Smart Home

Homey will get your back when it comes to controlling your home

The Premise. Since Star Trek, homeowners have always wanted to be able to control their home devices with simple spoken commands. Now that the smart home is quickly finding adoption around the world, a voice-controlled module will greatly propel that market into a must-have for anyone.

The Product. Homey is an attractive little orb that can control devices across seven of the most common wireless protocols (Bluetooth, Wi-Fi, Zigbee, NFC,  Infrared, and more) with simple, spoken voice commands. The device is designed to be easy to use and adjust as more and more devices can become controlled by taking to one’s home.

The Pitch. Athom, developer of Homey, has put together an attractive video that shows users adjusting the thermostat, queuing up movies with subtitles, and even setting the mood in the bedroom. Athom is far along in the development process, but are raising money through crowdfunding to keep retail costs down and fund the manufacturing process, with a goal of €100,000. Stretch goals are available at €200,000 to create if-then flow commands that will automate things even more, and at €300,000, multiple colors will be available including a Pokémon-themed Poké Ball color scheme.

The Perks. Setting up a home with a Homey will take a pledge of €229, with an extra €20 for shipping in June 2015. For €239, the Geek Edition is available, giving developers two wireless transceivers, jumper cables, and access to the development kit to add more features to the device. Homey can be had a little sooner for €399, arriving in April instead of June.

The Potential. Home automation is an industry that everyone wants a piece of, and Homey looks like it might become the interface that people want to adopt. Bearing more than a passing resemblance to the Google Nexus Q and adopting a similar feature set to the EmoSPARK, the Homey already might look like a copycat device, but the sheer number of wireless connectivity options and flexibility of functions makes it an intriguing option. Another chief competitor for the Homey will be the Ubi, which right now might be a little less powerful in terms of precise control, but also offers users the ability to answer basic internet questions by asking them out loud. With so many choices, it’s the little differences that will separate the success stories from the footnotes, and it seems like Homey might be able to edge out most of the competition when it comes to features and design.

Smart Home

SAM lets you automate any part of the home just by plugging it in

The Premise. Everyone wants an automated home that they can control with their phone or even one that can sense what needs to be turned on or off without any user input. Dozens of companies promise this feature, but one wants to really deliver on the mixture of functionality and ease of use.

The Product. SAM is a smart outlet that comes in both single-plug and power strip varieties. Using environmental sensors to monitor time of day, temperature, electrical usage, motion, and light, SAM can be programmed to control any kind of product plugged into its outlets. Additionally, SAM can be controlled using an app to know if a device has been left on or not, or to start it while away from the home.

The Pitch. The idea of having a little kid act out the part of SAM and take care of the home while the adults are out working and celebrating a romantic anniversary is pretty creative. Of course, the actual product itself is more high-tech and less human, but the functioning principles are the same. Getting a chance to see the SAM app and how easy it can be to control any kind of device remotely or even without any user feedback beyond the initial programming phase is what makes this product so enticing., the creator of SAM, needs $75,000 primarily for tooling and appropriate certification.

The Perks. Single-outlet SAM plugs are available in black or white for $49. The SAM Strip with three outlets is available for $109. Both items will be delivered in November 2014. A beta option with early production units of the Plug and the Strip will be out in September for backers who pledge $299. A “full house” tier is available as a 10-pack for $450.

The Potential. Smart plugs or outlets like these are pretty much the backbone on which home automation is founded on these days, so the concept of SAM is nothing new. Watching the videos and getting to see SAM in action however, it seems like a great step forward for the concept. Based on how programmable the plugs and power strips are, complete with multiple sensors for conditions, full overrides, and the ability to communicate with one another, SAM seems like the simplest, most effective solution for smart plugs. There have certainly been other efforts that are gaining some momentum, like Belkin’s WeMo for example, but the execution here is what elevates SAM to the next level.

Input Wearables

Nod controls devices without lifting a finger — well, maybe one

The Premise. Sure, the idea of being able to control all the devices in a home with a tablet or phone is appealing. What If all that could be done without a mobile device, however? What all that could be done with a sleek, wearable interface?

The Product. The Nod is the next entry in the field of smart rings designed to keep users able to interface with all kinds of connected electronics without having to pick up any kind of keyboard or phone. This stylish stainless steel ring combines motion-detection with buttons and a touch interface to allow users to control Android or iOS apps, Bluetooth or wi-fi enabled devices, smart lightbulbs, thermometers, and more.

The Pitch. In a simple, one-minute introduction video, the Nod is shown primarily as a tool for slackers to control things by waving their hands around. From Netflix to Halo, the couch-bound hero is intent on accomplishing everything with the ring on his finger. Nevermind the nightmare of trying to play a game with that many buttons using a ring, the Nod is then shown at a business presentation, as a wild, complicated  gesticulation becomes a search for a six-letter word. This video does a good job of showing off what Nod can do, but a better job of showing how ridiculous it looks to use. Nod is available for pre-order now.

The Perks. If buyers like it and they want to put a Nod on it, they can get one in fall 2014 for $149.

The Potential.  The smart ring is being brought up as a small, powerful interface tool for users to interact with all connected objects. Nod lacks the subtlety of competitor Fin, but appears to offer a wider range of compatibility, albeit trading in subtle thumb slides for wild Wii-like finger swipes. Nod offers a similar sense of style as the previously-covered Smart Ring as well, but Nod’s intent is to be an interface for all appliances, not just a handy way to keep track of phone applications. The idea is appealing, and the execution seems to be there as well, but the freedom from traditional input that a Nod provides seems to come with a sacrifice of simplicity of use. Anyone with a decent typing speed on desktop or mobile might lack the patience for Nod.

Connected Objects Music

Gramofon is a Trojan horse box that streams home music, fosters public Wi-Fi

The Premise. The beauty of streaming music is that listeners can enjoy the music they love, no matter where they are. Transferring that access to an audio system worth listening to, on the other hand, often proves to be more difficult.

The Product. The Gramofon is designed to take all the accessibility of a Wi-Fi hotspot, and put that to use to stream music in the home or office. By using Facebook credentials instead of various wi-Fi passwords, it’s easy to use the Gramofon app to connect and start pumping music through any stereo equipment. Right now, the app supports Spotify natively, but there are many other streaming services expected to be added later. AllPlay technology, also supported by Musaic, provides compatibility with an emerging set of music sources.

The Pitch. With one of the more slickly-produced Kickstarter videos in recent memory, Fon CEO Martin Varsavsky and his team take viewers through Fon as a Wi-Fi hotspot company and how the idea of turning hotspots into music players led to the development of Gramofon. The entire campaign smacks of the same trendy, simple design that the device itself supports, and the confidence the developers have in the product will likely carry over to those supporting it. Gramofon needs $250,000 to start the party, increasing the number of support services, finalize the design, and go into production.

The Perks.  Getting a Gramofon will take a pledge of $50 for black, or $60 for white. Both products are expected to arrive in July.

The Potential. Devices like these are starting to crop up, combining the ease of having thousands of songs streaming from any device with the enjoyment of sounds through proper audio output channels. The modern design is similar to the Aether Cone, but the Gramofon really only provides the phone connectivity – more pieces required, but a better sense of control. Also similar is Apple’s Airport Express, but this device only handles music instead of full network sharing like the Airport, although that device has become a bit more streaming-friendly with the launch of iTunes Radio. Fon is also promising backers will get full free access to their millions of hotspots by supporting the Gramofon, so that can be an added incentive to pledge. All in all, the Gramofon is an inexpensive option that offers the quirky benefit of joining into a Wi-Fi-sharing network further along in Europe, but those who want a device that does more won’t yet be satisfied with what this product has to offer.

Music Wearables

Streamz headphones kick out streaming jams without the smartphone

streamzWhether on the commute to work or while doing chores around the house, listening to music on a good set of headphones seems to make the world a better place. It can be relatively cumbersome, however, to keep headphones handy and use a smartphone music player or app to get to those favorite tracks. The Streamz smart headphones have an Android processor, Wi-Fi and Bluetooth capabilities, enabling it to function as the music player itself, even for streaming services such as Pandora. While there have been other music players built into even lighter weight (albeit non-networked) headphones, Streamz features navigation buttons on the side of the earcup, as well as intended voice control integration, Streamz allows users to get great sound quality and waste no time in setup. The basic 4GB model is available in August to backers who pledge $299.

Music Tech Accessories

Sno Speakers adds streaming, touchscreen to the portable speaker crowd

The Premise. Having music any time, any place, is something made increasingly possible through mobile devices. One new product delivers home audio quality with an integrated streaming interface for any music, anywhere.

The Product. Sno Speakers are the next in a growing line of all-in-one streaming music systems. Weighing in at under two pounds, the Sno system includes a proprietary OS that can access Pandora, Spotify, other streaming services, and also play music off internal storage ranging from 16 to 64 gigabytes. With 30 hours of playtime and a fog-proof touch panel, this Wi-Fi-enabled speaker can complement any social activity or be mounted on a wall to create a jukebox on-demand vibe in any room. Bluetooth 4.0 and AirPlay support ensure that music can also be streamed onto the speaker from virtually any device.

The Pitch. With an understated, scarcely narrated campaign video, Sno Speakers just shows the product in use, with pop-up video bubbles explaining the available features. The second half is dedicated to showing off the speakers in a variety of places they would excel, from parties to game rooms, showers to fishing trips. The rest of the campaign materials are dedicated more closely to providing technical specs and installation and mounting instructions for the device, which all look pretty simple and intuitive. Sno Speakers has a prototype in place and is ready to move onto manufacturing, trying to raise $75,000 to do so.

The Perks. A Sno Speaker with 16GB onboard storage is available for only $89. The 32GB model is available at the $109 level, and the 64GB model can be had for $125. Wall mounts are also available to create a stable panel for accessing room-filling music. All speakers are expected to be delivered August 2014.

The Potential. Sno Speakers are a great idea, but the portable 21st century boombox idea is already taking off. We’ve already covered the Auris Wily, which offers less onboard storage but more connectivity and utility options with its integrated camera, and other electronics giants have shown tablet-infused offerings. Ultimately if the Sno Speakers want a chance at finding market traction, it will have to be on the merit of its sound quality and the proving it’s a more convenient option than controlling via a smartphone.

Music Smart Home

Musaic takes on Sonos with standards-based multi-room speaker system

The Premise. Multi-room audio has come a long way from the days when it required installation by a professional and cables running throughout the home. Not only have wireless technologies made it much simpler to install and music , but also smartphones and tablets have solved the complexities of how to control it from nearly anywhere in the home.

The Product. Musaic is a wireless audio system that can be set up in the home over Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, or classic analog input. Controlled by the Musaic app for iOS and Android, users can set their own preferences, search for genres or nationalities, enjoy streaming radio options like Rhapsody, Soma FM, and Napster (still distinct from parent Rhapsody), and queue up tracks for the perfect wireless listening experience. Musaic is also part of the emerging AllSeen Alliance for smart-home integration, with planned integration with WigWag and LIFX already.

The Pitch. London’s Musaic is keen on some basic design tenets that are easy to get behind. In the team’s video, two members of the Musaic team (including CEO Matthew Bramble) show how easily a home can be setup with the wireless speakers to deliver high-quality sound in a multitude of formats. What really stands out is the simplicity and variety of options available with the Musaic control app. The system looks easy to set up, control, and customize for individual users, or for events and parties. Musaic needs £60,000 to finish developing the software and complete the applications for certifications and regulatory approvals.

The Perks. A Musaic MP5 player with metal stand can be had for a contribution of £160, with free shipping to North America, the UK, Australia, and New Zealand. The larger, MP10 model is available at a £260 pledge, with a MP5/MP10 combo package starting at £370. Musaic should start filling homes with music in September 2014.

The Potential. Just by premise alone, Musaic is easy to write off as just another, albeit well-designed, option for wireless home audio that challenges the multi-room market leader and powerful newcomers. After seeing the app in action in the campaign video it’s hard to argue with the proposed platform. The song selection options, ability to queue up tracks, and plethora of streaming options make Musaic extremely attractive as are the presence of physical buttons to make switching up tunes simple when closer to a speaker than a table. That said, the company has a long way to go to catch up with the streaming options offered by Sonos.

Cell Phone Accessories Imaging Music

Case bridges your smartphone to your DSLR

The Premise. Let’s face it: no one likes to compromise. We make tradeoffs because we’re adults, and we have to. It’s the way it is. We love to take great pictures with our DSLRs but we want it to be as easy as snapping a photo and sharing with a smartphone.

The Product. Case is a generically named camera accessory and smartphone app that attempts to serve you the best of both worlds. While its name would imply a very different and common camera complement, it’s actually a small, lightweight receiver meant to attach to your interchangeable lens camera via USB or reusable tape. Using Case with an Android™ or iOS device, you can upload images wirelessly from your camera to your smart device, control camera functions from your smart device, and change camera settings remotely. With the use of smart sensors Case can turn your smartphone into a remote control for your camera, allowing you to trigger the shutter from up to 50 meters away: especially useful for people who like to capture wildlife.

The Pitch. In the campaign video, members of Cheering Technology explain they created Case to make photography easier.  They demonstrate how to switch shooting modes and change settings for shutter speed, aperture, ISO, and white balance directly from a smart device. They also explain how to easily focus the image and trigger the shutter button in addition to wirelessly sending photos to a smart device. Two versions of the app will be available, however iOS users may need to wait a little longer – timing is tentatively August but TBD. Android users should be happy to know that the app is expected to be available on Google Play by the time units ship. The project goal is to raise $15,000 to fund initial production and units are estimated to ship in July 2014.

The Perks. If the campaign is successful, Case will be distributed to backers for $79 in a choice of white or black. Larger backer commitments afford members the equivalent of a group discount. Up to five backers will have the opportunity to become Development Partners by donating $9,999 to the campaign. Development Partner status affords you 150 Cases, and a trip to China (flight and hotel included) to meet the minds behind Case. Free tour guide also included for the duration of your trip.

The Potential.  Nikon, Canon and other camera manufacturers offer Wi-Fi functionality in their interchangeable lens cameras that covers almost all of what Case claims it can do. However, MaxStone is a similar product on Kickstarter which was recently funded at three times its goal amount, so that can help make the case for Case even if it lacks MaxStone’s charming design.