Getting started with smart home tech: HomeKit, Amazon Alexa, SmartThings and more

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We cover a lot of smart home tech here on 9to5. But if you aren’t already familiar with it all, choosing a platform might seem like an overwhelming task. Because after all, there’s no guarantee that two devices you buy are compatible with each other. From HomeKit to DIY-oriented solutions, we’ll be diving into how to get started bringing automation and voice control to your home and appliances.

Adding these smart, internet-connected gadgets to your home brings with it a great amount of benefits. And let me tell you, there’s more than just controlling gadgets with your phone.

While not the most critical, things like using your voice to put on your favorite TV channel and setting the mood with some accent lighting are always fun.

More practically, these devices allow for automating your home, so that cup of coffee could be brewing for you right as you get out of bed. Or your lights could turn on just as you pull into the driveway.


If you’ve got an iPhone, HomeKit is definitely the way to go thanks to its integration with iOS and Siri. Despite just having been released a few years ago, HomeKit has already risen to one of the most utilized smart home standards on the market.

And thanks to major players like Philips Hue, Ecobee and more, HomeKit offers a wide variety of devices, so you can control lights, fans, and even add interactive mood lighting to your homes.

In order to take full advantage of what HomeKit offers, you’ll need a device acting as a hub to run automations when your not home or get reliable access to Bluetooth and other network devices. If you’ve already got the latest generation Apple TV, you’re all set. Or, if you have an iPad running iOS 10 lying around, you’ll be able to have it act as a hub. For more info, be sure to checkout our HomeKit guide.

Recommended Devices:


Similar to HomeKit, Amazon’s home automation system relies around on its digital assistant for control. Rather than a typical external hub, the Amazon Echo itself acts as the main controller.

If you’ve already invested in an Echo or two, picking up one of TP-Link outlets is an inexpensive way to dip your feet into the ‘smart home’ waters. One of the best parts about Alexa’s smart home integration is that other platforms like Wink and SmartThings are compatible with it. That means you’ll have access to a wider range of devices and other benefits from a standalone hub.

Recommended Devices:


SmartThings is Samsung’s home automation platform, which revolves around its own hub. The SmartThings platform itself has tons of accessories in it, so whether you need motion sensors or an alarm system, you’re set. Running off the Z-Wave platform, SmartThings will work most devices that are equipped with the smart home standard. If you’re looking to cut guess work of compatibility, this may be be route to take in terms of device diversity.

Recommended Devices:


Wink’s smart home system is similar to SmartThings in that they’re both hub based. However rather than release an entire line of products, Wink’s hub is more of a unifying device for other smart home gadgets on the market. Want to use some HomeKit outlets with Alexa? Wink bridges the compatibility gap.

Since there are two generations of Wink Hub, you can pick up the first model without breaking the bank. Wink has released some basic accessories to its hubs like lighting kits, light switches and more. If you’re looking for a smart home system that allows for more flexibility, Wink is a great option.

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Now all of the solutions we’ve taken a look at so far are pretty consumer focused; they’re meant to be pretty intuitive and easy to set up. But this comes at a loss of customization and control. That’s where HomeAssistant comes in.

HomeAssistant is an open source smart home controller software, which means that it works with pretty much every gadget on the market. This, and the level of customization and control one has over all the components makes it by far the most powerful of these platforms, but this power does comes with a trade off.

Rather than purchasing a hub, HomeAssistant can be ran on really any existing hardware. So if you’re got an older Mac laying around, that’ll do the trick. An easy way to get started is by using the all-in-one installer for Raspberry Pi. While there is an iOS application, it really only allows for interaction and control of your home. For tweaking layouts, adding automations and more, you’ll have to dive into the code. Once you tackle the steep barrier to entry, HomeAssistant is an extremely powerful tool for your smart home.

You can configure dashboards to monitor IP cameras, control your lights and even display system information and the weather. In total, there are 713 currently supported platforms, and the list grows every month.

Recommended Devices:

If you’re not looking to take the plunge into a full blown system yet, the Philips Hue Lighting starter set is a great place to start. It comes with three multicolor bulbs and a hub, which works with HomeKit and Siri, Alexa and Google Home. Any of the smart outlets listed above are also worthy first devices. Already have a favorite smart home gadget? Let us know what it is in the comments below!

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