Whether you’re in regular conversation with Alexa or completely new to the smart home game, we shine a light on how to make better connections for a more automated, simplified life…
Ever wondered what it would be like to switch your lights on and off with your voice, answer your doorbell remotely from your phone, or wake up to coffee that’s perfectly brewed? That’s just the beginning of what smart home technology can offer – the future is even more exciting.
Want to dip your toes in the smart home waters? We caught up with Will Hopkins, managing director of UK-based Your Smart Home, to find out how switching on could help you switch off. But first…
What exactly is smart home tech?
There are many different names used alongside the term ‘smart home’ – connected home, IoT (Internet of Things), intelligent building, integrated home…
“At its core most people consider a smart home to be a home you can control, usually through your smartphone,” Will explains. “And this is certainly one aspect, but a smart home goes well beyond just that.”
“A truly smart home is fully connected. Devices in the home are integrated, which enables them to initiate intelligent actions. For example, when you set your security alarm, a smart home understands this means no one is home. It then talks to all your other connected devices such as lights, TVs, audio and heating to tell them to turn off as they’re no longer needed.”
Clever huh? Since Your Smart Home was founded in 2011, Will says he and his team have been involved in everything from adding light switches to glass walls to home cinema installation. However, Will says most people start with the desire to pre-heat their house on as they’re on their way home or switch off all their lights at the touch of a single button.
Where to begin
When thinking about how to incorporate smart home technology into your home Will recommends researching the possibilities, and says many people are unaware of technology’s full potential.
“We recommend you start by thinking of what you’d like to achieve rather than how to do it. There are a number of ways to achieve the perfect solution. From lights to speakers, there’s a huge range of off-the-shelf products available. These can be configured through your phone with simple set-up wizards and apps, and most of the time you can arrange to have them tied together with a control platform such as Crestron by contacting a professional system integration firm.”
For the DIY smart home installer there are three main control systems: Google Home, Apple HomeKit and Amazon Echo. There are other systems out there, such as those produced by Samsung and Panasonic, but many are only compatible with their own branded products so it pays to do your research before you dive on in.
In great news for Vodafone UK customers, Google Home and Google Home Mini smart speakers, Google WiFi, and Google Chromecast TV and Chromecast Ultra are now available in-store – making it even easier for you to get started with smart home tech today.
Described by CNET as ‘the best way to blanket your entire home with WiFi’, Google WiFi solves any coverage issues you might have in your home by creating what’s known as a mesh network. Once you’ve connected one Google WiFi unit to your modem as normal, you then place the others (up to two more) in areas of low coverage. These units link wirelessly together and ensure a strong signal across all areas of your home so you can wave goodbye to frustrating dead spots and sluggish browsing.
Google Chromecast TV and Chromecast Ultra allow you to send or ‘cast’ all your favourite movies, shows, music and other content to your TV. You can even link Chromecast with your Google Home smart speaker and call on Google’s voice assistant to tell it what to play.
Free web-based service IFTTT (If This Then That) is another great platform to help you get maximum value from your smart devices. IFTTT’s numerous pre-built applets (previously called ‘recipes’) enable different devices to talk to one another and do things like turn an old phone into a security camera or pair your Fitbit with your lights so they turn on when you roll out of bed.
Looking for more inspiration? Here’s how to automate your day to day living, one step at a time.
Dispelling the myths
Long before the birth of the voice assistant, fantasy writers like Ray Bradbury imagined a future where interactive homes appeared to run themselves. In fact, in 1950 he wrote of an automated home that kept running beyond the end of human civilisation, in the year 2026. And while we certainly have higher hopes for the future of humanity, it’s true smart home tech has sparked some concerns.
A recent survey of 2,000 Brits found more than three quarters are fearful of smart homes, mainly due to the potential they could be hacked. However, by doing your research with emphasis on security and privacy, Will believes you can enjoy the benefits while mitigating the risks:
“As professional installers, security is something we’re very conscious about. Obviously, high street products by the big names are a key target for hackers, but this also means brands are investing more in security. Most professional solutions provide us with options to both keep out hackers and restrict the data available to manufacturers.”
And in general, there’s no real need for concern. For instance, whilst your Amazon Echo is constantly listening out for the ‘Alexa’ hotword, none of what you say is sent Amazon’s way until you actually ask it something. Oh, and remember: you can even ask Alexa for information on your Vodafone bill these days!
An eye to the future
So what’s next for smart homes? Will says the best is yet to come.
“Smart home technology is fast becoming a standard addition to most new homes,” he explains. “The ability to remotely control things like lighting and heating will become the new norm. And then at the upper and commercial end of the market we expect to see this technology advance into intelligent buildings, where the building will be able to make decisions for you.”
Smart home tech certainly offers a whole new mode of personalisation, for homes that work in complete harmony with your lifestyle. And just like smartphones, broadband and your toaster, it won’t be long before you’ll wonder how you lived without a houseful of intelligent appliances.
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