Smarthome control breaks down into three tiers:
- Partitioned: Individual Apps for individual brands in your home.
- Mini Ecosystem: Popular brands dropped into a single App.
- Platform: Any brand woven into a single customizable platform.
lowest cost, highest maintenance
- Benefits: Many manufactures offer intuitive Apps, with customization deep enough for the average consumer.
- Challenges: The minor annoyance of juggling Apps tends to grow over time, and the ability to link multiple actions across devices is almost non-existent. Also some manufacturers don’t offer support.
- Conclusion: An adequate solution that tends to become inadequate after two Apps, as the conveniences of each get overshadowed by the burden of switching between them.
medium cost, medium maintenance
- Benefits: Platforms like HomeKit, SmartThings and Alexa offer a clean central location from which to control several popular brands, eliminating the need for multiple Apps. Opens the (albeit limited) opportunity for one-touch scenes.
- Challenges: The simplicity comes at the cost of features, as homogenization strips your devices from some of their custom features. If manufacturer and ecosystem evolve their software out of sync issues will arise, which not all players are inclined to fix.
- Conclusion: An elegant solution (if kept simple) when compared to partitioning control. Expectations should fit inside a smaller range of capability (On and off, dim and volume) for a positive experience.
There are a lot of entry level eco-systems on the market. Let’s look at two of the most popular: Apple’s HomeKit and Samsung’s SmartThings…
- Benefits: Clean control for on/off toggling and level adjustment that works almost all (at least above 80%) of the time. Compatible with around 20 brands, some of which (Philips, Lutron, Honeywell) have proven reliability. Also, events can be triggered (or limited) based on motion, time of day or proximity to home.
- Challenges: Doesn’t play nice yet with any non-Apple speaker brands, and Siri’s lack of syntax recognition requires stilted speech to use voice (which makes controlling individual lights and devices almost unusable.)
- Conclusion: An intuitive and capable controller within its considerable brand and feature limits. For a fuller look check out our visit to HomeKit Occulus.
- Benefits: Hundreds of compatible devices thanks to Samsung’s open-source approach, and deep customization available for power users.
- Challenges: Confusing interface with a long learning curve, and the need for a plugged in hub adds to your tech clutter.
- Conclusion: For those outside of the Apple ecosystem, SmartThings is a capable approach to wrangling multiple entry-level devices onto a single platform… but troubleshooting should be expected.
Same category? Not really. Alexa is less of an eco-system and more of an add-on, though technically you could control several devices exclusively via voice.
- Benefits: Amazon allows third party hardware to integrate Alexa, so it doesn’t always require additional hardware. As an add-on to SmartThings Alexa can order up pre-determined scenes.
- Challenges: Performance with most devices is spotty at best, and weak syntax recognition requires you to state the exact device, room or scene. Alexa won’t understand even a close variation, so the convenience of voice is often overshadowed by the unnatural phrasing it forces.
- Conclusion: A useful feature for simple single room control, but not yet reliable enough to serve as the main mode of communication with your home.
Alexa is aiming at being the way into a system rather than the system itself, which is why it’s now integrating with all the major players in our next category…
highest cost, lowest maintenance
- Benefits: Little to no limit on device compatibility, fully customizable interface, and a central way to control multiple features of your home across multiple rooms with minimal effort.
- Challenges: Higher cost as it must be done by a professional, and success largely depends on an intelligent system design.
- Conclusion: The only elegant way to control technology across multiple rooms of the home without limiting features or burdening the process with too many steps. Platforms also offer granular control over levels of access for guests.
A common misconception is that platforms require you to go all in. Many now offer lower entry levels, for example single room home theater control that can expand as needs and budget increase.
We don’t want to compare individual platforms because (a) we have partnerships with some and not with others, and (b) platform choice is largely based on personal preference. Instead we’ll share the two biggest questions you should ask:
- How does it feel to navigate the App? Look and feel is paramount, and both vary substantially across platforms.
- How long has the company been in business? Future compatibility depends on the continued development of drivers. If your devices evolve but your platform doesn’t, your system will face end of life sooner than expected.
Types of Control
Buttons: Best for video channels and volume. You can navigate them without looking, and with the right remote you don’t even have to point it anywhere.
Touch Screen: Great for anything that needs to be customized: Channel icons, scene names, etc. Ideal for controlling multiple features across multiple rooms.
Voice: Through Alexa, Google or Siri it’s a great for very simple functions like turning on a light or raising a shade. Not good for complex requests.
Gesture: A potentially revolutionary way to control devices with natural hand movements, gesture has yet to arrive in any practical application. Hoping for market adoption in 2019.
Get in touch with us and we’ll be happy to help.