Mutual Mobile Hacks the Connected Home

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The entertainment industry has been tempting us with the dream of connected homes since before The Jetsons first aired in 1962, and although we don’t have teeth-brushing robots or meal-preparing tables just yet, the tech industry is making great strides in bringing our homes to life with technology. It’s all thanks to the Internet, smart devices, and the ingenuity of strategists, developers, and designers, like the ones we have here at Mutual Mobile.

To help support our connected home hobbyists, we held a special event called Blend Day, where teams of employees got together to find creative ways to tackle the problems of the future. Although the topics ranged from amusement parks to ping pong tables, the connected homes category received the lion’s share of participants. After a day of Design Studios and API hacking, the teams emerged with several solutions that would fit perfectly in any 21st century home (the time period, not the realtor).

There was a shower head that allows users to create personal showering profiles to regulate the temperature and duration of their bathing session. There was a security system that adjusts its alertness according to your day-to-day routine. There was an easy-to-install, yet highly-sophisticated vent that regulates temperatures and air quality in your home or office. And that was all a result of one eight-hour session. As we continue to devote more time to developing the connected home, the possibilities are endless. Mutual Mobile Director of iOS Engineering Ron Lisle has his eyes set on an appliance we all use (and misuse) multiple times a day—our refrigerator.

“I’d love to have my refrigerator notify me of any temperature problems (door left open, etc), but my dream solution would be to have it help me with my shopping,” says Ron. “I believe that clever use of technology could simplify this process: optical recognition of products, barcodes, maybe even “low” states for common groceries. I have heard that there are products out there that try to do this, but I’m not familiar with any that take advantage of mobile technology. It should be possible to open the refrigerator door, take a couple of pictures with a smartphone, and let a self-learning app identify which products need to be replaced.”

We may have to wait a few years before this dream refrigerator pops up in your nearest hardware store, but that hasn’t stopped Ron from biding his time with other smart appliances. As a matter of fact, he recently debunked the myth that you can only connect new devices to Apple’s HomeKit by using a “little known and scarcely documented” accessories bridge to turn on a Philips Hue lightbulb with a Siri command.

Ron’s lighting wizardry may be a small victory for the connected home, but a war wages on for total control over all your connected devices. As Android Engineer James Avyaz explains, “The industry needs organization, centralization, and simplification. Currently, I have to learn every manufacturer’s UI, API, company web site, etc. If I had a connected home with 100 different devices, that’s 100 different manufacturers to deal with. Ideally, these things would work holistically.”

For Apple enthusiasts, there’s hope. According to iOS Consulting Architect Kevin Harwood, “HomeKit has a chance of bringing all of these devices under one umbrella, but it’s limited to iOS/Mac. There are some other initiatives out there, but will they carry the weight of an Apple? We’ll have to wait and see.”

As if the connected home landscape wasn’t complex enough, wearables platforms like Android Wear and the recently announced Apple Watch give developers and hardware manufacturers even more to think about. Android Engineer and Android Wear user Justin Holmes is optimistic about the marriage between wearables and connected home devices. “With If This Then That, or IFTTT recipes, it’s already possible to control things like lights and electrical sockets from your smartwatch, but the manufacturer’s app has to be IFTTT compliant. Whether it’s IFTTT or some other framework, it won’t be long before everything in your house can be controlled by saying a few simple voice commands to your wrist.”

Although the future of the connected home is still uncertain, there’s no doubt that it will become as commonplace as your smartphone or tablet. Today it’s voice-controlled light bulbs and thermostats, tomorrow it’s inventory-recording refrigerators, and if the industry keeps growing at this rate, we may be giving George Jetson a run for his money by the 22nd Century. That is, unless one of Stephen Hawking’s doomsday predictions beats us to it.

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