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Automatic for the People

Choosing the Right Smart Home Platform: Energy Efficiency Meets High-Tech Living

Daren Wang
January 18, 2024

Automating your home is a great way to be more energy efficient. But what platform should I choose?

Many of us have that sci-fi dream: The garage door opens even before our sleek EV approaches it. We get out and our hands are full of packages, but the front door unlocks without a key, and the lights come up as we enter. We notice that the air temperature and humidity are perfect, even as we know the house had been kept at a much more climate-friendly temperature the whole time we were gone. The music we were enjoying on our ride starts playing over the sound system. All that, and we never had to touch a thing.

The dream home of the future has always been automated. Coffee was ready when you woke up, lights turned on when you walked in the room, and a disembodied voice was perpetually available to answer questions, make calls, and take notes.

But home automation is about more than flashy tricks and conveniences. Tying your home technology together with home automation is a great way to optimize tasks for efficient energy usage and save money through reduced usage. An automated home that closes shades to keep the sun out on hot days and starts the clothes dryer when peak hours are over can make a big difference in your power bills.

Nowadays, all the technology needed for that kind of domestic utopia is easily available in off-the-shelf products. Still, it can feel like we need an omniscient artificial intelligence like HAL-9000 just to get everything to work together.

If you’re venturing into the world of DIY smart homes, three major contenders stand out: Amazon Alexa, Apple Home, and Google Home. While alternatives like Home Assistant, Samsung, Crestron, Savant, Vivint, Hubitat, and Homey exist, they are often specialized, making the mainstream options a prudent starting point.

So how do you decide which one is best for you? Let’s take a look at some things you should consider before committing.

1. Smartphone Compatibility

Your choice of smartphone plays a pivotal role in determining the most suitable smart home platform for you. Whether it's the seamless integration of Apple Home with iPhones or Pixel phones aligning Google’s home platform, making sure your preferred smartphone platform plays nice with your home platform should make things easier. Consider the various personal computing devices within your household, ensuring the chosen ecosystem works harmoniously across multiple smartphone platforms.

2. Existing Smart Devices

Evaluate the smart devices already present in your home, as this can influence your platform selection. If you own devices from Apple, Amazon, or Google, leveraging their respective platforms could offer enhanced integration and functionality. However, compatibility across ecosystems is common, providing flexibility in choosing the platform that aligns best with your preferences.

3. Voice Assistant Preference

The distinct personalities of voice assistants—Alexa, Siri, and Google Assistant—play a significant role in smart home management. Aligning with the voice assistant that resonates with you enhances the user experience.

4. Desired Features

Define the specific features you want from your smart home platform, as each offers unique capabilities. Whether it's Apple Home's HomeKit Secure Video, Alexa's Hunches using AI, or Google Home's presence-sensing feature, identifying your priorities aids in selecting the platform that caters to your needs.

Bonus: Smart Home Hub Consideration

While not mandatory, a smart home hub can augment your smart home experience by providing localized control and ensuring automation continuity during internet outages. Modern hubs, integrated into devices like Apple TV, HomePods, and Google Nest Hubs, offer expanded functionality.

Navigating the complexities of the smart home landscape becomes more manageable when armed with a thoughtful approach to these considerations.

With all this in mind, let’s dive into each platform’s strengths and weaknesses.

Amazon Alexa: Alexa stands out as the popular smart home platform, a position it has maintained for several years, and for good reason. At the forefront of its appeal is the extensive array of lower-cost speakers it offers.

These smart speakers play a crucial role as the central hub in smart home automation. Functioning as the nerve center, they facilitate the seamless connection and interaction of smart devices from various manufacturers.

Amazon often offers discounts on discounts that are compatible with Alexa, making this the least expensive platform to build out.

Among the myriad smart speaker options available, Amazon's Echo speakers shine with unparalleled functionality. The Echo Show product line, equipped with an interactive display, elevates the experience of using Alexa for day-to-day tasks to a new level of convenience.

Google Home: Positioned as the second most used smart-home ecosystem, Google Home has been gaining ground, challenging and, in certain domains, surpassing Amazon Alexa as the favored smart home system.

At the core of Google's ascent is its strategic focus on budget-friendly smart speakers, exemplified by products like the Nest Mini and Home Mini. These offerings aim to minimize the entry barriers for buyers.

While the budget options may not deliver great sound quality, their intelligence remains uncompromised. Google's Home ecosystem boasts an extensive range of Google-branded smart devices, and the company's collaborative ethos opens doors to intriguing possibilities for enhancing your smart home experience.

Apple Home: While Apple's HomeKit may be less popular than Google’s and Amazon’s platforms, it’s emphasis on security and privacy make it the favorite for people that value those aspects of home technology.

Apple has long promoted the idea of a “walled garden” for its user experience, and the Apple Home platform follows that philosophy. If you are already an Apple user, your iPad, HomePod, or Apple TV will work as hub. Apple’s HomePod speaker features some of the best sound quality available today, but it is a more expensive option.

Siri, Apple’s voice assistant, has become more helpful in each iteration, and is an effective tool to help manage your home.

Apple requires more stringent security for its compatible devices, and that often drives their cost slightly higher. But if good sound quality and security are important to you, then Apple Home may be worth the premium for you.

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