Make A House A Smart Home

Out of all the retail brands out there, who would have thought IKEA would be the ones to bring the concept of the ‘smart home’ to the masses?

I’m not denying that the way they’ve set up their flat pack scheme is anything short of genius. But going into one of their stores is the equivalent of listening to a One Direction song: painful and unnecessary.

That being said, sometimes we must cave to a greater power. I spent last Sunday in IKEA, trailing in the footsteps of a very patient friend of mine like the moody teenager I really am (only with an additional 10 years on me).

However, it was a successful excursion. I bought two bedside cabinets (£35. No messing about). Only tripped over three tiny yet surprisingly speedy adolescents. And no meatballs were consumed (for now – eating IKEA’s meatballs is on my bucket list of things to do before I’m 30.)

When I got home, the instructions strongly suggested you would need two people to build the cabinets. I guffawed. 2 hours later I had some gleaming new furniture for my bedroom (and a slowly spreading bruise having smacked myself in the face with a drawer. But that little detail aside, mini victory to me).

Alas, if only I’d waited a month. This week I read the news that IKEA are planning to release a range of furniture with built in charging points. The ‘Home Smart’ range includes coffee tables, lampshades and yes, bedside cabinets, which will be able to wirelessly power up your smartphone or tablet.  The range will be available in April.

There’s actually no need for my bitterness because I will be able to turn my newly crafted bedside cabinets into similarly powered objects all by myself – IKEA will be selling separate charging kits at about £20.

They’ll also sell you a hole saw that will make an indent just the right size for the charging kit. I might leave that one alone though – there was no saw in sight when I smacked a drawer into my face building my cabinets. I dread to think what would happen at the introduction of one.

The ‘smart’ range (not to be confused with a certain supermarket offering) won’t be compatible with some versions of iPhone, which seems like the Baldrick-worthy flaw in an otherwise watertight plan. This is more Apple’s fault than anyone else’s however – their iPhones aren’t designed to support wireless charging. Hopefully that will get resolved, and in the meantime, IKEA will be issuing covers for incompatible models.

So, is this a good idea? On the face of it yes. My iPhone battery never makes it through a full day so I’m having to become more and more inventive in seeking alternative charging methods.

The thing is, and I don’t know about you, but I’ve had some of my furniture longer than I’ve had my iPhone. So if I’m going to invest in some ‘smart’ furniture I need to know that it will support a multiple range of devices, should I ever give up my Apple fandom.

Thankfully this looks to have been taken care of – IKEA claim to have futureproofed the charging points. As The Register says,

“The new products are part of a long term commitment from Ikea to support the wireless power consortium standards and Ikea has undertaken to make sure that modules are upgradeable as the standards evolve. This will ensure that your Qi charger table isn’t obsolete by the time you get to the front of the check-out queue.”

2015 has been called the ‘year of wireless power’ (it’s also been called the ‘year of the selfie stick’ so we shouldn’t perhaps put too much emphasis on labels). Hopefully this means less tripping over cables, and having to cart five different chargers about all day.

However, I get the feeling that despite IKEA future proofing their charging points, the whole concept of ‘built-in’ might not be flavour of the month in, well, a few months.

As desired as it inevitably is to be able to charge your device on inanimate objects, the truth is we often still want to be able to use our devices whilst they’re charging. With built in furniture, your smartphone will have to remain rooted to the spot (there’s actually an ‘X’ on the furniture where you have to place your device).

Wireless charging solves one problem – the wire. But it also has the potential to solve another – lack of mobility.

At the Consumer Electronics show in January, technology company Energous demonstrated the ‘WattUp’ – a power source which can charge your device even if it’s 30 foot away.

And it’s not just phones or tablets it can power – cameras, wireless keyboards, and remote control cars can be given a boost. In fact anything under 10W would, in theory, be able to charged in this way. I also saw a demonstration of Witricity which can wirelessly charge an electric car.

Which would you prefer? One device in your living room which can send out a signal to charge any device within a 30ft radius (you can choose which devices it charges by the way) or a coffee table with a big cross on it upon which you have to leave your device in the same spot?

Smart furniture will, I’m sure, be an attractive option to a lot of people. But the pace at which smart technology is evolving means that better and more practical choices will soon start arriving. Hopefully in time for when Apple decides wireless charging has become a bit of a thing.