The Hearth Display Family Management System

Say what you want about moms, but they keep the trains running on time

We all know generalization is the fast food of considered thought. But just as fast food can be rather satisfying—and nourishing enough— generalizations are often largely accurate.

So here goes: When it comes to technology and how it works in traditionally structured families, women’s priorities are different from men’s. That is, they are a lot more practical. For instance, after 30-plus years in technology, your columnist—while acknowledging he may have led a sheltered life—has yet to meet a single, straight woman who obsesses, as legions of men tend to, about the quality of hi-fi speaker cables. Women think (correctly so) that wire is wire, and if there’s a difference between stuff that’s a dollar a foot and $1,000 a foot, it most certainly isn’t audible.

Which brings us to Hearth Display, an ingenious new product from an all-female, New York–based start-up. The invention supports a timeworn generalization: in traditionally structured families, mothers often handle more of the organizational and scheduling duties than fathers, regardless of who is the busier parent.

Hearth is a wall-mounted 27-by-17-inch tablet that serves as what the three millennial starters—all of whom have backgrounds in tech and product development—call a family management system. It replaces the analog methods organized families currently have (whiteboards, Post-It notes, and so forth) to assign tasks and synchronize calendars.

The display offers a clear, dynamic organizational chart that shows who is due to do which household task and when. It also shows whether, say, mom’s board meeting next Tuesday clashes with daughter’s soccer practice, or if son can’t walk the dog on Wednesday because he has a piano lesson.

There’s a measure of gamification to keep children engaged, and if the mother is shouldering more than an equal share of the duties, the disparity will show up in such a way that everyone from the father to the four-year-old can vividly see.

Hearth’s founders, who raised about $3 million of venture-capital funding (half from women, according to the founders), went beyond their hunch that there was a demand for a more effective, yet also simpler, way to organize a family. After extensive research, they concluded that the non-obvious, unpaid tasks of managing family life are eight times more likely to fall on women—a factor that makes them three times more likely to give up on their careers.

Hearth’s co-founder and C.E.O., Mei Lin Ng, explained to AIR MAIL why the team chose to build hardware rather than just make an app.

“We decided a hardware approach would better consolidate the participation of the whole family than a mere app that’s easily out of sight, out of mind,” she said. “We found parents typically have five to seven sources of information at one time for running the family, from WhatsApp groups to school calendars, but always with mom as the aggregator. Also, younger children often don’t yet have their own devices, so Hearth is better able to include them.”

And is public interest justifying the founders’ approach? Seems so. Last year, the first run of products sold out, and 93 percent of the buyers actively use them, according to the founders. Even given Hearth Display’s considerable price—$599—more than 100,000 customers have paid for and are currently awaiting their Hearth Display from the second production run, the company says. The founders expect to reduce wait time by next year, and also make the product available outside the U.S.

The Flare earHD 90 Hearing AIDS

The Flare earHD 90 hearing aids, $54.95.

Pump up the volume of your surrounds without looking out of touch

People over the age of 35 or so will know that as old age sets in, you increasingly need to cup a hand behind one or both of your ears to hear properly, whether you’re straining to listen to muffled TV dialogue or just across the table from your dinner companion at a noisy restaurant.

But what if you had a defiantly analog gadget to do the cupping for you?

We are big fans round here of Flare Audio, a tiny audio company founded in 2010 by a former firefighter and self-taught audio genius, Davies Roberts, in Lancing, a small village on the south coast of England. Flare is known for its high-end earphones, which are much loved by sound-recording professionals.

But they have also developed what can only be called mini, electronics-free hearing aids. They insert into the ear canals like regular earbuds and funnel sound into your head, leaving your hands free to eat, gesticulate, and scratch your head.

Flare earHD 90s take the form of little mouse ears, not too visually distracting but not invisible either. We accept they are a little eccentric, but they work well in making sound both clearer and louder. They are rightly described by Roberts as “glasses for your ears.” Flare cites testing by the Institute of Sound and Vibration Research, at the University of Southampton, in England, which found earHD 90s improve speech intelligibility, increase signal-to-noise ratio, and enhance frequency response.

In our experience, earHD 90s are not quite as effective as two cupped hands, but they’re a lot less likely to make the wearer look like a senior citizen who struggles to keep up in conversation.

And if you can’t bring yourself to wear them in a public place, which we do understand, they are superb for home use, allowing you to lower the TV volume and turn off subtitles for a change.

The Netatmo Smart AC Controller

The Netatmo Smart AC Controller, $119.99.

Control your air conditioner from your phone, and avoid coming home to a hot house

Air-conditioner season is approaching, and with it comes the odd fact that, in many cases, there isn’t a better way of turning them on than manually.

French smart-home specialist Netatmo, whose products we have featured in the past, has this new—and admittedly boring-looking—product that may make a huge difference both to your summer comfort and electricity usage.

Their Smart AC Controller is unusually easy to install as these products go, and makes it possible to turn on your A/C remotely from your phone a few minutes before you arrive home, or to ask Alexa-type smart devices to turn it on. Netatmo’s marketing slogan —“Same AC, just smarter”—is well justified.

The Smart AC Controller has omnidirectional infrared technology, meaning users can place it anywhere in the room without the need for any construction work. The system works so long as your A/C unit has an infrared remote control with a screen that displays its settings—you can find out if your A/C is compatible on the company’s Web site. And buyers will be delighted to know there’s no pesky subscription required.

The hearO Tennis Ball Speaker

The hearO tennis-ball speaker, $74.99.

Just don’t mistake it for the real thing …

The French Open should be in progress as you read this, Wimbledon starts in July, and the U.S. Open starts at the end of August. A good time, then, to mention this, the incomprehensibly named hearO, which is a Bluetooth speaker housed in a real tennis ball.

The idea, like the name, may sound like one of the lamest to be found in Hong Kong’s bonkers Mong Kok technology markets. But, bearing in mind your columnist’s view that women have a more pragmatic and sensible approach to tech, it should be noted that every female who has seen our sample has declared it to be superb—one going so far as to declare it the best product to reach Landing Gear in a year. A rare case of, uh, “Love–all.”

Far from being something dreamed up on the fly in Mong Kok, hearO is a blend of British and French technology and craft, and engineering-wise is surprisingly complex, as the not uninteresting “Story” section on the product’s Web site relates.

The hearO falls some way short of hi-fi, to be frank, but doesn’t sound at all bad. You can string two together to work in stereo. And while we wouldn’t recommend playing a set, or even a game with it, you could carefully give it a bounce once or twice to show it off. Maybe just on grass, come to think of it.

Based in London and New York, AIR MAIL’s tech columnist, Jonathan Margolis, spent more than two decades as a technology writer at the Financial Times. He is also the author of A Brief History of Tomorrow, a book on the history of futurology