How easy is home automation to use?
Again, we come to the issue of defining what “easy” means. So let’s put it this way—it as easy as using an app. So the first factor we must deal with is whether or not you’re entirely comfortable with using smartphones and apps. If this is second nature to you—as it should in the 21st century—then it should be easy.
So why are we so focused on apps? That’s because many smart devices offer an app so you can use your smartphone to monitor and control them. Now some apps are easy to use, while some aren’t well-designed enough for easy use. So if you’re trying to pick your smart devices, part of your selection process should cover the app features and you should read reviews and try to see whether the app is easy to use.
While the smartphone is by far the most popular interface for smart devices, there are some other options available. But that depends on the device you get. Some devices only offer apps, so if you don’t have a smartphone then you can’t really use the smart device.
However, other devices offer secondary interfaces:
- Some devices have controls attached. They’re like the old-fashioned TVs with remote controllers. Even without the remote, you can just get to the TV and turn the dial to change the channel and to adjust the volume. And some of these devices still have dials, switches, and other manual controls.
- They may also have display screens, and some are touchscreens. That means you can tap into the screen just like you would a smartphone or a tablet. It’s like you just attached that mobile device to the smart gadget.
- You can also use a web interface, if this is available. This is the program you use to monitor and control your home automation system.
With these interfaces, you can now make full use of the features offered by the app and by the smart devices. And what are these features?
What You Can Do with Your Interfaces
First of all, you can monitor all your smart devices. And that’s actually easy if you have a hub to which they’re all connected. Then you can use the app that comes with the hub to check on each home automation system and all the gadgets together. There’s no need to go through the tedious task of using one app at a time.
Then you can control each of your devices, and set them schedules. Again, this can be rather easy. The app usually tells you what to do with instructions found in-app. In other cases, you can find various instructional YouTube videos which tell what to do step by step.
It’s even generally easy to set different gadgets such as lights to work together to follow a schedule. You can just select various gadgets for each group you’d define, so they can be all the lights or all the devices in a specific room.
Now it may be a bit more complicated to set other different triggers, such as using your location or your motion sensors to trigger actions in other devices. If you’re computer-savvy enough to play computer games, then that would be child’s play. But if these games are too confusing for you, then you need to let your kids or your grandkids take you through the various steps.
What do I need to get started making my home smart?
Before you can begin the process of installing home automation inside your house, you will have to prepare for the process. You can’t just start willy-nilly. That can lead to a lot of wasted money, time, and effort. So what will you need? Here are some preparatory items you must have in your arsenal:
1. A smartphone. You’ll absolutely need this one for remote control. Some smart devices do offer their own unique remote controllers, but that’s an impractical setup when you have lots of smart devices. Do you really plan on taking a dozen or more remote controllers with you all the time? Even taking one with you all the time is too bothersome. At least with your smartphone, you already have it constantly by your side regardless of whether you have smart appliances or not.
Besides, for some smart devices your only method of remote control is through an app you download for your smartphone. And if you’re into home automation, you may want to choose either an Android or an iOS device.
So get a smartphone, and get to using one. If you can’t master the use of the smartphone, then home automation may not be the best option for you.
2. A DSL or broadband Internet connection. While you don’t absolutely need an Internet connection, for the most part it will exponentially improve your home automation experience. That’s because the Internet connection is what allows you to connect to your smart devices from long distances. Without one, then you’re limited to using your devices only when you’re at home.
So why stick with DSL or broadband? Well, do you know anyone who still uses a regular landline phone connection for the Internet? That’s so 1990s! Besides, you need a robust data transfer rate for your smart devices to communicate through the Internet reliably. And when you transmit video, a slow data transfer rate just won’t do.
3. Lots of patience. First of all, you’re going to need to save up. While you can start with a hub and a few smart outlets, it can get pretty addictive fast.
It’s like having a remote for your TV. After a while, you want that kind of convenience for every appliance. And in this case, you’ll want to be able to use your smartphone to see if your appliances are working, to turn them on or off from the office, and to know what’s going on in your house in real time. You’ll want your appliances to work on a schedule, to notify you when something is happening, and to work together.
And finding smart devices that work together can be a frustrating process. Often only the products made by the same company can be guaranteed to work together smoothly. And sometimes there are some other complications to worry about.
4. A trusted guide. If you’re a newbie, you may want to consult a friend who already has a working home automation system. Let him (or her) find out which ones devices work together, and learn from their mistakes!
Do I need to have high-speed internet for home automation?
High speed Internet is always a good thing for home automation. It’s not absolutely necessary for you to have one for some particular smart devices to work, but then again your need for fast Internet depends mostly on why you need home automation in the first place.
When You DON’T Need Fast Internet
So to prove our point that high speed Internet isn’t really absolutely necessary, here are some specific situations:
1. Non-Internet “smart” devices. Some devices are marketed as “smart” gadgets even though they don’t have any Wi-Fi or even wired Internet capabilities. These gadgets are often remotely controlled only through Bluetooth. Others have sliding controls that let you set a timer for them. There’s one “smart” outlet which can automatically turn off after half an hour, an hour, or two hours.
Just remember that most of the time, these are stand-alone devices. They’re not meant to be interoperable with other smart gadgets.
2. You’re fine without Internet capabilities. Some people just don’t want to be bothered while at work, so they don’t really care about their smart devices at home while they’re away. If this description fits you to a T, then you can use some smart Internet devices manually or through Bluetooth.
There are several instances when high speed Internet is a must, as in the case below:
- You want remote control capability when you’re out of the house. And frankly, so do most people. This capability gives you utter peace of mind, because you can monitor your devices, and more to the point, you can monitor your home while you’re away.
- You have lots of smart devices. When you’ve outfitted your home with numerous smart gadgets, then they’ll all be using your Wi-Fi Internet together. And for that you need a high speed Internet connection so there’s no bottleneck in online communications. A slow Internet connection may be fine for a single smart device. When you have dozens, they can’t wait their turn for online access. That will just take too long.
- Videos and other large files are involved. When you have smart security cameras, a slow Internet just won’t do at all. One benefit of these cameras is the ability to live stream what your cameras are seeing at home. So when you’re alerted by your smoke detectors and motion sensors, you can see what’s going on and you can alert the appropriate local emergency authorities to deal with a potential fire or burglary. You’ll be able to monitor your baby and your new babysitter, and you can call the police when you see a babysitter act abusively towards your children or when you see them steal your possessions.
Some other smart systems involve Skype-like video calls, and these will require high speed Internet setups as well.
So get a high speed Internet today. They’re not just for home automation, you know. But when you have lots of smart devices that work together, high speed Internet sure does come in handy!
Do I really need a smart hub for home automation?
When we talk about home automation “needs”, it all depends on why you want to get this technology in the first place. Do you just want to try out a single gadget? If that’s the case, then there’s no absolute need for a hub. You can get a device you can control with your smartphone using Bluetooth.
But the hub fully maximizes the use of your smart devices, especially when you have entire systems of smart gadgets working together. In fact, the use of a single smart device hardly qualifies as home automation.
A hub works like the central command for all your smart devices, similar to the way that your Windows OS offers a single platform for all your computer programs. And that makes things so much easier for you.
1. The hub facilitates how your devices can work together. Smart devices are generally interoperable, if you pick the right ones that use the same protocols (means of communications between devices). Sometimes the hub can let two devices work together when they can’t work together directly. And the hub can help hundreds of separate smart devices work together!
Let’s say that you’ve configured your home security system, so that numerous can work together. So when your motion detectors right outside your home senses movement around the house when you’re at work, many devices can work simultaneously and instantly. A light can illuminate the area where the movement was detected. An alarm can sound to frighten the burglar away and to notify your neighbors and passersby. Your video camera then starts recording and transmitting the video online. You’re immediately notified, and you can then check out the live stream to see what’s going on. When you see a stranger around your house, you can then call the police to help.
All these devices won’t be able to work together if you don’t have a hub to connect them to.
2. The hub offers online connectivity. Some smart devices don’t have built in Internet connectivity. They’re only designed to connect to a hub, which provides the connectivity feature for these smart devices. So it’s the hub that lets you monitor and control your smart devices even when you’re on the road or enjoying the fine art museums in Paris and Rome, while your home is in Wyoming. All you need is for your smartphone to have access to Wi-Fi Internet and you’re all set for remote control.
3. The app for the hub offers a single interface for all smart devices. You also don’t have to open various different apps for different devices so you can control your home automation system and your different smart devices. Instead, you just have to open that single app that comes with the hub. It’s this app which you use to enable the various devices to work together, depending on particular events or on a schedule you set.
Some smart devices are so advanced they can act as hubs. If you’re eventually planning for an entire system of smart devices, then these gadgets offer a great way to begin your adventure with home automation.
What are the most popular smart home automation technology systems that consumers install in their homes?
Smart devices offer many customers much needed advantages such as remote control and scheduling automation. These benefits have resulted in a massive boom in the home automation industry, and it has resulted in an extremely wide range of smart technology options. You want smart automatic fish feeders? They’re available. Beddings can have smart features, pots for plants can tell you if it’s time to water your plants, and even your water glass can help you with your hydration needs.
If you’re a newbie to smart home technology, however, you may want to start with the more popular home automation gadgets instead. There’s a lot more options as to which brand to pick, and they also offer a lot of value for money. And if you’re selling your home, these popular upgrades can make your house sell faster and for more money.
1. Smart switches. These small devices are often the first items bought by home automation beginners, and it’s easy to see why. They’re very affordable, and their prime function is to provide smart features to conventional appliances. You just connect any appliance to this plug before you connect it to the wall socket, and you monitor it, turn it on or off when you’re in your office, and even set it to turn on and off on a schedule. These switches can even check any appliance’s use of electricity, so you can find out just how energy efficient your conventional appliances are.
2. Smart light bulbs. These are popular because they’re so affordable, and yet they offer more advantages once you add more smart devices to your home automation system. Even at the beginning it offers you remote control, and it can even sense your proximity so that it will turn on or off when you come near it. You can also set a schedule for it, so that it can turn off when you’re going to sleep or turn on when you’re not there so burglars think you’re at home.
With lots of smart light bulbs at home, you can turn all of them off at a flick of a single switch. Or you can adjust them so that they evoke a particular mood. With motion detectors, they will activate when sensors are set off to frighten burglars away.
3. Smoke detectors. These devices offer safety and peace of mind. They can detect smoke in your home, but the smart ones can also notify you when you’re at work when these things happen.
4. Smart video cameras. These devices aren’t just webcams. They record videos when they detect movement with their built-in sensors. They will then send you an alert when they start recording, so you can check the live stream and see if there’s a real intruder in your home or on your property.
5. Smart door locks. These can enable you to let in close friends to your home when you’re out of town.
6. Smart thermostats. These devices can offer lots of energy savings, and they’re very easy to use. Some aren’t just programmable. They can sense if the home is empty so it will power down and adjust to a more appropriate temperature, and they may even learn your habits so it can set its own schedule for your convenience.
Does home automation only work just when I’m in my house?
No. One of the benefits of home automation is that it can work even when you’re not at home. It offers a type of remote control that works on an entirely different scale than an ordinary remote controller. When your smart devices are connected to the Internet and your smartphone is as well, then you can control your devices from just about anywhere.
So let’s say somebody rings your doorbell when you’re not home. If you have a smart doorbell, then you can be notified if this happens. Then you can see who it is with your camera, and even have a conversation with that person using your smartphone and the embedded microphone and speaker on your camera or smart doorbell.
But all your other smart devices at home can work even when you’re not there. One obvious example of this is when you set them to work with a schedule. They’ll follow their schedules whether you’re home or not.
Your home security system devices are even expressly designed to work when you’re not home. That’s actually the point of why you should get them in the first place! When you’re not home, your security system vigilantly guards your place.
- Your video camera can activate when your motion sensors detect movement. You can then check out the footage or even the live stream and call the police when you find someone trying to break in.
- Your smart thermostat maintains a proper temperature for your home even when you’re not there. If you go on vacation during the winter, then it will keep your home just warm enough so that your pipes don’t freeze.
- Obviously your smart door locks are reliable enough that you can leave home without worrying. It can notify you if anyone tries to enter a key, and you can also send an electronic key through your smartphone to anyone whom you want to let in while you’re away.
- Your smart lights will also work while you’re gone, but this time it’s for security reasons. They can illuminate an area in which someone is lurking around the house, and they can activate on schedule to create the impression that you’re home.
- Your video camera may also have an intercom system, so that you can converse with anyone at your door. Delivery personnel can be told to leave any package by your door, all the while creating an impression that you’re at your place.
- Window sensors can tell you if anyone breaks the windows to try to get inside your home, while there are also smart devices that can close your drapes on schedule or to protect the interior from too much sunlight.
- Smart outlets also work while you’re not home, so you can have remote control even over conventional appliances.
As you can see, home automation isn’t just able to work while you’re at home. In fact, any appliance is not exactly regarded as a smart device if it only works while you’re home!
Can I get some sort of master control for my entire home, including lights, temperature and entertainment?
Yes, you can get a master control for your entire system of smart devices. In fact, this capability is a basic feature found in home automation gadgets. In the old days when only Bond villains had this sort of thing, you had to wire everything together and you had a special monitor and interface to control your entire home.
Later, special home security companies got into the act, and they were able to install entire home security systems with a master control. And that was usually your PC. After all, a PC tower can be designed to be some sort of master control—you can attach modems, speakers, headsets, and other USB devices to the PC.
Today, smart devices like smart light bulbs, smart thermostats, and even smart TVs and speakers can work together in tandem. You just need a hub. It’s this hub which acts as central command, and from there you can control your devices.
So what are the forms of master control available? Usually, you have 3 options.
1. Smartphone. This is by far the most popular option, and for good reasons—just about anyone who is interested in home automation is comfortable with modern technology like a smartphone. With a smartphone, you’re not limited by physical dials and switches, so you can control many devices and many features for each.
As smartphone’s ability to connect online through Wi-Fi routers also give you the ability to control your smart devices from anywhere. You can be in Timbuktu for that matter, as long as you have access to Wi-Fi Internet.
And control with the smartphone doesn’t have to be manual at all. Your smart devices can be programmed to use your phone’s location services to note where you are, and the devices can activate when you arrive home and turn themselves off when you leave.
2. Web interface. This is like a smartphone, but this time you use a PC or a laptop. It’s a bit bulkier, so it’s not quite as mobile and not everyone goes around bringing their laptop with them at all times. At home, the PC can use wired connections, but even in wireless mode it stays in the same place virtually all the time.
3. Manual built-in controls. These are the controls you find on the smart device itself, rather like the dials and knobs you used to find on TVs that also featured remote controllers. In some cases, there’s also a touch screen on the device you can use. It’s like using your tablet or smartphone to control the smart device, except that your smartphone is glued to the wall.
4. Special remote controllers. Now these resemble the remote controllers you may get from your TVs and DVD players, The problem with them is that if you have a hundred smart devices (or even just a dozen) you can hardly bring them all with you all the time. And their range is quite limited, so they won’t work at all when you’re out of the house or even when you’re in the next room.
So the lesson is simple: just use your smartphone and download the app. In general, a smart device that doesn’t offer an app isn’t a good one. And if you don’t own a smartphone, get that first before you go into home automation.