When choosing the devices to control your connected life, one of the main things to consider is how to identify your family’s in-home needs and preferences. Our homes are our sanctuaries. We want our private environments to be happy, safe, and healthy ones. As with choosing any system, personal preference will play a key role, as will the individual user needs in your home. It's important that these devices enhance your quality of life by offering more convenience, ease or simplification. As discussed in a previous post, there are implications of “going smart” at home in terms of privacy and security. If you've decided to add smart goods and gadgets to your daily life, one of the main issues concerning installing and maintaining smart gadgets at home is getting them to work together. For the non-tech savvy, this can be difficult and frustrating. The lack of standards and the proprietary nature of existing protocols means that products from one manufacturer to another often fail to work together. There is no doubt that as time goes by and technology companies invest more and more in ensuring a positive consumer experience, systems and gadgets will become more streamlined, more secure, and simpler to install and use. For now, though, I'd encourage you to think about choosing devices within an ecosystem to serve your needs.
Clayton Brown is a product expert at one of Canada’s leading consumer electronics and cell phone retail chains. I interviewed him for my book, You and the Internet of Things. His advice for those who are considering a connected home is simply to start somewhere. “You’ve got to get started,” he said. “You’d be amazed how one thing will lead to another as you begin to install devices in your home.” Brown recommends that consumers first consider their personal preferences in regard to the various providers. For example, if you already have an Amazon Prime account, and are buying products and downloading entertainment, it might make sense for you to equip your smarthome with an Amazon Echo product’s voice assistant (Alexa), an Echo Show smart display screen, an Echo Dot smart speaker and an Amazon Fire TV streaming media stick. These devices will work pretty seamlessly together, and you will be supporting your favourite provider. You can add Alexa-compatible home products such as smart lights, locks, blinds, thermostats, and many others as you go. Brown personally prefers the Google Home network. Google is the world’s leading search engine and one of the top five technology companies worldwide, alongside Amazon, Apple, Microsoft, and Facebook. Google is compatible with both Android and iOS operating systems, as we described earlier, which can make it easy to set up and manage your systems. Samsung SmartThings and the IFTTT (If This Then This That) platform are also significant players in the consumer marketplace.
My dear friend and colleague Rebecca Coleman, a respected cookbook author, west coast food blogger and a postsecondary social media and digital marketing instructor, is also a fan of the Google Home platform. Coleman and I talk about this on my podcast. She's a Google user and finds using Google Home in the kitchen seamless and easy. Even though she's all Apple in terms of her computer, smartphone, and Apple watch, she loves the robust search features in the Googleverse. In the podcast interview, Coleman raises some excellent points. There are really three major players in the smarthome universe-- Apple Homepod, Google Home and Amazon's Alexa. Each of the three majors are different and your decision will be based partly on how you feel about them personally. I found using Google Home a challenge because of the restrictions I encountered using Google Assistant with my G-Suite corporate account, which happens to be the account that governs my calendars and contacts features. Google Home seemed to me to be finicky, needing two apps (the Google Home app and the Google Assistant app) to function. Apple Homepod is a very secure system, so if privacy and security are high on your list, the Apple family would be a good choice. Apple products are pricey, though, so think about that if economy is important. As an Amazon shopper with an Amazon Prime account, I personally found setting up and using the Amazon Alexa assistant intuitive and easy. Your choice needs to be based on what works best for you and your family.
Coleman and I discuss the various ecosystems and we also jam a little about the kitchen, a place where we both find our zen. We compare our favourite smart speakers. Think of smart speakers not so much as a device but rather as part of the overall ecosystem that will be used to connect and automate your smarthome devices. While the smart speaker in and of itself is a device, it is also home to the software that runs the assistants themselves. By and large the functionality of all three majors in the marketplace are basically similar. They all:
Operate as good quality audio speakers, in addition to being smart
Include voice activated virtual assistants triggered by a wake word (Hey Google, Alexa, Hey Siri)
Use companion smartphone apps to function
Can control automation of compatible smarthome devices such thermostats, lights, locks, security cameras, doorbells, and other technologies
Can check weather, manage calendars, set timers and alarms, search the Internet, access music and other audio libraries, and send, receive, and relay some form of messages and phone calls
Are becoming integrated with smart car technology
They each have additional features that make them unique as well. As always, be mindful of your needs, do your research, and choose wisely and well.
Listen to the interview about IoT ecosystems with Rebecca Coleman, here.