Tall, short, real or made of plastic, Xmas trees are more than seasonal decoration objects. Their qualities evoke memories of childhood and they also represent family, gathering and celebration.

2015 was the year of the internet of things, wearables and connected objects. We’ve seen from wearables and smart vessels to home control systems becoming mainstream. According to a report done by the Centre for Retail Research (CRR), sales of the wearables segment alone is expected to rise by 182% (£67.64 million) this holiday season, with countries like UK, Germany and Netherlands topping the list. Such figure gives us an idea of how many wristbands, connected devices and gadgets will be sitting around Xmas trees worldwide. No other moment would be more appropriate to bring these new technologies closer to our families.

Trends aside, Xmas trees are timeless and there’s no point trying to reinvent something so singular and special. Instead, the goal here is to explore ways of making our lovely Xmas trees a bit more fun and up to date.

Building an interactive iBeacon/remote-controlled Xmas tree is something easy and fun to do. It should only take you a few hours and less than $200 (USD).

The infrared way

To control lights wiressly, we rely on some kind of connectivity standard used in home automation. Ranging from newer to older technologies, these standards include Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, Zigbee, Zwave and infrared, besides many others. Older/familiar technologies - such as infrared - enable similar results on a more conscious budget.

Infrared-controlled LED strips (or lights) are easy to find and popular on the market right now. They come in different lengths, sold separately or as a kit that includes the remote control and IR receiver that controls the strip. The minimum length sold is 1 meter, which can be limiting depending on the tree size, so 2 meters is just sufficient to gorgeously decorate a small tree. With the remote control that comes with it, you can manually change the color of the tree, the way the lights blink, add simples effects and so on. That can get boring quick...

An infrared controller widens the possibilities in automation, which include being able to control virtually anything: from Apple TVs to remote-controlled toys. Besides that, they can be used with a solid selection of apps and automation systems out there when the holiday season is over.

Out of the box infrared controllers rely on third-party apps or systems in order to blast commands. That’s where Beecon takes place: you can “learn” remote control buttons and save them as commands that are manually or automatically called. For instance, you can press the blue button of the LED strip's remote control and save an action associated with your blue Estimote beacon, repeating the same process with additional beacons of different colors or names.

You will need: 1 LED strip + 1 infrared controller + at least 3 iBeacons

The Hue way

Even if this approach replaces the need of having an infrared-controlled LED strip an infrared controller, having all of them will give you even more possibilities. Even if the Philips system doesn’t connect to your infrared controller and ordinary appliances, you can access/control them all separately using Beecon.

To control the Philips LightStrip, a Philips Hue bridge is required, and the bridge is not sold separately. Thats means you’ll need to purchase either the Philips Lux or Philips Hue starter kit, and both kits do not include the 2 meters Philips LightStrip, so if you don't have the Hue starter kit, things can start to get a bit pricy. Yet, the total cost still can stay below $200 USD if you choose the Lux kit and skip the beacons.

Cost aside, the variety of apps and services that support Philips products is eye-opening, and just like the infrared solution, the Hue bridge and bulbs are useful 12 months a year and they'll help you save energy. Currently, Beecon only allows you to control Philips Hue bulbs that can be used to enhance the overall ambient (support to additional models is coming soon), but very cool apps like Ambify and IFTTT will do an excellent job interacting with your tree based on music or social media notifications for example.

You will need: 1 Philips Hue LightStrips + 1 Philips (Hue or Lux) Starter Pack

The ceiling is the limit

Beecon makes it easy for you to control lights and objects and to perform different actions when you get close to things or arrive at places. Think of things as objects, furniture or anything that requires electricity to work, including air fans that you plug directly to the wall or even battery-operated toys. Besides being able to control smart (and not so smart) things, you can also listen to audible messages that can be dispatched when you get close to an object or enter a place.

The ideas can be different depending on how large/small is the place, how many iBeacons are available, the number of people interacting with the tree and so on. If more than one person will playing, Beecon Sync allows you to share your automation settings with them on spot or before they arrive. Other users simplt need to enter the Sync token and password (obtained upon activation) to get remotely updated before they arrive.

With multiple iBeacons spread over your home or living room, a person who’s carrying the iPhone can constantly change the color and the way the Xmas lights will become as he/she walks. In a similar approach, the tree can turn into different colors according to who gets closer to it. Games can be created for the kids. Toys such as infrared-controlled trains or mini drones can interact or carry iBeacons that will control or connect to other objects. Using Spoken Alerts, iBeacons can also be attached to gift boxes, allowing each person to listen whose each gift belongs, simply by passing the iPhone close to them. These examples may not be the most creative ones, but they may open up your mind to new possibilities to make your Xmas night more playful.

In addition to iBeacons, apps like IFTTT and Ambify interact with your Philips LightStrips and Hue bulbs according to the music being played or even when you receive social media notifications. Not to mention that those with deeper 'geek' skills additionaly can use Arduino or Raspberry PI kits with an array of interesting things - Happy Holidays!

Check Beecon's latest version at the App Store.