The Best Smart Products of 2012

2012 marks a coming-of-age for physical devices that are designed for a connected world, here's a round up of our favorites.

The year 2012 marks a coming-of-age for physical devices that are designed for a connected world. Created with digital at their core, these products are not “digitally enhanced” or merely gadgets for Dad on Father’s Day (although some could be). They are truly useful, elegantly designed, and in the case of the consumer products, are things that once you start using, it’s hard to imagine life without them.

This latest crop of digital products truly improves the way we live—from helping you get healthier, to saving energy, and even helping those who help others, like first responders. Here are a few of my favorites that were released this year, along with a couple that were just announced. The year 2013 will be an interesting test to see how these products fare in the marketplace, and with New Year’s optimism, I’m very much looking forward to it.

Philips Hue

Phillips Hue solves a problem that we all face at some point: terrible lighting. Hue is a wireless system of connected multi-color LED bulbs that can be controlled by your iPhone or iPad, and programmed to fit your schedule. What’s cool about Hue is that it offers more than just improved ambiance for college stoners. You can create settings for practical purposes, like leaving a lamp on when you’re away and slowly turning the lights on to wake up in the mornings. And it works with your existing light fixtures.

Nike+ Fuelband

[Full disclosure: I worked on the Fuelband, so believe what you want from the words that follow.] Nike+ Fuelband is part-tracking device, part-watch and part-fashion accessory. It tracks your activity throughout the day, and helps you get healthier by setting daily goals that are visualized on the band itself and through an iPhone or Android app. What excites me about the Fuelband is that wearable computing—the nerdy academic term for smart, wearable products—has finally become a reality for the everyperson, not just cyborgs and New York University ITP students (and since I’m telling you everything, yes I went there).


Nest, billed as “the learning thermostat,” released the second version of its super smart, sleek product in October. Like other connected thermostats on the market, Nest gives you greater control over heating and cooling to save money and reduce environmental impact. But what differentiates Nest is that it actually learns your behavior, so you don’t have to spend time creating a bunch of customized settings. Just set the temperature to your liking, and after a few days, Nest creates a schedule that’s easy to manage. It even recognizes when you’re away from the house and switches to a more energy-efficient mode.

Little Printer

It may seem counter-intuitive to print the internet, but with Little Printer it sure seems like fun. Little Printer is a personable, connected product for your desk that prints customized news, puzzles and updates from your friends. Create a micro-newspaper for yourself with their smartphone app that offers up content from great partners, like lunch recommendations from Foursquare, your Google task list or short fiction about monsters. And minimize your guilt for creating paper waste, since Little Printer uses an inkless printing process and comes with BPA-free paper.

Bounce Imaging

Bounce Imaging is a Boston-based startup that’s developing a low-cost imaging device for first responders. It’s designed to be thrown into dangerous situations like a burning building. The ball-shaped Bounce has multiple cameras and sensors that stitch together a panoramic view of the space, and provide information on temperature, air quality and other dangerous conditions that can be transmitted to computers and mobile phones.


Out of the many health-tracking devices on the market today, Tinké stands out because of its easy-to-use design and focus on cardio-respiratory health and stress. By simply pressing and holding the device while plugged into your smartphone, Tinké visualizes measurements like heart rate and blood oxygen level, and compares them to personalized benchmarks. Tinké is being marketed as a fitness product but there seems to be a lot of potential for helping those who are managing more serious health conditions.

Julian Meehan

Young leaders from around the world are gathering at the United Nations Headquarters in New York Saturday to address arguably the most urgent issue of our time. The Youth Climate Summit comes on the heels of an international strike spearheaded by Greta Thunberg, the 16-year-old climate activist from Sweden, who arrived in New York via emissions-free sailboat earlier this month.

Translated from Swedish, "berg" means "mountain," so it may feel fated that a young woman with Viking blood in her veins and summit in her name would be at the helm. But let's go out on a limb and presume Thunberg, in keeping with most activists, would chafe at the notion of pre-ordained "destiny," and rightly so. Destiny is passive — it happens to you. It's also egomaniacal. Change, on the other hand, is active; you have to fight. And it is humble. "We need to get angry and understand what is at stake," Thunberg declared. "And then we need to transform that anger into action."

This new generation of activists' most pernicious enemy is denial. The people in charge — complacent politicians and corporation heads who grossly benefit from maintaining the status quo — are buffered from real-life consequences of climate change. But millions of people don't share that privilege. For them, climate change isn't an abstract concept, but a daily state of emergency, whether it comes in the form of "prolonged drought in sub-Saharan Africa…devastating tropical storms sweeping across Southeast Asia, the Caribbean and the Pacific…[or] heatwaves and wildfires," as Amnesty International reportsare all too real problems people are facing on a regular basis.

RELATED: Greta Thunberg urges people to turn to nature to combat climate change

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