6 ways to control your home by phone

Not so long ago we remember it being too much to ask that our top-of-the-range Motorola phone actually let us know who a text was from. Now it's not such a wild exaggeration to say that our mobile phones could probably make tea for us if we wanted them to.

Yes, mobile technology has come forward in leaps and bounds of late. And it's making its presence felt in the home even while you're not there. So if you fancy turning your mobile into the ultimate remote control, here's a few ideas on where to start...

1. Set your Sky box to record

Working late and going to miss that TV programme you've been looking forward to all week? Never fear. If you've already discovered the delights of Sky you'll be excited to know you can take advantage of it even when you're not around to press the record button on your remote.

All you need to do is register for Sky's free Remote Record service and you'll be able to browse the Sky TV Guide. You can select what you want to record in exactly the same way as you do at home.

Go to http://www.sky.com/portal/site/skycom/remoterecord/mobile for more details.

2. Create a smart home

Japan is usually at the forefront of mobile technology, so it's a good place to look for weird and wonderful mobile innovations. The latest novelty to grab the headlines is NTT's U-Consento. This is a service that remotely controls home devices like AV equipment, lamps and central heating via your mobile phone wherever you are.

To control devices, users send commands to a wireless router back at home using a mobile web page. The router then relays signals to an infrared transmitter, which acts like a universal control and sends the signals on to the devices concerned. Planned for a September launch in Japan, there's no word as yet on UK availability.

3. Watch and control your TV

If you haven't come across the Slingbox yet, you're missing out on one of the best things to happen to home theatre for years. The nugget-shaped box turns your laptop or mobile phone into a personal TV system.

It does so by 'placeshifting' the signal from your cable box, satellite receiver or digital recorder to any compatible online mobile device. You can even control the connected devices like you would with a remote control.

So if you need to set a programme to record while you're away, you can do it via a laptop, PDA or mobile phone. The SlingPlayer software optimises the resolution of the streamed video to suit whatever device you're using. Mobile compatibility is limited to certain Windows Mobile devices, but 3 has since started to preinstall the SlingPlayer Mobile software onto some of its Symbian handsets.

Check out http://uk.slingmedia.com/page/slingplayermobile.html for a full list.

4. Enjoy your PC's digital media

Mobile phones are becoming increasingly integrated with our digital lifestyle and are capable of providing us with pretty much the same content as our home computers. Now, with Orb MyCasting you can use your mobile phone to access the same digital media stored on your home PC, including photos, music, video and even TV.

All you need to turn your computer into a personal broadcasting portal is an always-on Windows PC connected to the internet, with the Orb software running in the background. Nokia is currently offering Orb MyCasting on its N80 Internet Edition and N800 Internet Tablet, but more are likely to follow soon.

Go to http://www.orb.com for info.

5. Keep an eye on things at home

Spying is pretty low behaviour in anyone's book, but there's nothing wrong with tuning in to events in your own home from a safety point of view. Thanks to 3G video calling, there are now several devices that allow you to keep a check on things at home. The most famous are 3's Pupillo and the iCamCU software from the Smart Card Group.

The basic principal in both cases is the same. A 3G-enabled device acts as a surveillance camera, which can be dialled into at any time to check what's being recorded. Many also have motion sensors, which trigger a notification alert to a linked handset. But remember - it's not for spying, it's for security!

6. Get money off your weekly shop

Industry insiders predict you'll be able to use your mobile phone to pay for goods in less than a year. But a new system of texted barcoding promises to give discounts on your shopping by this summer. The scheme, called Shop Smart Save, provides users with a personal barcode and texts regular offers on selected brands to the handset.

To cash in your offers, the barcode is scanned at the till. Special software is then used to call up a database via the mobile phone network to automatically deduct the offers. Shops taking part in the launch include Somerfield, Budgens, Coop and Spar.

Miriam Brent

Tech.co.uk was the former name of TechRadar.com. Its staff were at the forefront of the digital publishing revolution, and spearheaded the move to bring consumer technology journalism to its natural home – online. Many of the current TechRadar staff started life a Tech.co.uk staff writer, covering everything from the emerging smartphone market to the evolving market of personal computers. Think of it as the building blocks of the TechRadar you love today.