The selection of a smart home ecosystem is a selection that occurs most of the times, unconsciously. It comes through the purchase of a hub (for advanced users), or a digital assistant (it can be a speaker but also a tablet or a TV).
Do not feel pressured, but this is one of the most important decisions you need to do when creating your Meaningful Smart Home. When you select your digital assistant or hub, you are not just choosing a product. You are defining the smart home ecosystem, the platform that you are going to use to interact with your home, your family and the external world.
We invite you to do just as you do in your real life. When someone rings your doorbell, do you directly let he/she enter? Or even if he/she insists, you try first to understand his/her purposes? The same happens with marketing; do not let it persuade you and evaluate what is better for you.
What is a smart home ecosystem?
Similar to a natural ecosystem, a smart home ecosystem is a group of devices and components that, using connectivity technologies (Bluetooth, Wi-Fi, Zigbee, etc.), interact with each other to influence human well-being. The diversity of devices (thermostats, lights, sensors, etc.), together with external (environmental conditions) and internal factors (human intervention) affect the functioning of the ecosystem.
From a user perspective, the smart home ecosystem is made of three main parts:
1. The smart devices that are used to complete specific actions.
2. The digital assistants and/or hubs, that allow the communication between smart devices, an act as the meeting point between smart devices and humans.
3. The commanders, that enable the management of the smart devices from a single source, typically an App.
Why including a digital assistant and/or hub in my smart home ecosystem?
Including a digital assistant and/or a hub is advised for three main reasons:
1. To enable communication between smart devices and so, getting the maximum potential of a Meaningful Smart Home. If you do not include a digital assistant or a hub in your smart home ecosystem, you will not be able to create scenes, routines or rules that depend on the interaction between devices. For instance, you will not be able to define a rule for which your smart lights turn on once you open the front door of your home.
2. To facilitate the management of your home. If you do not include a digital assistant or hub in your smart home ecosystem, you will not be able to manage the smart devices from a single App (unless all devices are Wi-Fi compatible or belonging to the same platform, for instance, Apple Homekit). Recalling the previous example, you will not be able to monitor the status of the front door and send commands to your smart lights from a single app. You will need two of them.
3. To facilitate the remote management of your home. If you do not include a digital assistant or a hub in your smart home ecosystem, you will not be able to manage your home devices while you are away at the office, at the gym or on holidays. Recalling the same previous example, if someone opens the front door of your home while you are away, you will not be notified. This scenario happens because the door sensor, without the presence of a digital assistant or hub, is not able to transfer the information to the cloud and therefore communicate with you through your smartphone, smartwatch, tablet, etc.
When is a hub a proper solution?
We see hubs as a proper solution for advanced users that have a relevant number of smart devices at their homes.
Hubs are mainly required in those cases in which homes are equipped with lots of devices that talk different languages. Speaking different languages means that the devices support different connectivity technologies, also known as smart home communication protocols.
The communication protocols available in the market are several. All of them present their strengths and weaknesses and can be classified into wireless (Bluetooth, Wi-Fi, Zigbee, Z-Wave, Insteon, Thread) and wired (UPB, X10). This technology fragmentation has been in recent years one of the main barriers for the development of the smart home market1.
Although as per today there is still not any hub that can support all communication protocols, some advancements have been done, and we find hubs supporting several of them like Zigbee, Z-Wave and Wi-Fi. In our products area, you will find the most popular and versatile hubs compared.
When is a digital assistant a proper solution?
We see digital assistants as a proper solution for most of the people, especially for those who are entering into the smart home arena, and that has not still invested in products that use different communication protocols.
Moreover, considering on one side the high adoption rate that smart speakers (a category of digital assistants) are having among users2, and on the other, the fact that some digital assistants are starting to integrate additional communication protocols3, they could become the final solution that both users and producers were waiting for the creation of basic and advanced Meaningful Smart Homes.
Digital assistant is the solutions proposed by several companies to combat the central issue of the interoperability and, at the same time, simplifying the life to the final user. Companies like Amazon, Apple, Google, Microsoft and Samsung have created their platforms from which the final user can command their homes.
Digital assistant generally supports Wi-Fi and Bluetooth protocols, and as per seen above, some have already included the possibility to support other communication protocols like Zigbee4. This situation can, on the one hand, relief the Wi-Fi network and on the other, increase the number of compatible devices that work with that specific digital assistant.
One of the main advantages of digital assistants in front of typical hubs is that they can be commanded by using your voice. Considering the adoption rate of smart speakers in countries like the UK, where it doubled between 2017 and 20185, voice control seems to be a high-value feature for the final users.
Actually, in the US, 54.4% of the population has a smartphone. From these, 61.5% use voice assistants at least once a month. The market share is divided among Apple Siri (44%), Google Assistant (30%), Amazon Alexa (17%), Microsoft Cortana (4%) and Samsung Bixby (4%)6.
Concerning smart speakers, a specific type of digital assistant, 22.9% of the US population own a smart speaker, is 2.2 the average number of devices by household. From these, 79.1% use them monthly. In this case, Google and Amazon share about 95% of the market with Siri leading just under 5%7.
In our products area, you will find a comparison between the most popular digital assistants, either it is a smart speaker, a tablet or other.
1 Bonneau V., Copigneaux B., Probst L., Pedersen B. Smart Home: Technologies with a standard battle. European Commission. 2017.<https://ec.europa.eu/growth/tools-databases/dem/monitor/sites/default/files/DTM_Smart%20Home%20-%20Standard%20battle%20v1.pdf>.
2,5 Tech UK. The state of the connected home. Tech UK in conjunction with GfK. 2018. <the state of the connected home - techUKhttps://www.techuk.org/index.php?...State_of_the_Connected_Home...>.
3,4 Amazon, Echo Plus Zigbee Support. Accessed April 2019. <https://developer.amazon.com/docs/smarthome/echo-plus-zigbee-support.html#adding-zigbee-to-your-products>.
6,7 Kinsella B., Mutchler A. Voice assistant consumer adoption report. Voicebot, PullString, RAIN. 2018. <https://voicebot.ai/wp-content/uploads/2018/11/voice-assistant-consumer-adoption-report-2018-voicebot.pdf>.