All About IT – A “Smart” Christmas

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Seasons Greetings! It’s that time of year where we decorate the house, put up a tree and string the lights. Anybody who knows me, knows I’ll be trying to add a touch of gadgets wherever I can. This article is about how you can use technology to spice up your Christmas celebrations.

Let’s start with smart plugs. Smart plugs are little devices that you plug in between your device and your power socket. These have come down a lot in price over the last few years and can now be bought for around $20-$30. Everyone knows what a pain it is to crawl under the Christmas tree to reach the plug for the lights – not with a smart plug. A smart plug is controlled via an app on your cell phone/tablet or computer. And most smart plugs can be scheduled to turn on and off automatically, so you don’t even have to think about it.

There are three main types of smart plugs; Apple Home Kit, Google Home and Amazon Alexa. This determines which of the smart speakers you can use to control them. However, even if you don’t have a smart speaker, there’s usually an app you can download to control them. Personally, I’ve gone down the Apple Home Kit route as I’m all in on Apple devices. I can turn on our Christmas lights simply by asking Siri. Yes, it’s cheesy and lazy, but it still puts a grin on my face when I feel like I’m living in the future.

So, I mentioned smart speakers – they can play a big role in automating your Christmas. These are devices such as Amazon’s Alexa, Google Home or Apple’s Home Pod. I’ve tested all three and each has unique advantages over the others.

Apple’s Home Pod is firstly a great speaker with great audio. Play music through it and it’ll fill a room with high quality audio. It also works seamlessly with other Apple devices. For example, if you’re playing music or taking a call on your iPhone, hold it close to the Home Pod and the sound will transfer automatically to the speaker.

Google Home has the advantage of using Google’s index of the web. This means you can ask it a huge range of questions and it’ll probably provide you a relevant answer. It’s like having a really intelligent friend sitting on the counter.

Alexa was the first smart speaker to the market and was quite a surprise when it was announced by Amazon back in 2014. Amazon took a different approach to the others – allowing developers to release “add-on” functionality in the way of “Alexa Skills”. These skills add new features to the Alexa speak and allow you to ask her unusual questions that the other smart speakers can’t handle. As an example, the North American Aerospace Defense Command (NORAD) has a Santa tracking skill! Install it and you can ask Alexa where Santa is in real time.

So, what else can you use smart speakers for at this time of year? How about playing Christmas music to set the mood? You can set cooking timers to make the perfect Christmas dinner or even track the deliveries of Christmas gifts.

Perhaps you have family that you can’t be with at this time of year? If you have a computer or tablet with a webcam – think about using video calling with apps such as Facetime, Skype or Facebook Messenger. These apps can bridge vast distances and bring families together to share the Christmas spirit.

I’m off to automate more lights now, so until next time – have a very merry “Smart” Christmas.

Nick Gunn is a regular contributor to publications within The Advocate family, and is a Nova Scotia based IT, design, and tech specialist who operates Scotia Systems. If you have a tech related topic for Nick, email him at info@scotiasystems.com