Making a smarter home in the 21st century

The increasing popularity of smart speakers are causing many people to taking their first serious look at home automation. The technology itself has been around for a while but failed to catch fire with anyone beyond tech savvy early adopters. Now with the advent of smart speakers there is renewed interest is bringing elements of home automation into people’s homes in much greater numbers and this is causing consumers to take the technology more seriously.

If like most people you are starting out your home automation journey by purchasing a smart speaker. You have a choice of three competing systems to choose from. Most people will choose the smart speaker based on how well it will integrate into what they are currently using rather than looking at how that choice may limit their options for future additions to their home automation. If you have a large collection of iTunes music you may be tempted to get the Apple HomePod even though this may limit your future options. If you have a large music collection that you physically own then you might want to consider a good NAS with Plex as an agnostic alternative that does not limit your choices.

The strength and weakness of the Apple offering is its integration with Apple products. Siri is not up to scratch with Alexa or Google Assistant and if you want to use Siri to call up music you are limited to Apple music. You will find available a number of compatible home automation devices that will work with the HomePod and you will have a choice of hardware for locks, lights, outlets, thermostats, sensors, camera and shade controls. You will however have less choice than the other two competing systems and unless you  already have a household were everyone uses iPhones and MacBooks this is probably not the best system for you. Like most things Apple, the focus has been to keep you swimming in the Apple pond and very little has been done to bring in third party hardware or software providers.

The Google offering is unsurprisingly the best integrated with online applications. Google Home is also compatible with the second largest selection of hardware including Nest. One of the best features is its integration with IFTTT. This service makes it very easy to create intelligent relationships with online services and various hardware in your home. The acronym which stand for If This Then That lets you create recipes that make your life easier by making one event a trigger for other things such as turning on your coffee maker when you wake up. The ecosystem includes a lot of appliance manufacturers and a number of other home automation systems such as Samsung Smart Home. You should not underestimate how important it is to integrate third party online services as a lot of online services are now being robotised and this is probably how artificial intelligence will enter most people’s homes. Unless having AI in your house is a point of fear for you this should be a very strong plus in Googles favour.

The largest selection of compatible hardware is unsurprisingly is the offering that comes from the world’s largest online retailer, Amazon. They have invested a lot of money in developing the Alexa service to the point that it is a match for Google Assistant and even out competes it in a few areas. Its weakness is that it does not have quite as good native sound quality choices as its competitors and less integration with third party services. It makes up for this by having the second most popular entertainment service in Amazon Prime as well as the most extensive selection of hardware. This also makes it the easiest to to find inexpensive hardware to build out your system. There is no doubt that Amazon has invested heavily in this project and will continue to do so, down the road you can be sure that you won’t end up owning something that the parent company abandoned.

In the end what may come down as your deciding factor is what are the services you have made significant investments in already. If you have a lot of media that you have purchased on Amazon or Apple that may dictate what smart speaker you buy. If however you have gone the entertainment as a service route rather than owning the media you consume you will be happy to know that Netflix is compatible with both  Amazon and Goggles offerings. All in all the strongest offering at this time is probably Amazon’s Alexa except for those that place a lot of importance on online services integration or music sound quality. Apple is well behind the other two and would only be your first choice if you already use a lot of Apple products.