The Best Smart Products of 2012
The year 2012 marks a coming-of-age for physical devices that are designed for a connected world. Created with digital at their core, these products are not “digitally enhanced” or merely gadgets for Dad on Father’s Day (although some could be). They are truly useful, elegantly designed, and in the case of the consumer products, are things that once you start using, it’s hard to imagine life without them.
This latest crop of digital products truly improves the way we live—from helping you get healthier, to saving energy, and even helping those who help others, like first responders. Here are a few of my favorites that were released this year, along with a couple that were just announced. The year 2013 will be an interesting test to see how these products fare in the marketplace, and with New Year’s optimism, I’m very much looking forward to it.
Phillips Hue solves a problem that we all face at some point: terrible lighting. Hue is a wireless system of connected multi-color LED bulbs that can be controlled by your iPhone or iPad, and programmed to fit your schedule. What’s cool about Hue is that it offers more than just improved ambiance for college stoners. You can create settings for practical purposes, like leaving a lamp on when you’re away and slowly turning the lights on to wake up in the mornings. And it works with your existing light fixtures.
[Full disclosure: I worked on the Fuelband, so believe what you want from the words that follow.] Nike+ Fuelband is part-tracking device, part-watch and part-fashion accessory. It tracks your activity throughout the day, and helps you get healthier by setting daily goals that are visualized on the band itself and through an iPhone or Android app. What excites me about the Fuelband is that wearable computing—the nerdy academic term for smart, wearable products—has finally become a reality for the everyperson, not just cyborgs and New York University ITP students (and since I’m telling you everything, yes I went there).
Nest, billed as “the learning thermostat,” released the second version of its super smart, sleek product in October. Like other connected thermostats on the market, Nest gives you greater control over heating and cooling to save money and reduce environmental impact. But what differentiates Nest is that it actually learns your behavior, so you don’t have to spend time creating a bunch of customized settings. Just set the temperature to your liking, and after a few days, Nest creates a schedule that’s easy to manage. It even recognizes when you’re away from the house and switches to a more energy-efficient mode.
It may seem counter-intuitive to print the internet, but with Little Printer it sure seems like fun. Little Printer is a personable, connected product for your desk that prints customized news, puzzles and updates from your friends. Create a micro-newspaper for yourself with their smartphone app that offers up content from great partners, like lunch recommendations from Foursquare, your Google task list or short fiction about monsters. And minimize your guilt for creating paper waste, since Little Printer uses an inkless printing process and comes with BPA-free paper.
Bounce Imaging is a Boston-based startup that’s developing a low-cost imaging device for first responders. It’s designed to be thrown into dangerous situations like a burning building. The ball-shaped Bounce has multiple cameras and sensors that stitch together a panoramic view of the space, and provide information on temperature, air quality and other dangerous conditions that can be transmitted to computers and mobile phones.
Out of the many health-tracking devices on the market today, Tinké stands out because of its easy-to-use design and focus on cardio-respiratory health and stress. By simply pressing and holding the device while plugged into your smartphone, Tinké visualizes measurements like heart rate and blood oxygen level, and compares them to personalized benchmarks. Tinké is being marketed as a fitness product but there seems to be a lot of potential for helping those who are managing more serious health conditions.
What if Simply Playing Soccer Could Power a Whole Village? Uncharted Play's Soccket balls ingeniously turn kinetic energy into electric current.
Next Time You're at a Pretentious Exhibition, Just Change It Güvenç Özel shows how a digital solution can augment a physical problem.
A Mosaic Shines in Philly A intimate conversation with a fixture of the Philadelphia art world.
Zaha Hadid Had a Busier Week Than You Did A posh homeware line, a math-inspired museum wing, and a blossom-shaped apartment building
London Skaters Fought Gentrification, and Won A coalition of skateboard enthusiasts just saved the birthplace of British skate culture from a future as a shopping center.
“What I Would Like to See is More Bystanders Stepping in to Take Action” The Everyday Sexism Project chronicles more than 80,000 instances of sexism around the world, and it’s making a big policy impact.
It's Not Where You're Going, It's How you Get There The future of transportation is now A look at futuristic forms of transportation that have become reality.
Inside the Minds of 11-Year Olds From Around the World A new documentary probes the special moral clarity of 11-year old children.
This Underwater Museum is Bringing a Coral Reef to Life A collaborative effort spurs a marine project off the coast of Egypt.
“French Navy” and Other Suggestions for Scotland’s New National Anthem EDM, art rock, indie ballads … let’s pretend it’s all on the table if Scotland votes for independence.
How a 17th Century Bible is Helping to Revive a Native-American Language One human language may die every 14 days, but the ancenstral tongue of M.I.T.-trained linguist Jessie Little Doe Baird won't be one of them.
Thank You For Caffeinating The dirty secret behind your favorite soft drink America’s $75 billion love affair with soft drinks has less to do with flavor than a specific, notorious ingredient.