Smart home technology: Putting the power back into the consumers hands

Firstly, what is a smart home? The term gets bandied around a lot and can mean many different things depending on the person or the company. One of the more commonly accepted definitions is a home that uses devices and appliances connected to the internet that allow remote monitoring and utilisation of said devices.

What types of smart appliances and devices are there?

Simply put, lots. Think of a house hold appliance and device and there is most likely a ‘smart’ version of it out there. From dishwashers to lightbulbs, manufacturers have started putting smart capability into everything within our home.

What’s the current state of smart homes?

Traditionally and before the widespread adoption of WiFi in people’s homes, a smart home would be designed and installed using a propriety system from dedicated smart home technology manufacturer.

The technology to operate things like lights, window shutters, air conditioning and heating remotely or automatically has been in existence since the 1970’s.

They did have several issues though, the first and biggest being cost and the second being the risk of obsolescence and incompatibility with new technology, this, as a result, meant that their uptake was never huge.

Recently two related things have happened that have led to the wider adoption of smart home technology, the first is the prevalence of WiFi in homes across the country, greatly simplifying the installation requirements, the second is the mass adoption of smart phones which have accustomed people to engaging with technology in ways they may not have considered previously.

The current situation means that certain products have gained a lead in the market, these can be broken down roughly into a few groups:

  • Home hubs – Alexa, Google etc
  • Lighting – Phillips Hue etc
  • Heating – Nest etc
  • Security – Ring, Nest etc

The key advantage that these products have, with the possible exception of Phillips Hue, is their simplicity of set up, in a lot of cases requiring nothing more than turning on and connecting to a WiFi network.

They do still have some limitations however, the chief one being compatibility between different manufacturers eco systems. That is to say an Apple product may have difficulties working with, or not work at all with an Android product as an example.

To some buyers this is a non-issue as they may well have brought into one manufacturers entire eco system already, e.g. the owner of an IPhone purchases an IPad, then a HomePod and ensures any accessories or appliances are compatible with these Apple products.

For other buyers this can be an issue though as different members of the household may be using different devices, iPhones, Samsung’s and Google Pixels all in one house hold is not uncommon.

The good news is in this case a sensible manufacturer will ensure their product is compatible with as many different systems as possible.

To illustrate this let’s take a smart light bulb and the assumption that is you can control it using an app. So what does that mean? Well you can turn it on and off using your phone, maybe dim it or change the colour or intensity of the light. You might be able to link it to your Alexa or Google Home hub and verbally tell it to turn on or off. Now while this is all well and good, there is another dimension to look at and that is the capability of a smart device that makes use of IFTTT.


If This Then That is a free service that allows developers to develop what are known as applets, these applets allow compatible devices to trigger actions in other compatible devices, regardless of manufacturer. The good thing about this is it allows smart devices to work in ways that may not have been intended by their original designer.

As an example, an IFTTT applet can be written that will allow a smart light bulb to work with a smart doorbell, so someone rings your doorbell and the lights briefly pulse. Now the average person may sit there and ask why would they want to do this?

But think of someone with hearing difficulties; they may not hear the doorbell at all. Previously, to have a visual alert would have required a dedicated system to be installed at an extra cost to conventional equipment. A smart door bell and light bulb require no fixed wiring and can be installed instantly.

Another example is fire alarms; you can already purchase smart fire alarms that will alert you to the problem in different ways depending on factors, such as the location of the fire, whether smoke is present etc, a smart fire alarm using an applet could automatically unlock smart door locks ensuring that the house can be escaped as quickly as possible.

Now these are both fairly extreme uses, but other more day to day uses could include your house lights coming on when your smart doorbell detects someone outside, or more novel uses such as pulsing when your Uber arrives.

Moving forward

The important thing to understand about all of the above is that once the initial smart device has been purchased the extra functionally requires no physical installation, this more than anything will be what helps smart technology establish itself and grow in people’s homes.

Whereas prior iterations of smart home technology required the use of technology, such as bridges to coordinate the different equipment and in some cases a certain amount of fixed electrical wiring, the newer generation in a lot of cases just needs turning on.

This allows the manufacturer to sell directly to the end user broadening their customer base massively. The advantage to the consumer is that it allows them to dip their toe in without committing to a potentially expensive installation. This of course also benefits the manufacturer of smart equipment as that initial purpose can act as the gateway drug to embracing a smart home.

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