A bird in the house is worth two in the bush: Spark’s Morepork smart home technology hits the market

To own a smartphone is one thing, but as technology becomes more advanced, it also becomes more pervasive, edging itself further into the household. Soon it seems we’ll have a smart everything: smart beds (yes that’s a thing), smart watches, smart thermostats, smart bikes. The list goes on. Yesterday Spark released its Morepork smart home technology, but it’s not using the native owl of which it’s named after to market the product, but rather a family of emojis. We spoke to Spark’s Gemma Croombs to find out more on how the telco is pushing the product and her insights on smart technology. 

The eagle has landed, or rather the Morepork, a home security product that allows users to monitor and control their home with sensors and cameras connected to the cloud which sends alerts to the customer’s smartphone if it detects changes such as movement or windows and doors opening. The smartphone acts as a remote of sorts to arm and disarm the sensors.

It can also take photos and record video clips.

So basically, if you’re tired of hiding your spare key under a rock, worried about forgetting to close the front door, concerned about burglars or that your suspicions are correct and your teenager really is sneaking into the liquor cabinet when you’re not home, Morepork can help. Big Brother can now be installed into the household.

As part of its marketing push for the product, Spark invented a family of emojis which appear in two online ads to show how they use Morepork.

Featuring only sounds, music and emoji, the Morepork films peek into the lives of the family (Mum, Dad, their little boy and his dog) living in Emojiville, a release says. “The films show for the first time what an emoji family’s world might look like and what they worry their dog gets up to if it’s left inside.”

The set for the emoji’s house used in the clips is a life-sized two-storey house built into the foyer of Spark’s Auckland HQ, which is a live demo set for the product and will stay put for the next two weeks.

The release gives the reason for Spark’s use of emojis. “Emoji is the fastest growing language on the planet, letting us express quickly and clearly how we feel. The pictograms have changed how we communicate online and are now breaking out of their digital world to help us in real life to do everything from ordering a pizza to logging in to your bank account. They’ve even landed a Hollywood movie taking emoji from the mobile screen to the big screen.”

Spark general manager of smart living Gemma Croombs says Morepork’s designed to look after the things that people love- their homes, their kids, the things they’re emotional about, so an emoji family were perfect to tell the story of how good it feels to have Morepork watching over them.

Croombs says the films capture that moment of panic, the “oh shit moment” we all feel when we think we’ve forgotten to take care of something at home.

“We all know those moments, the crazy scenarios we imagine might be happening before that great feeling of relief when we can actually see there’s nothing to worry about – it’s a series of emotions best expressed on the faces of our emoji family,” she says.

About 100 unique emojis were created to bring to life the emoji family’s home and Emojiville. 

Croombs says at the moment Spark is in the soft launch period and is going above the line in September and she says the product is being sold exclusively to Spark broadband customers to start off with. “It’s a mass-market product and I think the Spark broadband market is a huge opportunity for us. We see it more than just security, they will actually be able to enrich their [Kiwis] lives and give them that visibility of what’s going on at home when they’re away.”

Spark’s broadband customers comprise of about 40 percent of New Zealand homes, according to Stuff.

She says the emoji clips won’t appear on TV. “We’ll be pushing with social … We’re not planning to go TV, but we will be putting up billboards and print [ads]later.”

The Morepork service costs $999 plus $29.95 a month, or $49.95 a month if customers take up an option for professional monitoring by Whangarei-based company Alarm Watch.

Morepork customers will get a “starter kit” with three door and window sensors, an image sensor designed to detect people in the home, a video camera for remote monitoring and a control panel, but Croombs says extra alarms, sensors and cameras can be purchased separately and added to the system.

According to an earlier Spark release the Consumer Electronics Association projects US sales of ‘smart energy’ and ‘smart security’ systems alone will total $574 million this year, up 23 percent from 2014.

Croombs says the smart market is the fastest growing consumer electronics category of growth globally and that the use of it for security is just the beginning, with there being a whole raft of opportunity for future smart technology.

We asked Croombs what she thought about the privacy issues around this kind of security, where there is constant surveillance in the home.

“There’s lots of [surveillance]products out there already. You can set up a camera or these types of things already. We are making it simple for people that want to do that already. I’m aware that we need to make people realise not to put it in the guest bedroom. We have an ethics guide we are going to put on the website. You can also put stickers on your door to say there’s, cameras and we [users]have a Morepork.”

“More than 70 per cent of our customers now own a smartphone and this is estimated to grow to around 80-90 percent within a few years. New Zealanders are using their smartphones as the remote control for life, so it makes sense they will want to use an app to look after their homes,” she says.

It’s not only homes that are becoming smarter, here’s a few other products in the realm of domestic smart-tech:

Adhere tech is a device that monitors the taking (or not taking) of prescription medicines via sensor/smart tech integration. It monitors when and how medication is being taken and sends alert notifications to both the patient and caregiver.

For those landlords who are concerned their tenants are running a meth lab in their rental property, never fear, MethMinders is here. The device can detect the presence of chemicals associated with meth production, then silently alert a monitoring team who in turn contact the landlord or the authorities.

For those who never learnt to cook, soon you might be able to own one of these, a Pantelligent pan, the sensor-equipped “smart fry pan of the future”, which is currently in the process of gaining its FCC certification.

The bottom plate of the pan is equipped with monitors that measure the temperature of the pan and sends that information, via Bluetooth, to the Pantelligent app. The app then guides you as to what adjustments to make to achieve the perfect steak, salmon fillet or whatever it is you’re cooking.

The possibilities are endless.

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