Michael Antonoff App­ti­tude: Lights Off, Breeze On

Sound & Vision - - CONTENS -

The snap­pi­est way to ad­just the am­biance in my home the­ater is to touch an icon on my phone to start the ceil­ing fan a-twirling. Touch an­other icon, and the fan’s room light turns off. Get­ting the fan’s speed right may require an­other tap or two. It should be fast enough to dry TV view­ers’ brows but not so fast as to cause pa­per plates and nap­kins to fly off the cof­fee ta­ble.

Touch con­trol of the things that en­hance our en­ter­tain­ment ex­pe­ri­ence is pretty cool, right? Not cool enough, ac­tu­ally. The screen app has al­ready been eclipsed by some­thing even cooler.

Let me ex­plain.

Do­ing my part to fight cli­mate change, I made the switch from air con­di­tion­ers to ceil­ing fans. I have six fans hov­er­ing over var­i­ous rooms, in­clud­ing the liv­ing room, which dou­bles as the home the­ater. The wide-span, five-blade fan ro­tates in tan­dem with al­most all our TV view­ing from May through Oc­to­ber. Un­til now, it’s been op­er­ated en­tirely from a ded­i­cated RF re­mote kept near the sofa.

Com­pared with other gad­getry at trade shows, ceil­ing fans are decidedly low tech. But when I came across the Oli­bra booth, I was im­pressed by the com­pany’s pitch that you didn’t need a smart fan to make it Wi-fi-com­pat­i­ble. Even legacy fans could be app-con­trolled by the Bond, a $99 hockey-puck-like emit­ter. You plug it into an elec­tri­cal out­let and in­stall the free Bond app on your IOS or An­droid device.

You point your fan’s re­mote at the Bond, which searches its data­base. The Bond had no dif­fi­culty iden­ti­fy­ing the fans in my read­ing room and home of­fice. Both were RF de­vices op­er­a­ble from other rooms.

(If your re­mote is IR, the Bond will need line-of-sight to that par­tic­u­lar fan.) Fans de­ploy­ing only wall switches or pull-down chains are not com­pat­i­ble.

The Bond stum­bled when I tried to get it to rec­og­nize the Hamp­ton Bay fan in my liv­ing room, home to movie night and the rai­son d’être for cov­er­ing the prod­uct in S&V. Chris Merck, Oli­bra’s chief en­gi­neer, called to ex­plain that, un­like my other fan re­motes, the model in my liv­ing room in­cor­po­rates an LCD read­out. I was ad­vised to keep press­ing a re­mote but­ton rather than just hold­ing it down to see if the Bond could cap­ture the code.

That worked.

I suc­cess­fully com­manded my fans over the in­ter­net us­ing the app on an ipad away from home. It’s un­clear why I’d want to do that ex­cept, per­haps, to cool a pet or turn on a light to give the im­pres­sion that some­one was home.

In the sup­port call, Merck told me some­thing that was an aha! mo­ment. He said that 90 per­cent of his users put away the app and op­er­ate the Bond en­tirely through an Ama­zon Echo or Google

Home smart speaker. “I say, ‘Alexa, turn on kitchen fan.’ It’s what I pre­fer to do at home. You’ve got both hands full cook­ing. It’s very con­ve­nient to just use your voice.”

Can you un­der­stand my dis­may? Here I am writ­ing a monthly col­umn largely about apps on mo­bile de­vices, and now I’m be­ing told by a com­pany that makes apps that its app is not es­sen­tial.

I felt like call­ing it quits. But I didn’t do that af­ter key­boards and mice took a back seat to palm-size screens. And I didn’t do it af­ter the nat­u­ral world suc­cumbed to the vir­tual world. So, I’m not about to give up on screen apps just yet. But clearly—at least in the home—the next big in­ter­face will be spo­ken rather than touched. See bond­home.io.

The next big in­ter­face will be spo­ken, not touched.

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