We’ve all seen films and television shows that promise smart homes ripped out of the pages of science-fiction. One day, smart home products will allow us to control our air conditioning with our voice, turn on lights and have our houses heated in preparation for our return. Tech will activate our television sets and brew us a fresh cup of coffee when we wake up.
A few years removed from the initial smart home boom, hubs, thermostats, smartphones, online services and speaker accessories are finally starting to make those visions of smart homes that we see in the movies a reality. At least, they would if understanding everything smart home device makers have to offer didn’t involve a smart home compatibility chart and tons of research.
You see, smart home technology is a victim of its evolution. More and more companies are doing interesting things in the space. There’s Phillips Hue with its light bulbs and the Amazon Echo to consider. Companies across the globe are making devices that allow us to control our homes, but there’s no top-to-bottom solution for everything. The Amazon Echo can communicate with some smart home devices, but it’s not a smart home hub in itself. Apple’s Home Kit is built into iPhone and iPad, but no where near a universal standard.
Here’s what you need to know when you’re getting started with smart home technology.
Smart Home Platforms & Smart Home Hubs
The process of putting together a smart home is made complicated by the standards that each company uses. Many companies build their own ecosystems to work with their own products, but sometimes those same devices have issues talking to smart home products made by other companies. To get started, you need to bet on a platform and hub that’ll allow you to automate the things that you want to. A smart home infrastructure is like a spider’s web.
Insteon, Wink, SmartThings nd Lowes Iris are the core smart home platforms of choice. They are at the center of that spider’s web. In serious setups, it’s the hub and platform that allow the different parts of your smart home experience to interact with each other. They dictate what features you can add to your smart home in the future too. They support things like climate control, light bulbs, cameras and sensors. What hub and platform you choose determines which features your smart home will have.
When you’re choosing a smart home hub, you want to go with one that supports the things you’d like to have automated in your home. You always want to be sure that your hub allows for other companies to expand its capabilities and talk to it over time.
Smart Home Accessories
Once you’ve decided which smart home hub you want and what features you’d like, it’s time to start looking for accessories that will unlock those features. There are a lot of players in the smart home space because there’s a lot of things you can do with smart home technology.
You have a dizzying array of smart home locks, cameras, thermostats, smoke detectors, porch lights, lighting fixtures and stereo equipment to consider. Not all of these accessories are made by someone other than the firm that makes your smart home hub. For the best compatibility, you want to buy accessories within the same product family as your hub or products known to work with it.
Phillips, Nest, August, Insteon, Belkin, Samsung and iHome are huge players in the smart home accessories space. Each has a core focus, but branches off into other things. For example, Phillips is best known for its Hue lighting systems. Belkin has a stunning array of smart coffee makers, cameras, plugs and light bulbs of its own.
Ways to Interact with Your Smart Home
Finally, you want to decide on how you’ll interact with your smart home and all of your smart home accessories. This is by far, the easiest decision that you have to make.
Now that Android and iPhone have established themselves as the smartphone platforms of choice, there’s not a smart home hub or accessory that doesn’t have an app for either. Apple attempts to mix a cool interface in with smartphone options through its HomeKit features built into iPhone and iPad.
There are other ways to interact with your smart home beyond an app. The Amazon Echo and Amazon Echo Dot allow users to give voice commands and control lots of their smart home. The recently released Google Home allows for this too.
Apple hopes that you’ll want to interact with your smart home through the Siri personal assistant that built in your smartphone or Apple Watch. Microsoft doesn’t have any products in this space right now.
Smart Home Compatibility Charts: Hubs & Products
|Hub||August||Alexa (Echo)||Belkin (WeMo)||Cree||Cortana||Ecobee||HomeKit||Hue||iHome|
|Insteon Hub with HomeKit||X||X|
|Wink Hub 2||X||X||X||X||X||X|
Smart Home Compatibility Charts: Hubs and Products Continued
|Hub||Kwikset||Logitech||MiLocks||Nest||Lutron Clear Connect||SmartThings||Z-Wave||Zig-Bee||IFTTT|
|Insteon Hub with HomeKit|
|Wink Hub 2||X||X||X||X||X||X|
Smart Home Compatibility Charts: Interfaces
|August||Alexa (Echo)||Belkin (WeMo)||Cree||Cortana||Ecobee||HomeKit||Hue||iHome|
Smart Home Compatibility Charts: Interfaces Continued
|Kwikset||Logitech||MiLocks||Nest||Lutron Clear Connect||SmartThings||Z-Wave||Zig-Bee||IFTTT|
It’s worth noting that Insteon offers two hubs, each built around a different ecosystem. It’s HomeKit-Enabled Insteon Hub doesn’t offer the same features that its cheaper, Insteon Hub allows. This creates an interesting problem if you should decide to switch smartphone platforms after building out your smart home’s capabilities.
Categories in bold are communication methods that each hub or product can use. So for example, the Wink Hub 2 can communicate with a large array of devices that use ZigBee. IFTTT belongs in a category of its own. The system allows you create recipes to automate all kinds of things in your home and life.
Apple’s HomeKit does allow users to control devices based on Z-Wave and communication systems not made by them. However, doing so requires a hub to intervene between HomeKit and the accessory you’re trying to use.
To be clear, you don’t have to buy a smart home hub to make smart home products work. Some will work without a central hub at all, while others will come with their own hubs so that you can control them without the use of an extra app.
Smart Home: What to Buy
Smart home products are ballooning in number. There’s so many companies working on so many things that it’s hard to decide which items to purchase and which you shouldn’t. When considering new smart home products, stick to these rules.
- First, be sure that whatever smart home products you purchase have an app that works with your phone. Everything in this category worth buying has an iPhone or Android app, but you want to be careful that the product doesn’t require a version of iOS or Android newer than what’s loaded on your phone. Some products have website interfaces were you can control what they do, but many don’t. Keep that in mind as well.
- Second, check to see what accessories the product you’re about to purchase is compatible with. For example, if you have an Apple Watch, you’ll definitely want to use it as a way to control what’s around you.
- Before you buy anything in this category, you want to make sure you know how it gets power. Smart locks often rely on battery power, but Nest cameras need a power supply from your house. Account for this in any smart home planning that you do.
- Keep an eye on smart home products that depend on the web. Some smart home products are useless without the web services that they connect to.
Good luck building out your smart home.