Smart plugs before they were smart.

Stop and think how a smart plug would function without connection to the Internet. I bet you’re stumped. It turns out, there is a type of plug that can do exactly that – and it preceded the current smart plug that you current know of.

Commonly known as timer socket plugs or timer switches, it’s considered the old school method of home automation. Today, let’s look at how it works and how it compares to current smart plugs.


Timer socket plugs


They come in a variety of shapes and designs but the common theme is having
an analogue watch dial that has on/off points surrounding it.

Timer socket plug.
How it works

First, you have to set the current time. You do that by rotating the dial which has the pointy arrow. Then, you set your desired on and off time. So for example: You want the lights to turn on at 6pm and turn off at 8pm. Push the individual points outwards between 18 – 20. This is to indicate the ‘on setting’. For the remaining, leave it in the inwards direction. This is to indicate the ‘off setting’.

The points between 6pm – 8pm (18 – 20) are pushed outwards.

Plug it into a power socket and attach an appliance to use with it. The most common thing to use is a lamp. When 6pm approaches, the lights will turn on and when it reaches 8pm, the lights will turn off.

You can even set a mode to timer or on/off.


Comparison with Smart Plugs

Essentially, if you are looking for simple home automation like the example above, you indeed could use the the timer socket plug. No worrying about Internet connection and installing apps on your mobile device – just straight up old fashion operation. And it works. Prior to getting my first smart plug (TP-Link HS100), I had been using the timer socket plug to turn on my lamp whenever I’m traveling and it has never failed.

TP-Link HS100.

But. Let’s now see what current smart plugs offer compared to its predecessor. Smart plugs offer two main advangates over the timer socket plugs – connectivity and convinience. Because it’s connected to the Internet, you can control the device even if you are away from home.

A typical scenario could be: You’re still at work, there’s nobody home and you want some lights on at your home for whatever reason. All you have to do is launch the app on your mobile device and tap ‘On’. Next is convinience. If you have a smart voice assistant (Google Home or Amazon Echo), you could give voice commands instead of using your app. And it’s more useful that you think it is. There have been countless times where I asked Alexa to turn on/off my lights while I was in the middle of something.

Left: TP-Link HS100. Right: Timer socket plug.


10 years from now

It’s exciting to see what the next 10 years of innovation will bring us. A smart plug with truly wireless charging? Maybe. One thing is for sure, it’s going to be connected and we can’t imagine living life without it.