A High-Tech Step Up From “The Clapper”

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Robison Wells
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Reporting on the latest trends in housing construction, the Wall Street Journal today wrote about a development that is not so much about the existing residential tech, but is more about where the future is headed.

For years now, Amazon’s Echo (named “Alexa”) has been able to perform handy tasks around the house: play music on command, recite the news, and—ever-popular in my kid-filled house—award ten points to Gryffindor. (Seriously, it keeps a running total of the points I award my kids—and anyone else who happens to drop by, including the in-laws.) Alexa can tell jokes, order products from Amazon, and remember your birthday.

But the future of the Echo is not just in silly games, or even in being a quick shopping cart for its parent company. The Echo is all about the Internet of Things: the concept that nearly everything in the house (and out in the yard) can be networked together. The Echo can talk to your sprinklers, to your doorbell, to your home alarm, to your refrigerator. (Amazon doesn’t have a monopoly on the market: Apple’s Siri can interface the same way, through your iPhone, iPad, Apple Watch or Apple TV. There’s also Google Home, but of the three options here, it has the least compatibility.)

The really revolutionary thing here is not that Apple and Amazon and Google are creating interfaces, but that the “Things” of the “Internet of Things” are getting smarter. The Phillips Hue is a $15 lightbulb that you can screw into any lamp or socket and will automatically connect to your interface. They can brighten and dim. They can even, if you pay a little more, change colors.

As more things become part of the internet of things, it’s not unreasonable to think that, ten years from now, the average new home will be entirely automated and sync with whatever weird thing we’ll be using as a smartphone by then. Maybe The Clapper will be making a comeback.

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