Ever since homes started getting smarter, “smart” has referred to rapidly evolving technological options for controlling virtually all of the systems in your home. Who thought, even five years ago, that we would be talking to an inanimate object named Alexa – and she would respond?
At its simplest, a “smart” product is one with an internet connection (in order to receive commands and software updates) that you can control with your phone or tablet or through a central hub (automation controller or bridge). These devices perform at least one of three functions: They sense, process and/or respond.
Today’s smart home is all about app-controlled gadgets accessible remotely from your phone that give you more convenient control over the following: appliances (e.g. coffee makers), entertainment ( TV streaming devices), HVAC ( energy-saving thermostats), lighting ( smart bulbs and switches), security ( locking mechanisms, indoor/outdoor cameras with motion detection, two-way communication) and various storage capabilities. They also offer either self- or subscription-monitored smoke detectors and alarms), smart power outlets, pet and elder care (e.g. pet feeding), and even cleaning and maintenance (e.g. robotic vacuuming and mowing).
But raising your home’s IQ isn’t as straightforward as you might hope. Choosing a platform like Apple HomeKit, Google Home or Samsung SmartThings may be the most straightforward approach to creating a home automation network – either fully automated or semi-autonomous – that interfaces with smartphones and tablets while linking devices together.
These and other similar platforms are, essentially, kits with a number of compatible devices. At least in theory, proprietary devices made by the same manufacturer should happily communicate with each other because they use the same wireless standard or, at least, understand different protocols (WiFi, Bluetooth, Zigbee, Z-Wave and more). However, most smart devices will work independently.
The benefit of buying single platform-compatible devices is that they can all be controlled from one hub and one app, rather than from multiple hubs and apps. A hub should be able to bring together signals from different devices, allowing them to be controlled by the hub’s app when the hub is connected to the home’s network via WiFi or wired network connection.
The bottom line? Don’t lose your phone. Seriously, be smart about smartifying your home.
Before you connect, be clear about your needs related to tasks and routines, prioritize them, start with a few high-priority basics, choose a platform that supports as many of them as possible, and base future buying decisions accordingly. Avoid bewildering yourself and overcomplicating things if you don’t have to. And if a device or capability doesn’t make your home safer, save money, save time or increase enjoyment of your home, it may not be a smart choice for you.
Getting started can seem overwhelming and, while much of the technology is considered do-it-yourself, you might prefer to hire a professional to help you navigate this brave new world.