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A Dream Home for the True Blue Apple Fan

By Kimberly Hill MacNewsWorld ECT News Network
Dec 23, 2008 4:00 AM PT

Way back in 1950, science fiction giant Ray Bradbury wrote a short story, "There Will Come Soft Rains," about a smart house that did just about everything for its resident family -- including cooking breakfast and keeping track of the bills. Unfortunately, all members of that family, along with all inhabitants of the town, were obliterated by a nuclear explosion. The house, though, kept right on going, complete with robotic mice cleaning the floor.

A Dream Home for the True Blue Apple Fan

Apocalyptic foreshadowing aside, who hasn't fantasized about a house that makes day-to-day life easier? Certainly the trendy guy on the Apple commercials looks more relaxed -- and like he's having a lot more fun -- than his frumpy, brown-suited, PC counterpart. Perhaps it's because Mac Dude's house is full of gadgets that streamline a busy urbanite's hectic schedule. Maybe he lives in a house something like this one ...

Gather Round the Hearth

As in many homes today, the centerpiece of Mac Dude's living room is a huge, wall-mounted, high-definition TV. The brand and technology (plasma, LCD) matter less than the size. Fifty inches is a minimum. Compared to this, the small, white Apple TV unit sitting on the shelf below barely is noticeable.

Through that little box, though, stream movies, TV shows, and video podcasts to the big screen, all from iTunes. When the host and his guests don't care to watch the glowing screen, they still can listen to audio podcasts and, of course, music through the audio speakers scattered through the house and linked into the home theater system via WiFi. They control all this through the Remote app for iPhone, which also transmits over the house's wireless network. Who wants to carry two clickers around?

Cranky Converts

Apple TV is the best media convergence device for those who consume most of their media through the iTunes service, Adam Christianson, host of the popular podcast MacCast, told MacNewsWorld.

However, some of Mac Dude's friends aren't quite on the all-Apple-all-the-time bandwagon. They love their Macs, but they also like to play by their own rules. One neighbor has manipulated her Apple TV box so she can play any non-DRM content using open source media center software Boxee. Her friends are jealous, because the open alpha phase of Boxee won't be open until Jan. 8.

Another friend has a grudge against any type of pay TV. In anticipation of the February deadline for the national conversion to digital television, he got one of those federal government coupons for a converter. Then, he spent US$99 for Roku's Netflix Player and linked it into his wireless network at home. For the price of less than two months of cable or satellite TV, he brags, he's set to go for movies and TV series.

Another option for those who consume media from a variety of sources -- Hulu, Netflix, iTunes, etc. -- is to use a Mac mini as the hub of a home entertainment system, said Christianson.

The Inner Sanctum

Regardless of their television politics, though, everyone in Mac Dude's gang wants iPod-based media within an arm's reach at any time. In our hero's house, each room has some sort of speaker system, either standalone or with other functionality.

It all begins with the iHome alarm clock system that wakes him; a similar model is available in many hotel rooms. The clock-radio-speaker combination continues as the top-selling iPod speaker device in the U.S., Evan Stein, vice president of marketing for SDI Technologies, makers of iHome products, told MacNewsWorld.

Mac Dude usually lets the shuffle function on his iPod choose a wake-up tune for him, but he sets the radio tuner on the device to his local NPR station. Sometimes, though, he wants to listen to far-flung radio stations while folding laundry, so our Apple fan downloaded the Public Radio app for the iPod touch he usually keeps in the bedroom. Through this American Public Media program, he can listen to a live stream of any of hundreds of public radio channels whenever he's within range of WiFi.

High-Fi Reycling

Around the house, Mac Dude has a range of other speaker setups, from lower-end JBL sets to high-fidelity Altec Lansing units. All of them have adapters for the whole iPod family, from the classics up to the new chromatic nanos. Mac Dude has a trusty classic model that won't hold a charge, so he leaves that one seated in its speakers and uses it as a stationary music player. A couple of shuffles have met similar fates in other rooms. It's better to use them than either throw them out or try to hack a battery replacement, he figures.

When lounging in the tub, Mac Dude sometimes likes to listen to audiobooks. He's had one too many experiences with valuables going for a dip in the bubbles to trust his iPod touch that close to water, though. He bought one of AquaPac's waterproof MP3 cases because it fits even his older generation iPod nano, and he doesn't like to fuss with sliding iPods in and out of their specialized casings.

Bon Appetit

Mac Dude and his circle of friends love to cook. Being the geeks they are, they also love to sort, store and exchange recipes and shopping lists with the many Mac- and iPhone-based software packages available. What they hate are keyboard problems created by sticky fingers flipping through e-pages. All of them have voice recognition software on their main home iMacs, which, of course, sit on the kitchen desk or are conveniently mounted on the wall. These are the only desktop machines in their homes, because they've all upgraded to MacBook Airs or Pros for home-to-office work.

Once they've perfected their culinary creations, they like to upload photographs and share them on Twitter via TwitterPic. There's no time to waste with digital camera cables when the perfect souffle is coming out of the oven, though, so Mac Dude shoots a quick pic on his iPhone and uploads it through the TwitterPic icon on Naan Studio's Twitterfon app.

And Away We Go

Sometimes even the biggest homebody must venture into the world. It's likely that our hip Mac guy does so with his iPod touch or iPhone tucked safely into the specially sewn pocket in his jacket. Even Lands' End outerwear has those little niches now, complete with stitched slots through which to pull the earbud wires.

Mac Dude jettisoned his standard-issue earbuds long ago for third-party earphones with much better sound quality and a higher comfort factor, something perhaps by Bose. At the very least, he will have purchased the Griffin Technology EarJams adapter set so that the buds seat more firmly in his ears and provide some padding. All this makes the train ride much more pleasant (because we know that Mac Dude uses public transportation and doesn't drive around in a gas-guzzling SUV, especially since the bottom fell out in October).

However, being the green guy that he is, Mac Dude often chooses to ride his bike rather than use any petro-fuel at all. Cycling while deafened to traffic noises by earbuds is a no-no, so Mac Dude has a Bike to Beach bicycle speaker made by iHome.

The device was created specifically to address this safety concern, explained iHome's Stein. It clamps to Mac Dude's handlebars and is water-resistant to protect against road splash.

Phoning Home

Mac Dude never feels disconnected, because his iPhone has both 3G and WiFi capabilities. He uses the Easy WiFi iPhone app made by Devicescape to find and join publicly accessible networks along his route. He's an AT&smp;T wireless subscriber (not one of those who's hacked his iPhone to work on another wireless carrier), so he knows that at the very least, he'll be able to get online at most Starbucks locations.

Because he's employed by a marketing firm, he's able to access his company's network through the iPhone. It will be at least another year or so until his friends working at big enterprises, especially those in regulated industries like financial services or insurance, can do anything but check their e-mail on their iPhones, Jack Gold, president of J.Gold Associates, told MacNewsWorld. The security concerns still are being addressed.

While grabbing a latte, our hero checks to see if his friends or family members have added any event requests to his calendar. He's a subscriber to MobileMe, but some of his friends use Google or Yahoo productivity suites with shared calendars to feel just as in touch with their peeps. Before jumping back on the bike, he updates his status on the Facebook app for iPhone, and off he goes.


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Which capabilities in a home robot might induce you to consider buying one?
Help with daily housecleaning chores
Companionship for elderly or disabled family member
Entertaining and educating children
Monitoring security all through the house
Keeping inventory and restocking items when needed
Nothing would persuade me to consider getting a home robot.