Imagine your home turning on the lights for you when you get home, just by walking up to your front door. Or maybe you want your lights to turn on by opening your door. Maybe even unlock your front door from your phone. Even control a couple light switches from across the room. How about having the lights dim at the command of your voice. All this could be done with a few products and very little setup. This is the basic idea behind a smart home, and there is so much more that you can do!
A fairly recent passion of mine has been the idea of a smart home, but especially lately it has kinda turned into an obsession. This new obsession has my wife saying, “looks like someone has a new toy” and the obessesion has spread to my father-in-law.
Most of our guests think our apartment has a pretty cool setup and remark that they feel like they are at a hotel or something. So I get a lot of questions about how things work and what products do I use. So here is where I will be writing about the different smart home products that we use.
The current state of smart homes
Smart homes are not only for the rich, but with advancements in technology such as HomeKit and the rise of the Internet of Things (IOT) it has become more and more of a growing industry and more widely available. Smart homes used to be complex systems that often needed to be professionally installed and costs lots of money, they would also typically be controlled by a wall panel or a large tablet like remote.
But now with things like Alexa, Siri and HomeKit, Google and other technolgies, a smart home can be achieved with little to no professional installation. Smart homes can also be upgraded modularly and slowly over time with very little down time. The main thing would be deciding what you want your home to do and how you can achieve that.
Selecting the right Hub for you
When you start selecting your smart home products, you will soon realize you will want some sort of Hub for your devices. These hubs are important as they allow you to control your smart devices and also allow them to act in unison. As of right now the two more popular solutions for this would be Amazon Echo & Alexa and Apple HomeKit & Siri. While these two “Assistants” may seem the same, they actually operate pretty differently.
Apple HomeKit and Siri
Apple HomeKit has been around since iOS 8 from 2014. It has created as a software framework to connect smart home devices while providing high security. Apple requires a license and an encryption chip in HomeKit devices so adoption is typically left to higher end brands or companies that tend to focus on Apple customers.
HomeKit’s main selling point other than security is the multiple points of access based on your Apple iOS devices. You also get basic automation abilities for all of your HomeKit devices right from the Home app on your iPhone or iPad. Access can also be easily shared with others if you would like to do that.
One of my favorite things about HomeKit is that Siri can access my smart home devices and can easily turn on and off lights, turn on my fan, or even lock the door from my voice. Siri is also very good with natural language. Siri can easily understand “Turn all of my lights Red” and turn all my Philips Hue lights Red. Which is different from Amazon Alexa.
An AppleTV or an iPad that is typically left at home can also add more functionality by acting as a remote Hub. What that means is that you can access your HomeKit devices while you are away from home. So when you want to turn on your home lights while you are on vacation to try to deter burgerly, you can do that.
Later this year Apple will be launching a speaker called HomePod to act as what seems to be a Siri Hub for the home. I will try and come back and write about this later once the product is released.
Amazon Echo and Alexa
Amazon Echo is technically more “powerful” than Apple’s solution. The reason Amazon Echo has an advantage is mainly due to it’s large library of Skills that has been created for Echo. But in my opinion, it is also one of its largest pains in using the product and I will touch on that later.
The Amazon Echo comes in a couple different forms and has its own digital assistant named Alexa. You are able to call out to your Echo by saying “Alexa” followed by a command. But, with Alexa she is not as good with natural language and you will often need to reword your command to get what you want done. You will often find yourself needing to say “Alexa ask [Name of Skill] [Command]” instead of something more natural. That is where I find Siri as more convenient and natural. Siri also learns your voice so that it triggers less accidentally, especially when I find Alexa randomly asking me to repeat a command when I wasn’t speaking to my Echo.
A lot of the smart home products I currently own can be used by HomeKit and Alexa, but since they work on both I tend to rely on Siri and HomeKit. I rarely use my Echo, so if you have any recommendations please share them with me!
There are other options that are available such as the Samsung Smart Things hub, and similar hubs as well. I personally have not used those other products so I won’t be going into those options at this time.
Part 2 [Coming Soon]
Within the next couple days I will be writing about how to select your products and what to look for. Shortly after for Part 3, I will start sharing products that I have purchased, what I think about them, why I like them, and what do I want next. Keep coming back and check for new updates!
- It’s my 31st birthday!
- Making my home … smart! [Part 2]