Smartphones are ubiquitous these days, and there aren't many people who don't have one vibrating in their pockets. They've also proven to be increasingly useful for tasks beyond making calls, reading emails, or browsing the internet. Here are a few common tasks where a smartphone and an app can help out beyond launching perturbed feathered friends...
1. Feed Pets Remotely & Monitor Them: While there are some systems available that will feed your pets on a timer, they aren't all very precise. I'd probably never leave my dog alone for more than 12 hours, but cats are another matter. It would definitely help out if I had a couple of cams set up that would allow me to monitor my cat while I was away.
SOLUTION: There are some plenty of systems to remotely monitor your home and your four-legged friends. Vuezone makes the PetCam system (that combines a mobile app with some webcams), which will allow you to see what your furry buddies are up to back home while you're away.
2. Monitor Electricity Consumption: Having an app that could quickly point out which appliances or services consume the most energy would allow you to fine tune the way that you use electricity and overall, lower your monthly bill.
SOLUTION: Visual feedback energy monitors promise to reduce your energy consumption simply by the fact that you are monitoring your energy usage.
3. Switch off Lights & Appliances Remotely: There's nothing worse than forgetting that you've still got a light or appliance on and are too far away to come back to turn it off. Being able to remotely switch off appliances would be swell, and it would lower your energy costs.
SOLUTION: The Belkin WeMo promises to remotely control your lights and appliances, thanks to their system of switches. There are other sensors that can be plugged into the system.
4. Control My PC/Mac Remotely: Once I leave the house, I usually leave my computers at home, preferring to travel with tablets and smartphones. There are always tasks that I forgot to start running before I left the house that I wish I could accomplish or start remotely.
SOLUTION: Remotely logging into your computer has been possible for a long time. PC2Me+ is an iOS app that allows you to do so.
5. Start Car Remotely: For those frigid winters, just like we're experiencing right now, I would like to be able to start my far from the comfort of my kitchen, so that it starts warming up and melting all of the ice and snow.
SOLUTION: There are more and more car manufacturers that offer key-free entry to cars. Ford is among the ones that has an app which will remotely start your car.
6. Roomba + Smartphone App: There are some times that you just need your pad clean immediately, no matter how you've programmed your Roomba. Partnering an app with a Roomba would solve a lot of problems.
SOLUTION: Roomba has a smartphone app called Touch Drive that works on Android phones. RoboControl and RoboWebCam are paid apps that allow you to control your Roomba.
7. Walk My Dog: I love walking my dog, but some mornings, I just run out of time and I wish that there was some app coupled with a remote-control robot that could do it for me. Although I doubt that this will work anytime soon, it's certainly a good way to save a little time in the mornings.
SOLUTION: MapMyDogWalk allows you to log your dog walk and see how much exercise you're getting. If you're in NYC, you can use the Swifto dog-walking service, that has an Android and iOS app that allows you to track them.
8. Universal Remote: There are add-ons and apps that allow your smartphone to function as a remote control, but I'd like my phone to be able to control anything that has a remote control, not just some devices. That would make life a bit easier, and I could get rid of some of the clutter on my coffee table.
SOLUTION: Here are a couple of ways that you can get rid of the remotes in your life, and center everything around your smartphone.
9. Wake Me Up Like A Philips Wake Up Light: I get pretty grumpy in the mornings, and I know that the Philips Wake-Up Light allows for a smoother waking-up experience. There must be a way to make an app and jury rig a couple of LED lights with an Arduino to get a similar effect at a fraction of the cost.
SOLUTION: While there are no apps that can work exactly like a Wake Up Light, Zen Awake tries to use sounds to wake you up more gradually than any other alarm. The app is available for $1.99.
10. Cook Dinner: I guess this is probably a bit too much to ask, but I can think of a few ways that you could make it work. For example, if you're able to control your appliances remotely, you could have some system to warm up a meal in your oven. Although you'd have problems with keeping food in the oven for most of the day, without any refrigeration.
SOLUTION: While there are no apps that can cook you dinner, there are plenty of apps that will make your smartphone double as a cookbook, which will make cooking dinner easier and faster.
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(Images: Robodynamics/SchultzeWORKS / Rex Features, Flickr member Jfingas licensed for use under Creative Commons and Flickr member Tom Raftery licensed for use under Creative Commons)