Walking over to a thermostat or light switch, or even using a standard remote control, is beginning to look decidedly outdated with the advent of devices that respond to a smartphone app or even just the sound of your voice. Smart home technology is a fast-growing market and is predicted to spark substantial consumer engagement with Internet of Things (IOT) technology in the coming years.
Over 20% of people in Britain now own at least one device and are likely to purchase more as device automation becomes increasingly widespread. It’s even predicted that consumer spending in the IOT sphere will outpace business spending within the next five years. But with both the smart home app and voice control devices battling for market share, which is going to be prevalent for consumers and the home automation technology industry?
What types of home automation are available?
Right now, home automation technology spans a wide range, from smart thermostats that let you control your central heating remotely, to smart lights that connect to your router and offer myriad combinations of colours and schedules. A smart plug allows you to switch appliances on and off from anywhere and video doorbells show you who’s at your door even if you’re not there to answer it.
Then, of course, there’s the smart speakers and home hubs, which not only stream music but also contain inbuilt virtual assistants that can integrate with the other smart devices in your home. The three major players in the home hub market are Apple HomeKit with inbuilt Siri, Google Home with Google Assistant and Amazon Echo with Alexa and all are continuously updating their products and getting smarter. Whether you just want a weather forecast or you wish to run your entire home through a virtual assistant, voice control is definitely here to stay.
What does the future of home automation look like?
Very bright, if you’re a device manufacturer – and the upsurge in this technology is also leading businesses such as IT wholesalers to become more consumer-friendly in anticipation of future sales. The future of this technology will be driven by customer demand, particularly with people leading increasingly busy lives and eternally seeking shortcuts.
There are already devices available that can save you money (in energy bills, with the smart thermostat, smart plugs and smart lights) and enhance your home’s security (smart doorbells and cameras), and as companies work out how to include IOT technology in more and more places, automating our daily chores is sure to be a huge motivation in consumer uptake. After all, there’s already a device that can switch on your garden sprinkler and monitor how much water is used. How long before you can say “Hey, Siri, clean the oven” or “Alexa, start the dishwasher”?
While automation of chores is likely to lead the way in future device requirements, another big factor for consumers is the security of their data. At the moment, concerns about security breaches and hacking of devices – such as identity theft and man-in-the-middle attacks – are possibly the biggest obstacle for device manufacturers. Advances in authentication and encryption methods are essential to reassure potential customers that their devices are not vulnerable to attack.
Many in the technology industry are excited about how the advent of 5G could affect home automation. With a faster, more responsive network, smart devices in the home could become easier to set up and more reliable in their performance. 5G also has the ability to bring together multiple wireless standards used in smart devices with one simple wireless protocol to connect everything. The opportunities this gives the industry, while not yet fully known, are potentially revolutionary for home automation.
Smartphone or voice control?
Let’s take a look now at the two primary ways to control your smart home devices. Pretty much every device comes with an associated smart home app, which enables you to control it both in the home and remotely as well. This gives you full control over all aspects of the device wherever you are, for example switching off a smart plug if you arrive at work and realise you’ve left the iron switched on, or scheduling your smart heating to switch on the day you return from holiday.
One potential drawback is that the more devices you have, the more apps there are taking up space on your phone: if you want to change the smart lights and the smart thermostat, you need to open two apps. Some companies such as Nest have solved this by having a single app for all of their products, but if you want to adopt a wide range of home automation options, it’s likely you’ll be dealing with multiple apps.
Voice control, however, gives you the ability to manage all of your devices through a single home hub. This is great when you’ve literally got your hands full and need to turn the smart lights on, or you want to switch on the smart heating without getting out of bed, but while it sounds easy, it’s not perfect.
As mentioned above, Google, Apple and Amazon are the current front-runners, but as yet nobody is an obvious market leader in terms of either the home hubs or the operating system that integrates all of the devices – so when you’re choosing a device, make sure it’s compatible with your hub. And although virtual assistants are becoming increasingly versatile, you may need to use certain phrases or commands to control each device, so the more devices you have, the more commands you’ll need to remember.
So in summary, it depends! Both methods have their place; the one that works better for you is contingent on the devices you have in your home. If managing security and devices while away from home is your priority, then smartphone apps are a great option. If, however, you’re all about multitasking in the home or managing devices from the comfort of your sofa, then a home hub with compatible devices gives you all the voice control options you need.
Whichever you prefer, it’s safe to say that both options will play a huge role in the next few years and beyond as home automation technology goes from strength to strength.