Choose the Right Platform for your SmartHome Devices

When it comes to building a smart home in 2021, there are now more options than ever before. So, we are going to walk you through how to go about building a smart home, what’s new in the world of smart home tech for 2021, and then ultimately my recommendations on some of the best platforms and how to build a smart home.

2. Choosing a smart home platform

So, let’s dive in and the first thing that we need to talk about is the first step that you do when deciding to build a smart home, which is which Platform you’re going to use to run all of your smart home devices. There are two main directions to go here. The first is you can go with an integrator which is a company who will come in and install everything for you and give you the platform that everything runs on.

Figure 1. An integrator which is a company who will come in and install everything for you and give you the platform that everything runs on

Some of the more popular platform companies like this will use Control4, Savant, and Crestron which all mainly target the luxury home market. The second is by using platforms like the Google Assistant, Amazon’s assistant, Apple’s HomeKit, Samsung’s SmartThings, Wink, and then other smaller platforms like the open-source Home Assistant platform, which is mainly targeted to people who are very tech savvy and like to tinker a lot with their home electronics.

Figure 2. Samsung’s SmartThings
Figure 3. Wink

3. Apple, Amazon and Google’s platforms

Now the big three platforms right now in my book are Amazon’s assistant, Apple’s home kit, and the Google Assistant and the reason we picked these three is because each of them contains a pretty powerful smart assistant.

Figure 4. Google Assistant
Figure 6. Amazon Assistant

Now, 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. So, for example, you don’t have to carry your phone around with you everywhere you go to control the lights or other devices and you don’t have to walk up to a specific display like on a thermostat or another third-party screen to control all of your devices. You can control them from wherever you are in your home by just using your voice.

4. Can you use multiple platforms? – Smart Home device compatibility

Now with quite a few options, you may be asking yourself do I have to choose just one assistant platform, or could I use multiple ones? You can use more than one in your home; you’ll just need to make sure that the one that you are using can control all of your smart home devices because not all smart devices can be controlled by the big three assistant platforms. The reason not all devices work on each of the big three platforms is historically the platforms have had different standards for how to communicate with them and Apple has usually been the stickler for requiring specific hardware requirements for devices to work with their HomeKit platform. Which is why you’ll see some devices that work with the Google Assistant or Amazon Assistant but not with HomeKit. Apple has relaxed some of the hardware requirements for HomeKit devices, so hopefully that’ll open it up to more smart home devices out there. Plus, Amazon, Apple, Google, and the Zigbee Alliance have all decided to come together and form a working group called Project Connected Home Over IP, which plans to develop and promote the adoption of new royalty-free connectivity standards for smart home products that put security as a fundamental design tenant.

5. Project Connected Home over IP

So, what does this mean for you as a user? Well, as time goes on and you buy new smart home devices, those smart home devices should work with all of the major platforms out there because these platforms have joined together and agreed upon universal communication standards for smart home devices.

6. What is Zigbee?

Now, what is Zigbee you may ask? With Smart Home devices there are actually several different technologies at play depending on the smart devices you use. Some devices will use Wi-Fi or Bluetooth which you’ve probably heard of while others rely on ZigBee, Z-Wave, or Thread. Zigbee is probably the most popular one of these out there so we will use that for my example.

Figure 8. What is Zigbee

Now in simple terms these are local mesh networks that typically consist of a hub that is directly wired into your router and your devices, you can think of them like they’re daisy changed together. So, for example, when your Zigbee hub sends out a signal to one Zigbee device that device will then carry on that signal to all of the other Zigbee devices in your network. The benefit of these types of systems is they typically have more range than a Wi-Fi network with one router.

7. Are smart home hubs still needed?

The only downside is you’ll need to have a hub to control your Zigbee or other similar type of network and sometimes different smart devices will require different hubs. For example, in my home my Lutron Smart blinds are connected directly to the Lutron hub which is wired into the router and my Philips Hue lights are connected to my Philips hue bridge which is a hub that is also connected into my router.

Figure 9. An example of Hub

Now recently, with a popularity of smart assistant platforms like the Google Assistant, Amazon’s assistant, and Apple’s Homekit, hubs have become more and more unnecessary to control your smart home devices because many of the devices today will just directly connect to your Wi-Fi network with the only downside being when your Wi-Fi goes down, you’ll lose the ability to be able to control your smart home devices. For the everyday consumer, we don’t think you’re going to need to worry about whether or not your smart home device uses Zigbee, Bluetooth, or Wi-Fi. For most consumers the simple thing to do is to decide on the platform that you want to run your smart devices on and buy smart devices that are certified to work with that platform. Now, if you’re the type of consumer that likes to tinker with technology, or you just want more control over your smart home then yes, we do think you should pay more attention to the technology that your smart home devices are using.

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