We can video conference from two cell phones on opposite sides of the planet, but we still haven’t figured out the interface for our own living rooms. There are solutions on the market, sure, and the Nest is pretty interesting if you’re only worried about temperature. But we simply haven’t seen the brilliantly simple iPod or Facebook of home automation; no gadget or cloud service has commandeered our home lives yet. Expense is certainly one reason. But the other? It could very well be a lack of inspiring design.
Serenity is a different sort of home automation concept by Artefact. It’s an e-ink tablet that can accompany you through the house, changing its function by proximity (someone’s in the living room) or user action (somebody turns on music). This convenience is certainly important—but honestly, it’s nothing you couldn’t replace with an iPad today. What makes Serenity so appealing is its interface, a UI "with a heart."
Whether that middle-America-approved tagline appeals to you or not, the Serenity OS is gorgeous. Sterile home-automation functions become a series of relaxed infographics. Every piece of data you see is touchable and relevant to the tablet’s current location.
"The visual experience presents status data, menus, and controls as art and/or elements that are visually pleasing to look at and ask to be displayed and enjoyed rather than hidden," Artefact writes. "Controls are kept minimal to connect with the architecture and please the eye. Context is provided by both descriptive menu systems and the device’s location within the home."
Serenity OS’s flexibility is especially noticeable in the topic of energy consumption. Placed in the kitchen, leaves on a picture of a plant can wilt away to signify energy use. Or instead, Serenity can display a top-down view of the appliances sucking down the most power, with each appliance rendered as a circle with its diameter relative to its consumption.
In either case, Serenity’s home automation doubles as a piece of data art, offering a welcome alternative to a future that could otherwise be full of ugly icons, buttons, and checkboxes elbowing for space next to the kids’ more attractive finger-paint creations on the refrigerator.