On paper and in advertisements, the smart home is the touchless paradigm for modern at-home convenience. Between automated lightbulbs, programmable thermostats and voice-controlled speakers, consumers today have utter control of their smart home at their fingertips.
But as I’ve learned from running a home automation company, there is a clear distinction between a house filled with one-off smart devices and a truly connected smart home experience. As homebuyers and renters continue to heighten expectations for the technologies in their homes, it’s important for vendors, property managers, consumers and developers to understand what makes a smart home smart, and to distinguish between what’s just a trend and what will actually redefine how we live.
A true smart home ecosystem is one where the devices connect, integrate and work with other devices in the system; offer connectivity beyond the home they service, such as the ability for users to control the devices remotely; and work in harmony with the user’s lifestyle, rather than disrupt it.
Defining A Smart Device
The first distinction lies in the actual value or end user benefit of the products in question. Some “smart” home products teeter on superfluous, conjuring up imagery of The Jetsons, while others truly blend into how we live our lives — utilitarian offerings with true, measurable benefits.
An example for the former is a color-changing lightbulb controllable by voice, while the latter would be a fully integrated IoT lock that can be controlled remotely. While flashy and impressive, color-changing bulbs don’t offer additional connectivity in a home or contribute to a more seamless or convenient lifestyle. But the ability to control a smart lock from anywhere in the world offers convenience for people and their homes, allows for unique access credentials for guests or maintenance and provides monitoring capabilities to see exactly when, and by whom, a home was accessed.
Seamless integration and a clear value proposition are at the crux of the smart home.
Integrated Devices Lead To A ‘Smarter’ Smart Home
To take it a step further, true smart home intelligence rests on integration capabilities — or the connectivity that allows for the hyper-customized features consumers look for when considering smart home technology. Being able to say good night and having the home’s lights automatically dim while the thermostat drops to optimal sleeping temperature is, I find, one of the key selling points for most consumers.
The best way to achieve an integrated home is to outfit it with interconnected devices and capabilities, creating a full ecosystem of smart solutions. Integrating all devices in a way that balances the complexity of the tech with intuitive usability helps to mitigate the clunky roadblocks that come with using a smart home, and lessens the learning curve in becoming a smart home resident. A collection of siloed devices isn’t a smart home — it’s just a home filled with onerous technologies.
Finding Value In The Smart Home
Tending to the usability of the smart home ecosystem is a crucial first step for vendors, homeowners, renters and property managers alike, regardless of if the products are preinstalled in rental units or for homeowners looking to upgrade their home tech. For example, a smart home hub helps create a user-friendly, integrated and intuitive system, resulting in a fully connected experience. Easiest to think of as the heart of the smart home, a hub should connect each gadget in the house and control all devices (even away from home). A hub system is a great choice for smart homes since it lessens the Wi-Fi strain third-party apps may cause, but other options offer a similar result, suggesting a potential hubless future.
Other options outside of hubs, such as third-party app offerings or smart speakers that can serve as hubs on Wi-Fi, are also continuing to grow, promising a future of hubless — but still truly intelligent — smart home ecosystems. Though effective, the trade-off with this approach currently is that the integrations are more piecemealed, and the full system often cannot be controlled in one central app. This means that while you can tell Alexa to turn the lights on or off because your lamp is connected to a smart plug, you’re still unable to do so remotely.
Distinguishing Between Buzzwords And Benefits
On the other end of the spectrum are devices that do none of this at all, such as Bluetooth locks — but some marketers still call them “smart.” While more convenient and futuristic than a traditional lock and key, these devices cannot be integrated or controlled remotely. They only simplify one aspect of life: opening your front door. In order to make a product like a lock a truly intelligent device, it would need to allow the user to see the status or history of the lock, or control it remotely.
Bearing all of these factors in mind, there are plenty of paths to furnishing a house, apartment or entire property with true smart devices and integrating them into a smart ecosystem. With the increased demand for selling points like smart home capabilities in this crowded multifamily real estate industry, property managers must understand the best practices for offering fully equipped smart apartments, the same way homeowners assess their own tech needs. When done correctly, a smart home should not create more work for you or your tenant to use. The experience of living in an integrated smart home should be seamlessly reliable and feel truly intelligent.