Smart Home System- Computer, Phone, Tablet

Smart devices are typically pretty easy to set up. However, getting those devices to work together in harmony to form a fully functioning smart home system is not so easy for most people.

One of the sticking points with smart home tech is that devices make use of many different communication protocols. From Zigbee and Z-Wave to WiFi and Bluetooth, many devices speak different languages.

While you can take control of each of these devices in-app on your smartphone, you can also streamline things further by adding voice control with a smart speaker or other enabled device.

You might, for example, like the idea of a Google Nest thermostat, some Insteon switches, an August Smart Lock, and Philips Hue Lighting. Will this all slot neatly together, though?

We’ll look today at the bigger picture of smart home systems, starting with a quick definition of what this really means.

What Is a Smart Home System?

If you have a smart home filled with disparate devices all working independently, you’ve got the makings of a connected home. The thing is, if you’re still forced to control all of these independently, all you really have is a different form of control. You might not need to physically touch devices since you can use an app on your phone, but you certainly don’t have an automated home.

Think of the ecosystem of our planet. You have a bunch of organisms all nestled in their own physical environment. Smart homes can also have ecosystems with various devices and cloud services. With a robust smart home system in place, you have a unified portal to link them all and get them working together neatly.

The most effective smart home systems, unsurprisingly, come from the major players. We’ll kick off with Amazon, Google, and Apple, who have built out highly efficient smart home systems. Not only do these cohesive set-ups make life easier for you, but they also tie you into buying more devices from the manufacturer. There’s no altruism in business!

So, how do these smart home systems actually work then?

How Does A Smart Home System Work?

The first thing to be aware of is that these different smart home systems do not, by design, work with all devices. Manufacturers are clearly in direct competition. This means it’s in their own interests to harness proprietary communication protocols and technologies to preserve their edge.

Within a smart home, there are multiple networks. Along with artificial intelligence (AI), there is the Internet of Things (IoT) and various cloud services all running in the background.

The most effective smart home systems have a central home hub to facilitate communication. Here is where the difference between a smart home and home automation becomes apparent. Adding in a home hub allows for robust remote control, maximum interoperability, and the ability to schedule and automate devices.

Coordinating all these devices within a connected home is what makes a smart home truly smart.

So, where do you get started?

Start with a Digital Assistant

A wise jump-off point is to consider a digital assistant in the form of a smart speaker or a smart display.

Amazon, Google, and Apple all produce a range of devices you can use as the nucleus of your smart home. These AI-powered virtual butlers simplify control, but you will need to keep a close eye on the compatibility of devices.

Here are the 3 main digital assistants found in most smart home systems:

  • Amazon Alexa
  • Google Assistant
  • Apple HomeKit

Amazon Alexa

Since bursting onto the scene back in 2014, Alexa appeared on the original Echo smart speaker and is still continuing to improve today.

Alexa has migrated to a vast range of devices and is often baked in to remove the need for a third-party device completely.

There’s an important distinction to make between the 2 types of devices that allow you to take control with Alexa.

  • Echo smart speakers along with third-party devices that have Alexa onboard
  • Devices that just Work with Alexa and come clearly emblazoned with this label

As well as offering very broad smart home control, Alexa’s enormous range of skills gives you robust access to search and streaming, along with the ability to organize your day.

Key Benefits of Alexa

  • Exceptional smart home control using voice commands
  • Enormous interoperability with most major players in the smart home space
  • An inexpensive starting point

Who This Ecosystem Works Best For

  • Great for beginners, as well as more experienced smart home practitioners

Google Assistant

Google was slightly later to the smart speaker party, debuting Google Home in 2017.

Expansion continues well beyond this stable of first-party devices with JBL, Panasonic, Lenovo, and LG also offering support for Google Assistant.

Just like with Alexa, you find 2 types of Google Assistants.

Devices like Android phones, smartwatches, and Chromebooks come with Assistant already bundled. You can speak to Assistant on these and get help organizing your day.

There’s also a broad spread of devices you can command by using Google Assistant, in a similar version of Works with Alexa, but for Google.

You can take the helm in-app or using voice commands for control of all compatible devices in your Google smart home system. Whether it’s devices coming with Assistant baked in or anything from the Works with Google Assistant line, you have a huge choice and awesome interoperability at your fingertips if you roll with this smart home system.

Key Benefits of Google Assistant

  • Google Assistant comes as the default setting on Android phones
  • Piercing and deep search skills, as you’d expect from Google
  • Super-simple to add new devices

Who This Ecosystem Works Best For

  • Ideal if you have an Android phone and you’re looking for an already-familiar smart home system with no learning curve

Apple HomeKit

Apple is notorious for locking you into their smart home system and HomeKit is no exception.

HomeKit differs from Alexa and Google Assistant in that you’ll benefit from a software framework that’s already in place on Apple devices.

The HomeKit ecosystem falls in 2 distinct parts.

You have that framework and protocol on the back end with a front-facing element in the form of the Home app.

Look for the Works with HomeKit badge on any devices you want to work within the Apple smart home system.

As long as you have an iPhone or MacOS device, you’ll be up and running in no time since setting up this smart home system is remarkably straightforward. While you might not get quite the breadth of compatibility as you’ll find with Alexa and Google Assistant, the volume of Works with HomeKit devices is constantly growing.

Key Benefits of HomeKit

  • Brings all smart home control seamlessly into one place
  • All HomeKit tech can be controlled in the Home app or using Siri
  • Security is impeccable with this smart home system

Who This Ecosystem Works Best For

  • For committed iOS users looking to further expand their Apple ecosystem covering all parts of the home

So, there are your main options when it comes to integrating control through a digital assistant, but what else do you have at your disposal?

Other Leading Smart Home Ecosystems

As other manufacturers have cottoned on to the simplicity of control users demand, there is no shortage of hardware and software solutions from other brands.

We’ll round out by touching on a half-dozen other smart home systems, along with who they work best for.

  1. Insteon
  2. Samsung SmartThings
  3. Wink
  4. Hive
  5. IFTTT

1) Insteon

Using a dual-mesh network and proprietary communication protocol, Insteon is an OG of the smart home scene with just cause.

As a dual-mesh networking topology, signals are sent both through the Insteon wireless network and also through your home’s existing power lines. Messages are repeated by all wired Insteon devices included in the network, so the more smart home tech you add, the more solid the network becomes.

Devices are both backward-compatible and forward-compatible, making Insteon one of the most flexible ecosystems out there.

With the Insteon Hub Central Controller as the foundation, you can construct a fully automated home with a vast array of control options. As an added kicker, Insteon kit all comes in at very affordable prices.

Set-up couldn’t be easier even if you have no experience in home automation. Get going right out the box and build out a more wide-reaching connected home at your leisure.

Shop the full Insteon range of devices right here.

Key Benefits of Insteon

  • A dependable ecosystem with outstanding signal communication and inbuilt redundancy
  • Super-simple to set up
  • No delay with message transmission

Who This Smart Home System Works Best For

  • Ideal for anyone who wants to build out a completely automated home using Insteon devices

2) Samsung SmartThings

Samsung needs no introduction and their SmartThings ecosystem might be small, but it’s perfectly formed.

With the SmartThings Hub as your baseline, you can even create a mesh network in your smart home by adding in up to 5 hubs. Reliable WiFi coverage with no dead spots is key to the glitch-free operation of any ecosystem and Samsung makes that easy for you.

The app has been overhauled for smoother user experience, although the digital assistant Bixby doesn’t have the capabilities of the opposition.

Key Benefits of SmartThings

  • Ability to create a mesh WiFi network
  • Compatible with both Zigbee and Z-Wave
  • Great interoperability with third-party tech

Who This Smart Home System Works Best For

  • Perfect ecosystem if you already own plenty of Samsung devices and you’re looking to create a simple connected home that’s easy to set up

3) Wink

While Wink might not be the first name that trips off the tongue with smart home technology, it’s one of the most established platforms.

The retooled Hub2 is among the finest gateways in a crowded market. Protocol support is class-leading with both Z-Wave and Zigbee as well as Bluetooth LE, Kidde and Lutron Clear Connect all playing ball with Wink.

The significant downside of Wink is a degree of stasis. While there are plenty of devices to choose from, you don’t have the same number being added in comparison to what the competition is delivering.

Our take on Wink is that it’s great for now, but we can’t really predict how things will pan out in the coming years, due to a lack of activity on the platform in general.

Key Benefits of Wink

  • All major communication protocols supported
  • Outstanding compatibility with over 400 smart devices
  • Control everything using one intuitive app

Who This Smart Home System Works Best For

  • Smart home users not prepared to go all-in with a restrictive and proprietary ecosystem, but still demanding broad compatibility

4) Hive

Hive has grown stealthily from a UK-only enterprise to a global concern.

If you don’t like the idea of committing fully to either Alexa or Google Assistant, Hive gives you the best of both worlds.

The range of devices is reasonably comprehensive. There’s everything from smart thermostats to security systems, smart locks and a variety of lighting to choose from.

Support for third-party devices is not quite so flexible as you’ll find with some of the other smart home systems. Think about what other devices you might add to your smart home system and check for compatibility first.

Key Benefits of Hive

  • Works with both Alexa and Google Assistant
  • A smart home system that doesn’t lock you in like some of the competition
  • Vibrant product development slate, so the future looks bright for Hive

Who This Smart Home System Works Best For

  • Anyone looking to avoid being locked down to one specific digital assistant and anyone who already owns Hive products

5) IFTTT

IFTTT (If This, Then That), is not exactly a smart home system, so why are we including it today?

Well, although not a platform in its own right, what IFTTT does is streamline control. And control, after all, is one of the key selling points with any smart home systems.

IFTTT works with applets with a trigger (the If this component) and the resulting action (then that).

We’ll make it clear that IFTTT is not ideal for absolute beginners. If you have even moderate tech skills in place, though, you’ll get a platform that offers you the utmost in flexibility and control.

Key Benefits of IFTTT

  • Works with both Google Assistant and Alexa
  • Bolts neatly onto any smart home system you already have in place
  • Control in-app, with voice commands or even using a web browser

Who This Ecosystem Works Best For

  • Tailor-made for the tech-savvy prepared to play around to get the most personalized home automation solution out there

Final Word

We hope today’s study of smart home systems has given you a solid starting point to work from.

As with all aspects of home automation, when you’re just starting out you should bear one old maxim firmly in mind: Fail to plan, plan to fail. This is doubly the case with smart home systems.

Check for compatibility and use our handy guide to see which would suit you in general. Once you’re sure the smart home system makes the right fit, start enjoying full home automation the easy way.

When you’re ready to start investing in some new devices, why not sign up for our email newsletter first? Not only will this keep you fully up to date on the latest home automation news, but you’ll also get 20% off your first order. What are you waiting for?

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