Until the release of these virtual helpers, home automation was primarily the dominion of expensive professionally installed systems that controlled everything, or managed services that provided monthly monitoring of things like alarm systems. Both are still available, but the revolution in the smart-home market is playing out in the individual components and smart devices that homeowners can purchase and control with these ubiquitous virtual assistants.
One thing to be aware of: Each virtual assistant has advantages and drawbacks, with no clear winner — yet.
Siri is the backbone for Apple’s HomeKit, the smartphone app that can be used to control a variety of smart-home products. This platform provides a variety of helpful features to simplify the process of adding devices and labeling “Favorites.” You can also organize the various components by “Rooms” and create “Scenes” that will control multiple devices with one command.
Another feature is that you can automate certain functions to occur at a specific time of day, or when you leave home. The best feature of HomeKit, in typical Apple fashion, is its ease of operation — and it can be controlled by the app, or using voice control.
A key point is that HomeKit-compatible devices have been reviewed and vetted by Apple, providing end-to-end security. This limits the number of available devices, but will likely prevent you from being hacked. On the downside, Apple lacks a home speaker system.
Amazon’s Alexa powers the Echo, Echo Dot, and Tap smart-home speakers, but lacks a dedicated smartphone app. Amazon has integrated access to Alexa via its Amazon shopping app on the iPhone by tapping the microphone button in the app. Alexa’s advantage is in the number of things she can do — she accepts over 10,000 commands, called “skills,” though they require remembering the very specific wording of each command.
These skills address a variety of areas, not just the smart home, though the system integrates with dozens of smart-home devices that work directly with Alexa, and hundreds that operate using a variety of manufacturer-specific apps. Integrating many of these products requires a special If This Then That (IFTTT) device to connect them and to set up routines to control multiple components with a single command. There’s also no independent verification regarding device security.
Google recently introduced Home, a smart-home speaker similar to Amazon’s Echo. It’s powered by a Google Assistant, though not the same Assistant that operates on Google’s Android phones or the Allo messaging app — and they aren’t integrated as of this writing.
The Assistant on Home works with components from four smart-home partners currently (Nest, Philips Hue, IFTTT, and SmartThings) — far fewer than Alexa. Google plans to add additional partners over time, though those currently available cover the most used home-automation components.
Integrating multiple smart-home products through Home requires an IFTTT device to connect them to each other and set up routines, similar to Alexa. Also similar to Alexa, there’s no independent verification of device security, which varies by manufacturer. Home has Google search at its heart, so it understands detailed questions and requests rather than the specific skills commands required by Alexa.
Some consumers will be drawn to Echo or Home by the novelty factor, or for the variety of other capabilities, and adding smart-home products will be an unintended result of ownership.
Each system has advantages and downfalls regarding its home-automation capabilities. No one has yet developed a “killer app.” At this point, smart-home products seem to represent more of a hobby than something designed to produce significant revenue growth for any of these companies. However, the team of Alexa and Echo has an advantage for Amazon not available to Apple or Google.
A recent analyst note by Jim Shaughnessy and Mark Mahaney of RBC Capital Markets reported that 17% of current users of the Echo family of products placed orders to Amazon.com with their devices, which could result in additional sales of $10 billion in both products and devices annually by 2020.
While the hardware war is being waged, Amazon might enjoy a nice little boost on the e-commerce side.
Suzanne Frey, an executive at Alphabet, is a member of The Motley Fool’s board of directors. Danny Vena owns shares of Alphabet (A shares), Amazon, and Apple. Danny Vena has the following options: long January 2018 $640 calls on Alphabet (C shares), short January 2018 $650 calls on Alphabet (C shares), long January 2018 $85 calls on Apple, and short January 2018 $90 calls on Apple. The Motley Fool owns shares of and recommends Alphabet (A shares), Alphabet (C shares), Amazon, and Apple. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.
The Internet of Things is set to disrupt the way we live and work, but for now let’s focus on the “live” portion of that statement.
Smart homes filled with connected products are loaded with possibilities to make our lives easier, more convenient, and more comfortable. Imagine that you’re driving home on a hot summer day. But rather than turn the air conditioner on when you get home and wait for your house to cool, you simply use your smartphone when you leave your office to tell your smart thermostat to lower the temperature.
Or imagine that you’re cooking dinner, and you ask Alexa, the voice assistant on the Amazon Echo, to read you today’s biggest news stories so that you can focus on chopping those vegetables.
There is no shortage of possibilities for smart home IoT devices, and home automation seems to be the wave of the future. Below, we’ve compiled a detailed guide on how the IoT and house automation will change our way of life.
BI Intelligence, Business Insider’s premium research service, expects the number of smart home devices shipped will grow from 83 million in 2015 to 193 million in 2020. This includes all smart appliances (washers, dryers, refrigerators, etc.), smart home safety and security systems (sensors, monitors, cameras, and alarm systems), and smart home energy equipment, like smart thermostats and smart lighting.
The first and most obvious benefit to smart homes is convenience, as more connected devices can handle more operations (lighting, temperature, etc.) and frees up the resident to perform other tasks.
But beyond this, smart home IoT devices can help reduce costs and conserve energy. In our example above, you’d have a comfortable and cool apartment when you get home, but you could also leave your air conditioner off when you’re not home, which would lower your electric bill and reduce energy consumption. Smart lights would function in a similar way.
Of course, there are disadvantages, as well. Smart home devices are typically more expensive than their non-connected counterparts, so consumers would certainly feel the hit in their wallets at first.
Consider than connected LED bulbs cost $15 on average, compared to $8 for nonconnected LED bulbs. However, the cost of these connected bulbs has dropped in the last two years, so the prices of smart home IoT devices could decline even further and make them more affordable to the average consumer.
Several stellar smart home IoT devices have already hit the market and made their way into thousands of houses around the world.
First we have the Amazon Echo, arguably the first and most recognizable name in this space. The device functions as a central hub for your other smart home gadgets, and its voice-activated assistant, Alexa, provides convenience that few other products can match. Amazon also offers two sister products, the Tap and the Dot.
Nest, one of the more famous smart home device manufacturers, has created a Learning Thermostat that can automatically adjust temperature based on your location and uses a far-field sensor to determine the time and temperature from a distance. And thanks to a recent update, it now works with Alexa, too.
The August Smart Lock provides enhanced security for the home, is easy to install, and works with Siri through the Apple HomeKit.
And for smart bulbs, there’s the Lifx Color 1000, which can change color as necessary, and the Philips Hue Wireless Dimming Kit for your white-light needs.
So who’s putting out these devices? Several companies have emerged at the forefront, such as Amazon, Nest (owned by Google’s parent company, Alphabet), Apple, August, and Philips.
Other companies leading the way in this space include:
The smart home market will take off if IoT device prices come down and the general public comes to understand the benefits of these products. And from smart homes, the next logical step is smart cities, which would take the IoT to the next level.
And yet, smart homes are just one small part of our daily lives that the Internet of Things will transform in the coming years.
By Andrew Meola
By Rich Bira
We talk a lot in the IoT industry about the interaction between product design and function—what does the device need to do and where will it live? For smart homes in particular, design isn’t just about the way a product looks and feels but about its usability in its environment. If a device requires users to change their behavior so drastically from their normal routine to utilize its function, will it survive? Practically speaking, probably not.
In the last five years, the concept of home automation and control have moved downstream, both in price and availability, and evolved into what we now call the smart home. But is it really smart? Devices might have connectivity inside that lets them communicate with each other and/or with the cloud, but how are they adding intelligence to our everyday lives?
The rise of the Amazon Echo and voice control as a point of command and control for our home’s devices have introduced an important concept in the way we think about design: frictionless and almost invisible technology. Consumers may have to bring the devices home and set them up, but then they’re able to interact with them without effort. These kinds of principles are what guide our design and manufacturing. In the last year, we’ve seen products that provides gesture control while being completely hidden under a table, counter, or even drywall, and a compact, easily mountable button that can be pressed to quickly turn on or control multiple devices simultaneously. Products like these offer customized, natural control, while disappearing into their environment.
Gesture control is another area that carries lots of potential. It’s currently transforming the healthcare industry in an effort to combat germ spread in places like hospitals. Or, imagine being able to walk into your kitchen and quickly swiping right or left to activate a “let’s cook” scene that brings up your lights, pre-heats your oven, and turns on your streaming music service as you get ready to prepare dinner. In another scenario, you’re heading to bed, and you swipe down on your nightstand to activate a “goodnight” scene that arms your home security system and turn the lights off on the first floor. Simple gestures begin to cue powerful automations that make living a little bit simpler. This technology moves the smart home behind the scenes, to where it’s mostly hidden and the modern conveniences and safety that it brings are the only things visible.
The other powerful way the IoT is being woven into our homes is via artificial intelligence; increasingly, platforms are adding functionality that learns consumer behaviors in the home and then adapts to make the home fit their needs and lifestyle without any user inputs. Applicable products lets users teach their devices behaviors and in turn the devices can make suggestions and provide alerts based on those behaviors. For example, Fibaro’s Motion Sensor recognizes when a room has inactivity and can send a notification to the user to ask if the lights should be turned off or the alarm set. It also has the ability to monitor temperature and make adjustments where it makes sense. A flood sensor can detect leaks and send an immediate alert to the user to minimize the risk of flooding and can even shut down connected devices that may be an electrical risk or a water shut-off valve to avoid disasters.
Today’s world is fast-moving and consumers don’t have the patience for any device that doesn’t remove a step or provide a substantial benefit. Companies moving towards machine learning and automation see value in designing an almost invisible IoT—one that delivers convenience, safety, and security without asking for too much in return. The technology that’s as intelligent as human instinct, responsive to behavior, and completely effortless to control will rule the smart home and will stand the test of time.