A decade ago, home automation was something that required you to hire a home integrationist during the building process. It was an expensive process, and you probably ended up with products you barely knew how to use. On top of that, if technology advanced in a few years, you’d have to hire that company again to come out and upgrade it. It reminds me of when I see those old intercom systems wired into homes. How dated do those look in 2018?
The great thing about home automation in 2018 is that anyone can do it, it’s easily replaceable, and most of it is Wi-Fi driven. I know this technology can still be daunting to a lot of people, so I wanted to provide a little “getting started” guide that you could send to family and friends.
Picking the platform
There are three main platforms for home automation. They are HomeKit (Apple), Google, and Alexa (Amazon). They are all great, and most products generally work with all three of them. There are pros and cons of all of them. You might be asking – why do I need to pick a platform? The beauty of choosing one system to build around is that you then aren’t limited to just one brand of products. You also don’t want to have four different apps to control four different aspects of your home. As an example, if you pick HomeKit, you only have to use the Home app day-to-day. You can mix and match products from different manufacturers, but then combine them into one platform for ease of use.
HomeKit (the Home app on your iPhone) works well with all of your Apple devices and includes Siri support. All of your devices can be accessed from the Home app on your iPhone, iPad, Apple Watch, or Mac (coming later this fall with macOS Mojave. If you have a HomePod, you can access your devices from it (using Siri).
If your house is all Apple, HomeKit is a great platform to build on. If you have an Apple TV 4th generation or newer, it can even allow secure access to your devices when away from your home.
If you see the “Works with Google Assistant” logo on the outside of products, you’ll know that it will work great with Google products. If you have an Android phone, Google Home (mini, regular, or Max), or an NVIDIA SHIELD TV, all of the Works with Google products will fit right now. If you use an iPhone, you can download the Google Assistant app as well. This app is handy if you are in a mixed environment (iOS, Android, etc). Recent reports have even said that the Google Home sales are catching up with Alexa.
Works with Alexa
Thanks to the low price of the Amazon Echo Dot, Alexa products are extremely popular. Because the Echo Dot is affordable, many people already have them in every room in their house for access to music. Alexa is the voice assistant that powers the Echo products, and it has become quite popular among manufacturers of home automation products. Developers can easily add new “skills” as well.
Alexa is Amazon’s voice service and the brain behind tens of millions of devices like the Echo family of devices including Echo Show and Echo Spot. Alexa provides capabilities, or skills, that enable customers to create a more personalized experience. There are now tens of thousands of skills from companies like Starbucks, Uber, and Capital One as well as other innovative designers and developers.
Which is the best?
It’s tough to say which one is the best. All of the platforms all have their advantages and weaknesses. Apple probably has the fewest products that support HomeKit, but that’s due primarily to Apple’s stricter security guidelines. Alexa isn’t tightly integrated into a smartphone platform like HomeKit and Google Assistant is. If your house is full of Apple products, HomeKit probably makes the most sense. If you love Android-based products and Google’s web services (Gmail, Calendar, etc.), the Google Assistant is perhaps your best bet. If you already have a house full of Echo Dots, Alexa will be a great fit.
What products do you start with?
The most natural thing to start automating is your lights. I love the iDevices Switch. You can buy one for less than $30. We have all of our lamps plugged into these switches. They are rock solid and I’ve never had to reboot them. They work with HomeKit, Google Assistant, and Alexa. I use HomeKit, and I have various scenes setup that can trigger multiple lights at once. In our “Bed Time” scene, all of our lamps go off, and our bedroom sound machine turns on.
After that, you might want to start checking out some smart home enabled thermostats. Not only can you save money in the process, but you can adjust the temperature without having to get off the couch.
We’ve got even more hardware recommendations in a previous guide, so check it out! Do you have any questions? Leave a comment, and I’ll do my best to answer.