Father and newborn baby
Cultura/JFCreatives—Getty Images
By John Patrick Pullen
December 1, 2014

Any American who has ever procreated knows what a racket the baby industry is. And that’s not a sippy cup half-empty viewpoint — according to a 2013 study by consumer market research company Packaged Facts, between food and supplies for little ones, U.S. consumers are buying $11.5 billion in baby goods annually. And doused in pink and blue, most of these items are useless once their offspring is pulling on big-kid underwear.

So, instead of buying a high-tech bottle-warmer (you know a bowl of hot water does the trick too, right?) get mom and dad something they’ll be able to use for years, not months. (Unless you buy them diapers; you can’t go wrong with diapers.) For fresh ideas, try these five unexpected, must-have gadgets for new parents:

Dropcam

Old-school baby monitors were great back in the heyday of cordless phones, but in the smartphone era, parents need something more powerful than radio waves to keep an eye and ear on their kid. Typically used as a home monitoring webcam, Dropcam is a no-brainer for the nursery, letting iPhone moms and Android dads monitor their kids with high-quality streaming video — whether they’re in the next room or out on a date.

Fifty dollars less expensive than the high-quality Dropcam HD, the original Dropcam is still plenty powerful enough to keep an eye on parents’ little angel, with a 107 degree field of view, 4-time digital zoom, and motion and sound alerts when the accompanying app is closed. But where this $149 camera outshines other baby monitors is that once your crib-dweller is old enough for some privacy, you can repurpose it as a home security camera, watching front doors, backyards and all sorts of other spaces.

Garmin Vivosmart

Everyone wants the shiny new Apple Watch — especially infants who will love grabbing at its full-color touch screen. But a smarter choice for connected parents is the $169 Garmin Vivosmart, a full-featured activity tracker that integrates with both Android and iOS to receive all manner of smartphone notifications — from who’s calling to schedule a visit, to Facebook comments on your adorable baby pictures.

With vibrating alerts, Vivosmart won’t wake the baby, and with sleep-tracking capabilities, it can help bleary-eyed parents monitor their own health. But the waterproof band’s best feature is its tiny, black and white OLED display, plenty clear and bright, yet subtle enough to not pique youngster’s interests. And since the display uses low-energy technology, the Vivosmart’s battery lasts up to seven days, so charging the device is one less thing overtaxed parents need to worry about.

Philips/Disney Friends of Hue StoryLight

Story time might seem like a great treat for kids, but parents know it to be a clever way to bring down the energy and bring on the nap. (in addition to being great family bonding, of course.) Likewise, this $129 Mickey Mouse-themed lamp might look fun to kids, but it’s actually a sneaky way for adults to integrate smart, web-connected lighting into their home.

Paired with a wireless bridge (which can also control other Phillips connected bulbs throughout your home), the StoryLight can throw up to 16 million different colors on a wall using low-energy LED light. But the magic comes when you open Disney Storytime, an Android and iOS e-book app which syncs with the light, displaying colors from the pages of more than 40 different stories. Whether it’s used as a nightlight, mood lighting, or a story-telling aid, this versatile smart lamp is so much more than a toy.

Quirky+GE Spotter

New parents will worry about everything, but this smart-home sensor can give them at least a little peace of mind. A $60, AA battery-powered, Wi-Fi-connected multi-purpose sensor, Spotter can detect temperature, motion, light, and vibration, relaying notifications to Android and iOS devices.

Planted in a nursery, it can tell parents if the heat is at the ideal sleep temperature for the baby, or affixed to the bottom of the crib, it can let mom and dad know when their little one is stirring. But those are just the infant uses for this device. Once that angel grows into a teenager, you can pop this in the liquor cabinet, guarding your 15-year old bottle of Glenfiddich from your 16-year-old’s undiscerning palate.

WeMo Switch + Motion

Oh, that old “I have to use the bathroom” trick — every kid thinks he or she invented the the best excuse to get out of bed, but parents know better. And using the $79, Wi-Fi-connected WeMo Switch + Motion, they can hack together a way to head off their tip-toeing toddler at the pass.

Just plug the Motion sensor in somewhere near the child’s bed, and use the accompanying Switch with a nightlight or lamp, wherever you like to hang out, like the family room or your bedroom. Then, through the power of WeMo’s motion-based triggers, the motion sensor will turn on the light, silently alerting parents that there’s a jailbreak in progress. They’ll will never figure it out. (See? They’re not so smart after all.)

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