider with an issue, the first thing they ask you to do is unplug and replug your devices. This is because resetting a device fixes the vast majority of issues. Since your cable provider isn’t sending your cable box to the moon, its just more economical (and therefore affordable for us consumers) to build cable boxes that aren’t nearly invincible. So, they need to be restarted from time to time.

I’ve restarted your cable box

To help my client, I restarted his cable box from my smartphone. I did this using a remote power management device. Within a few minutes his system was recovered, and he was able to watch TV. My client called me “a miracle worker!”, but I wouldn’t have been able to do this without remote power management.

Remote power management

Remote power management devices are basically really smart power bars. We recommend remote power management devices to clients who aren’t very comfortable with technology or just want to have more support available. Remote power management devices, such as WattBox and BlueBOLT, allow restarting individual power outlets. We can also schedule proactive restarts in the middle of the night for trouble devices like cable boxes. Depending on the smart power device, they can also offer auto reboot, surge protection, power conditioning, and energy monitoring. If clients are fairly tech savvy and comfortable with it, we can even configure a smart phone app to allow them to restart common devices like that tricky cable box. This way they can correct issues on their schedule.

It may not be a matter of life or death, but getting someone’s home tech back up and running quickly is pretty sweet. Everyone wins when this can be done without scheduling the cable company or a costly visit. Some clients can even have this support as part of a service plan. Remote power management can be part of great home tech solutions to simplify technology in your home.

Do you want voice control for your home?

Apple recently announced their wireless speaker with voice control. Yes, home voice control is available to today, and is growing in popularity, so Apple wants to get in on the action along with Amazon and Google. Let’s take a look at these voice control devices.

Let’s first look at the voice control speakers that are currently on the market. Although Amazon’s Alexa Echo speaker isn’t officially available in Canada, many Canadians are using it all the same. Amazon started with the Echo, and they have added the Echo Dot. The Echo is a voice controlled speaker, and the Echo Dot is a more affordable version (with minimal speaker). The idea is that you can just add an Echo Dot to enable voice control in a room. At US$49.99 US, its pretty attractive. They also recently added the Echo Show which includes a video screen and camera.

You can use the voice control to request tasks like playing music through bluetooth speakers, or turning on lights and setting the temperature with compatible smart devices. Many music services are compatible, so you can, for example, play your Spotify playlist just by talking to an Echo. You can ask for the weather, sports scores, news and more. You can also get handy info like how many millilitres are in 6 ounces when your hands are wrist deep in food prep. If you’re interested in Alexa, you can look through its growing available ’skills’ to see what it can do for you.

The Google Home speaker has similar features, and its even officially available in Canada. Its priced at $179.99, since its also a fairly decent sounding speaker for music playback. It can connect with your Chromecast media player so you can control services like Netflix as well.

That brings us to Apple. They’re planning to ship the US$349 HomePod in December in the US, UK and Australia. Canada will likely follow shortly after. What separates it from Amazon’s and Google’s offerings, is the HomePod is also trying to challenge Sonos in sound quality. (Sonos doesn’t offer voice control,.. yet.) Apple’s target is to provide home voice control with a good wireless speaker. Initial reports are that it sounds terrific. Apple’s ecosystem of both its devices and HomeKit, make it a pretty easy call for a home full of Apple devices.

If you think voice control would improve your life at home, then these are worth looking into. There are still some glitches to work out and not all systems are compatible, but voice recognition works quite well. But its always listening, so keep that in mind if you’re concerned about privacy or marketers hijacking it. (There are privacy settings, but having to walk over and press a button for it to listen takes away from fluid voice control.) As voice control develops, it will really show its power for those who want to operate their integrated home tech through voice commands. So if saying “OK Google”, “Hey Siri” or “Alexa” to your home sounds compelling, you can give them a try.