The newest and best tech in the smart home market right now
When it comes to building a smart home in 2021, there are now more options than ever before. To make your search for the perfect smart home a little easier, we’re going to give you the lowdown on how to build a smart home with the newest and best tech in the smart home market right now.
So, let’s dive in.
Choose your platform
First you need to choose the platform you will use to run all of your smart home devices. There are two approaches you can take here:
- One option is hiring an integrator which is a company that will come in and install everything for you and give you the platform that everything runs on. They tend to use platforms such as Control4, Savant, or Crestron, which are mainly targeted at the luxury home market.
- Alternatively, you could go with one of the popular ready-to-use platforms such as Google Assistant, Amazon Alexa, Apple’s HomeKit or Samsung’s SmartThings. These platforms are dominating the market right now because they contain a pretty powerful smart assistant (and they’re affordable).
Why is having a smart assistant so important in your smart home platform?
Well, aside from making it feel like you live on the Starship Enterprise, having a smart assistant being able to control all of your smart home devices is super convenient. For example, you don’t have to carry your phone around with you everywhere to control your smart TV, smart audio devices or smart lighting. You also don’t have to walk up to a specific display or third-party screen to control all of your devices. But what makes the smart assistant most convenient (and magical) is the fact you can control them from wherever you are in your home by just using your voice.
Do I choose just one assistant platform, or can I use multiple ones?
You can use more than one assistant platform in your home. You’ll just need to make sure that the one you are using can control all of your smart home devices because the leading ready-to-use assistant platforms cannot control all smart home devices.
The reason not all devices work on each of these platforms is because, historically, these platforms have had various compatibility requirements, and Apple in particular, has been a stickler for requiring specific hardware requirements for devices to work with their HomeKit platform.
This is why when you are shopping around you’ll see some devices that work with the Google Assistant or Amazon Alexa but not with HomeKit. Apple has relaxed some of its hardware requirements for HomeKit devices, so hopefully, that’ll open it up to more smart home devices out there.
In even more exciting news, Amazon, Apple, Google, and the Zigbee Alliance have now formed a working group called Project Connected Home Over IP. They plan to develop and promote the adoption of new royalty-free connectivity standards for smart home products that put security as a fundamental design tenant.
What does this development in tech mean for me?
Thanks to this collaborative approach by platform manufacturers, as you add new smart home devices to your collection over time, those devices should work with all of the major platforms out there.
Okay, but what’s Zigbee?
Zigbee is probably the most popular one of three, so let’s use that as an example. In simple terms, Zigbee operates on a mesh network and allows smart home devices to share a network connection across a large area. Zigbee acts as the daisy chain linking your smart devices together by sending out signals from your Zigbee hub to all of your Zigbee devices.
The benefit of Zigbee, Z-wave and Thread is they typically have more range than a Wi-Fi network with one router. To use any of these networks you’ll just need to make sure you have a hub to control these network types. Another advantage to these networks is that they will keep performing when your Wi-Fi goes down, so your Philips Hue lights don’t go out!
Do I really need to worry about Wi-Fi vs Bluetooth vs Zigbee?
For the everyday consumer, you’re not going to need to worry about whether or not your smart home device uses Zigbee, Bluetooth, or Wi-Fi. The most important thing for you to think about is what platform you want to run your smart devices on, then buy smart devices that are compatible with that platform.
What types of smart home devices can I use in my home?
All right, now that we’ve covered the different platforms and the different types of technologies used in smart home setups, let’s talk about what types of smart home devices you can use in your home. In general, smart home devices can be broken down into these categories: music, media, lighting, climate, security, and appliances. Below, we focus on the entertainment categories of music, media and lighting, which can really bring your home to life!
You can play music and media throughout your home using smart speakers that run voice assistants.
Amazon, Apple, and Google smart speakers are some of the best on the market. They play all kinds of music streaming services natively on the speaker itself whether your go-to streaming service is Spotify or Apple Music.
You can also buy speaker systems from companies like Sonos and Bose to work with all the top four ready-to-use platforms above. Some Bose and Sonos speakers even have Alexa and the Google Assistant directly built-in to the speakers.
To create the ultimate media experience with your smart home devices, you’ll usually need a smart assistant to control your Samsung smart TV or projector, their associated speakers and streaming devices, then lighting in your media room (but we’ll get to lighting in just a second).
Right now,Apple TV, Amazon Fire stick and Google Chromecast make the best TV streaming devices that will enable you to turn your TV on and off and any related devices with an assistant. They all deliver content from primary streaming services, and some can support the latest formats like 4K HDR with Dolby Vision and Dolby Atmos.
Google and Amazon’s devices are typically around £50, while the Apple TV 4K runs a bit more expensive at £179. The Chromecast with Google TV and Apple TV, in particular, make it easy to stream content from your device’s directly to the TV by using either Google’s casting feature or Apple’s AirPlay.
You can use these streaming devices together. For example, you could use Apple TV and the Chromecast with Google TV, and ask the Google Assistant or Siri to turn off the TV. You can do that with just your voice with any of these devices, and it will not only turn off the TV, but because it uses HDMI CEC, the TV receiver and either the Apple TV or Chromecast will turn off.
There are generally two directions to go with smart lighting in your smart home. You can make the light bulb smart, or make the switch that controls the light bulb smart, or a combination of the two. The leading smart light companies are Philips Hue, Lepro, LifX, Ikea, and Eufy.
These smart light makers make LED bulbs typically in three categories: plain white, bulbs that go from daylight to warm light, or multicoloured bulbs. Sometimes the bulbs will use Bluetooth or Wi-Fi, or other types will need a ZigBee hub or something else that connects to your router.
Smart lights can save you a lot of time. You can turn off all your lights by just using your voice at night, you can control your lights through a smartphone app, and you can set up routines for your smart lights as well. For example, you could set up your smart lights to automatically fade-in over 30 minutes in the morning, and then have them display sunrise colours. You can even have them use your location and use geofencing technology to turn your lights on and off when you come home and leave.
Other accessories you can get with your smart lights are wireless dimmer switches that you can assign to control various lights in your home. Philips Hue probably has the most accessories and smart lights available today.
For smart light switches, some of the popular brands out there are WeMo, Casa, Ecobee, and Lutron. These switches connect to your home’s Wi-Fi network and replace the switch you have in your existing wall, allowing you to either control the lights with the switch, phone app or a smart assistant. These are a good option if you’re doing a remodel or building a new home and you need
to put in light switches anyway, or if you have a light fixture that you just don’t want to put smart bulbs in or can’t find the right smart bulb size to put in.
Another smart home accessory to consider is smart plugs. They turn any appliance into one that can be simply turned on or off by any significant smart home platforms. They’re especially handy when it comes to holiday decorating. For example, around the Christmas time, you can link all of your holiday lights to the Google Assistant using smart plugs.
To sum it all up
Once you’ve chosen your smart home platform and start buying devices for your smart home, you’re going to be amazed at how easy it is to automate some of the most mundaneparts of your life, like turning off the lights in every room of your house. Your powerful smart assistant will be able set the tone for your home by turning your lights to a sunset colour and have your smart speaker play ambient sounds.
This level of customised automation is no longer a dream. It’s attainable and accessible to millions of people out there, thanks to these smart home platforms and the thousands of devices that run on them. Smart home tech has the potential to change our lives for the better, and it’s an essential part of what we do here at Systems Insights.