As we discussed in our previous post, the selection of a smart home ecosystem (namely the platform that you are going to use to communicate with your home, your family and the external world), derives indirectly by the selection of a digital assistant or hub.
We consider digital assistants, instead of typical hubs, as the way-to-go for creating Meaningful Smart Homes. The reasons are mainly two: on one side, smart speakers (a category of digital assistants) are achieving high adoption rates1, and on the other, digital assistants, in general, are integrating additional communication protocols2, relieving in this way the Wi-Fi network and increasing the number of compatible devices.
We have also seen that Amazon Alexa, Apple HomeKit and Google Assistant own the most prominent market shares of smart speakers in the US3, becoming the most popular solutions from which to start building your smart home ecosystem.
To support you in the selection of the smart home ecosystem that best suits your needs, we provide you with a list of evaluation variables for the most popular smart home platforms: Amazon Alexa, Apple HomeKit, Google Assistant.
We consider it a must-do evaluation for everyone.
Choosing a digital assistant for your home, either it is in the form of a smart speaker, a tablet or other, implies the selection of a partner to whom you will be talking to every day. Have you thought about it? Which are the things that you look for in a partner? Love, friendliness, privacy, security, trust and respect might be just some of the characteristics.
When it's time to decide, do not get obsessed, perfection does not exist. Just try to find the right balance. Think about past and recent experiences that you have had with these platforms or the companies themselves. How was it? Were you satisfied? Is there anything that concerned or concerns you? Have some of your friends experienced the same thing?
Now, let's go through the evaluation variables together.
One. Your current software.
The first thing you might want to consider when selecting your smart home ecosystem is the current services and software that you are using and how well you feel about them.
Being sharp, if you are an Android user, you may consider better sticking with Google Assistant. If you are an iOS user, you might prefer staying within Apple HomeKit. If you have both iOS and Android devices and you are a recurrent buyer on Amazon you may want to go with Amazon Alexa.
It could also be that after some years co-living with Android or iOS, you decide to jump from one side to the other. Android offers more customisations to the final user, while Apple focuses on minimalism and integrated experience across their devices.
Two. Companies values.
One aspect that we sometimes do not consider when adopting products or services is looking at the values of the brand offering them. The vision of the company, a statement used to transmit its' purpose, goals and values, can be a good indicator to assess your level of affinity between your values and the ones from the brand.
We have done our research, and this is what we have found:
- Amazon Vision5: "Our vision is to be earth's most customer-centric company; to build a place where people can come to find and discover anything they might want to buy online." Furthermore, Amazon Leadership Principles4: "Customer Obsession. Ownership. Invent and simplify. Are Right, A Lot. Learn and Be Curious. Hire and Develop the Best. Insist on the Highest Standards. Think Big. Bias for Action. Frugality. Earn Trust. Dive Deep. Have Backbone. Disagree and Commit. Deliver Results".
- Apple Vision6: "We believe that we are on the face of the earth to make great products and that's not changing. We are constantly focusing on innovating. We believe in the simple, not the complex. We believe that we need to own and control the primary technologies behind the products that we make and participate only in markets where we can make a significant contribution. We believe in saying no to thousands of projects so that we can focus on the few that are truly important and meaningful to us. We believe in deep collaboration and cross-pollination of our groups, which allow us to innovate in a way that others cannot. And frankly, we don't settle for anything less than excellence in every group in the company, and we have the self-honesty to admit when we're wrong and the courage to change. And I think regardless of who is in what job those values are so embedded in this company that Apple will do extremely well."
- Google Mission7: "Our mission is to organise the world's information and make it universally accessible and useful."
Having gone through these statements, is there any company that better represents you or that is more aligned with your values?
Three. Privacy and Security.
When people are asked about what stops them from adopting connected home products, it appears that privacy (23%) and cybersecurity (16%) are among the main reasons8. But how much concerned should we be about talking to Alexa, Google Assistant or Siri? Are they listening to what is happening at home?
Well, the truth is that all three companies state to review recordings to improve speech recognition and the service itself. The devices are always hearing, but they can listen just when the wake-up words are said.
Amazon annotates "an extremely small sample of Alexa voice recordings". Amazon uses third-party contractors to review them, but they say to "have strict technical and operational safeguards, and have a zero-tolerance policy for the abuse of our system. Employees do not have direct access to information that can identify the person or account as part of this workflow". The information associated with the records is the account numbers, the user's first name and the serial number of the device9. According to Amazon you can review and delete all voice recordings10.
Apple seems to have historically focused on privacy, allowing final users to have full accountability over their preferences and offering transparency. One of the examples is the iOS Security, a publication in which you can find a lot of information about their architecture and platform built with security at its core. According to iOS Security, "every time that Siri is activated it is created a random identifier [...] To facilitate Siri features, some of the user's information from the device is sent to the server. This includes information about the music library (song titles, artists, and playlists), the names of Reminders lists, and names and relationships that are defined in Contacts [...] User voice recordings are saved for a six-month period so that the recognition system can utilise them to better understand the user's voice. After six months, another copy is saved, without its identifier, for use by Apple in improving and developing Siri for up to two years. A small subset of recordings, transcripts, and associated data without identifiers may continue to be used by Apple for ongoing improvement and quality assurance of Siri beyond two years. Additionally, some recordings that reference music, sports teams and players, and businesses or points of interest are similarly saved for purposes of improving Siri."11.
Although all three companies gather data from your interactions with their platforms, we might see Apple be some steps ahead of the competition, and one of the examples is the transparency and the level of detail that they provide on their iOS Security publication.
Four. Available digital assistants.
Most of the digital assistants take the shape of a smart speaker, but it is not said that it is always like that. Tablets and TV accessories are some of the additional devices that can be used as digital assistants.
Amazon is the company with the highest number of digital assistants. The Amazon devices that come equipped with Alexa and that can be used to automate your home are the Amazon Echo, the Amazon Echo Dot, the Amazon Echo Plus, the Amazon Echo Spot, the Amazon Fire TV Cube and the Amazon Echo Show13.
The Apple devices that come equipped with Siri and that you can use to automate your home are the HomePod, the Apple TV 4K or Apple TV HD with the latest version of tvOS, or the iPad with the newest version of iOS14.
The Google devices that come equipped with Google Assistant and that you can use to automate your home are the Google Home Mini, the Google Home, the Google Home Max, the Google Nest Hub and the Google Nest Hub Max15.
Five. Smartphone compatibility.
Each platform has its' own proprietary mobile app: this is what you will use to connect devices, set-up routines and scenes, monitor the status of your home, manage your devices and receive notifications.
The "Amazon Alexa" App from Amazon is available for Fire OS, Android, iOS and Desktop browsers16.
The "Home" App from Apple is available for all iOS devices: iPhone, iPad, Apple TV, Mac and Apple Watch17.
The "Google Home" App from Google is available for Android, iPhone and iPad18.
Six. Communication protocols supported.
Hubs and digital assistants support different connectivity technologies. Make sure that the ones supported by the hub and digital assistants that you select correspond to the communication protocols used by your devices (Bluetooth, Wi-Fi, Zigbee, Z-Wave, etc.).
In this case, all the digital assistants listed in point four support Wi-Fi and Bluetooth communication protocols, with Amazon Echo Plus also supporting Zigbee.
Seven. Smart devices compatibility.
The more communication protocols your hub or digital assistant supports, the more compatible devices are available and therefore more extensive is the offer from which you can choose. Having a wider choice means potentially to access better prices, but it can also mean additional noise to your ears. Staying within a high-quality and robust platform that offers enough products to cover all the aspects of your home can sometimes provide you with higher user experience and satisfaction.
Amazon (which provides device makers with open software tools so that they can work on Alexa skills and, in this way, integrate their devices within the platform) is the one that among the three top platforms has the most comprehensive offer. Amazon states being at work with more than 7.400 unique brands leading to a total of 60.000 smart devices that can be controlled with Alexa19. When adopting new products, if you are into Amazon Alexa platform, you should look for the "Works with Alexa" badge on the packaging of the device.
Apple HomeKit is among the three platforms, the one that counts on less smart devices. This fact is in part due to a previous security requirement: if a manufacturer wanted to integrate into HomeKit, it had to include a chip to ensure that the devices were working according to Apple security standards. After having implemented a software-based authentication approach, devices do not need the chip any more and, being in line with Apple security standards, the number of compatible products has increased. As per today, Apple works with about 50 brands leading to a total of approximately 400 products20. When adopting new products, if you are into Amazon Alexa platform, you should look for the "Works with Apple HomeKit" and "Works with Apple AirPlay" badges on the packaging of the device.
Google Assistant stands in the middle. Working with more than 1.000 brands, the number of smart home devices that work with Google Assistant is over 10.000. 21. When adopting new products, if you are into Google Assistant platform, you should look for the "Works with the Google Assistant" badge on the packaging of the device.
Eight. App and voice assistant capabilities.
Digital assistants are not just the right solution for automating your Meaningful Smart Home, but also a great partner with whom to interact and navigate your digital life.
For instance, all three smart home ecosystems and their digital assistants are useful at:
- Commanding your Meaningful Smart Home.
- Making and receiving calls.
- Sending messages.
- Checking the weather.
- Translating words and phrases.
- Accessing information from the calendar.
- Setting alarms and timers.
- Recognising different users.
From their apps, you will be able as well to:
- Group the different devices by rooms.
- Create routines, scenes and automation rules.
- Command your Meaningful Smart Home by using your voice.
- Command your Meaningful Smart Home by using the touchscreen; appreciated when other people might be sleeping or working (Apple "Home" and "Google Home" apps, not "Amazon Alexa").
- Monitor the status of your devices and receive notifications.
- Manage your smart devices and call scenes or routines by using the touchscreen.
The strengths of Amazon Alexa over Apple HomeKit and Google Assistant are:
- E-commerce integration. With Amazon Alexa, you will integrate easily into Amazon shopping services.
The strengths of Apple HomeKit over Amazon Alexa and Google Assistant are:
- Automation. Apple HomeKit gives you the chance of using your GPS location to trigger specific actions. For instance, you can set-up a rule for which the thermostat turns on when you arrive home or reach a particular location.
The strengths of Google Assistant over Amazon Alexa and Apple HomeKit are:
- Voice recognition. Although all three digital assistants mostly understand what you are saying, Google Assistant has some advantages. Thanks to the focus that Google has put on search and voice recognition, it can better understand the context and providing answers where others can't.
- Intercom availability. You can broadcast your voice to all digital assistants of your home by using one of them or your smartphone.
The access to the most popular smart home ecosystems does not cost money, in the sense that you can use their apps for free.
Costs come from the purchase, but most importantly, from the use that you will do of the smart devices and the digital assistants. What you will live and experience with them will make the real difference.
1,8 Tech UK. The state of the connected home. Tech UK in conjunction with GfK. 2018. <https://www.techuk.org/index.php?...State_of_the_Connected_Home...>.
2 Amazon, Echo Plus Zigbee Support. Accessed May 2019. <https://developer.amazon.com/docs/smarthome/echo-plus-zigbee-support.html#adding-zigbee-to-your-products>.
3 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>.
4 Amazon, Our Leadership Principles. Accessed May 2019. <https://www.aboutamazon.com/working-at-amazon/our-leadership-principles>.
5,6 Hull P., Be Visionary. Think Big. Accessed May 2019. <https://www.forbes.com/sites/patrickhull/2012/12/19/be-visionary-think-big/#28bbeefc3c17>.
7 Google, About. Accessed May 2019. <https://about.google/intl/en/>.
9 BBC, Smart speaker recordings reviewed by humans. Accessed May 2019. <https://www.bbc.com/news/technology-47893082>.
10 Amazon, Alexa, Echo Devices, and Your Privacy. Accessed May 2019. <https://www.amazon.com/gp/help/customer/display.html/?nodeId=GVP69FUJ48X9DK8V?ref_=ods_aucc_dp_farfield_rd>.
11 Apple. iOS Security. iOS 12.3. Apple. 2019. <https://www.apple.com/business/site/docs/iOS_Security_Guide.pdf>.
12 Google, Choose what to share with your Google Assistant. Accessed May 2019. <https://support.google.com/assistant/answer/7126196?hl=en>.
13 Amazon, Alexa User Guide: Learn What Alexa Can Do. Accessed May 2019. <https://www.amazon.com/b/ref=aeg_d_nav_cat?node=17934671011>.
14 Apple, Set up your HomePod, Apple TV, or iPad as a home hub. Accessed May 2019. <https://support.apple.com/en-us/HT207057>.
15 Google, Compare the Google Nest Family. Accessed May 2019. <https://store.google.com/gb/magazine/compare_nest_hub>.
16 Amazon, Download the Amazon Alexa App. Accessed May 2019. <https://www.amazon.com/gp/help/customer/display.html?nodeId=201602060>.
17 Apple, Set up and use the Home app. Accessed May 2019. <https://support.apple.com/en-us/HT204893>.
18 Google, Meet the Google Home app. Accessed May 2019. <https://support.google.com/chromecast/answer/7071794?hl=en>.
19 Amazon, Smart Home Products Compatible with Alexa. Accessed May 2019. <https://developer.amazon.com/it/alexa/connected-devices/compatible>.
20 Apple, Home accessories. The list keeps getting smarter. Accessed May 2019. <https://www.apple.com/ios/home/accessories/>.
21 Google, Services and smart devices that work with Google Home. Accessed May 2019. <https://support.google.com/googlehome/answer/7639952?hl=en>.