If you’ve been shopping for a major appliance lately, you might have noticed that everything — from ovens to fridges, TVs, dishwashers and microwaves — is equipped with Wi-Fi connectivity. It’s so popular these days that it’s increasingly difficult to buy appliances without smart features onboard.
Smart devices are everywhere, embedded in practically everything — but actually making a smart home that works in harmony is a nightmare that the average person is unlikely to be able to navigate on their own.
I’ve been navigating this myself lately as someone who just purchased their first home, eager to make the most of the best of this smart tech now that I’m able to rip out light switches and cut holes in my walls when I want to. If you’re intentional about what you buy, the smart home can be magical, and I was ready to invest in that.
My plan was to go into the smart home eyes wide open and take my time to only buy devices that complement each other. I knew from my time renting that cobbling together a bunch of random smart devices without much thought grew increasingly annoying over time. Over the last few months I’ve spent hours researching things like smart light switches, sensors and blinds before spending any money.
But, even as someone who works in technology, it has amazed me just how complicated the smart home still is: it’s full of jargon and incompatible standards. Before buying anything, people who want to get into the “smart home” need to choose their ecosystems and technologies wisely from the outset or they’ll be fidgeting with it for years — but no device maker is upfront with this.
The basic goal of anyone building a smart home should be: which device do I want to primarily manage these things through? For most people, the best route is likely via a smart speaker like the Google Home, Amazon Alexa or Apple’s HomePod, all of which will allow you to control those devices with your voice as well as a single app on your phone.
The problem, however, is that the need for a single app or device to control all the smart things isn’t obvious until you end up with a few different devices that it’s annoying to switch between via different apps to control each of your light bulbs.
That means the average smart home dabbler needs to somehow understand whether the thing they’re buying will work with Google Home and Amazon Alexa, if they have any smart speakers. Then, if they own an iPhone, they need to understand what Apple’s HomeKit standard is, which allows them to use Siri and the Home app on iOS as well (and is well worth the effort, providing a single app that controls your entire home).
After that, perhaps they realize they want to get sensors to automate those devices to do things like having the lights turning on when they enter a room, they’ll likely need to consider the Z-Wave or Zigbee standards, which unlock automation for any device regardless …….