Google acquired Nest in January 2014 for $3.2 billion, signaling that the “connected home” or smart home trend had arrived in full force. Innovative smart home devices are multiplying at a dizzying clip. And any device that is connected to the internet is considered a member of the rapidly growing Internet of Things (IoT) trend.
According to Statista, the smart home market, which includes home automation, security, entertainment and ambient assisted living (AAL) will grow from $15 billion to $32 billion by 2021:
Factors driving growth include:
- Smart home controllers – Smart-home controller or “hub” shipments are predicted to reach 3 million by 2018.
- IoT forecast – The installed base of active wireless connected devices, of which the Nest Learning Thermostat ($247) is a prime example, will reach 41 billion by 2020, according to ABI Research. Gartner is slightly less enthusiastic, predicting an installed base of IoT devices of 26 billion by 2020. Both forecasts include industrial connected devices.
- Market demand – A Lowe’s study (PDF) found that 70% of consumers want to control something in their home from their mobile device without getting out of bed, a shocking finding! 😁 And 62% find smart home controls most beneficial for monitoring safety and security, equally unsurprising.
The three major platforms trying to wrest control of the smart home market include:
- Alexa – When Amazon.com launched is Amazon Echo speaker ($180) on June 23, 2015, no one expected that the nine-inch (24 cm), voice-driven audio speaker would become the huge hit it is today. Amazon’s Alexa home assistant now boasts more than 50,000 skills, or third-party apps, including the ability to order pizza from Domino’s, raise your Nest thermostat or turn on your Philips Hue lights. At CES 2017, a host of connected home devices showed off new ways of interacting with your Echo speaker. There is no question that today, Alexa is the dominant smart home voice platform.
- Apple HomeKit – On June 13, 2016 Apple launched Home, a single app to manage its HomeKit platform, which lets iOS users control locks, lights, video cameras, doors, thermostats, plugs and switches. The platform offers secure pairing and is able to control gadgets separately or set automations for device groups. Home can be operated with Siri voice commands, so just saying “time for bed” will turn off lights and lock the front door.
- Google Home – In October 2016, Google launched its voice-activated speaker powered by the Google Assistant. Developers can now create “Actions” for Google Home, which are the company’s equivalent of Alexa Skills.
There are far more smart home products that support the three major platforms, but due to space constraints, we’ve limited our this smart home buying guide to the most significant products:
- Belkin WeMo – Los Angeles-based Belkin debuted its WeMo line of connected devices in 2013, including a WeMo-based Crock-Pot ($109) at CES 2014. The Belkin WeMo Switch ($35) is Amazon’s second best-selling smart switch.
- Logitech – The Logitech Harmony Elite remote control ($298) relies on a hub and app to work with Alexa.
- Nest – The Nest Learning Thermostat is unquestionably the best smart thermostat, and at $247 not cheap, but its app, interface design and packaging are superb. It’s the Apple of connected home devices, which also includes their first-rate Nest Protect ($99) smoke alarm.
- Philips Hue – The third-generation Philips Hue White and Color Ambiance Starter Kit 464479 retails for about $160 and lets you instantly add a rich palette of colors to your home milieu.
- TP-Link – What set TP-Link smart home devices apart is that they do not need a hub or controller. The company has just launched the TP-Link HS105 Smart Plug Mini ($30), which occupies just one AC socket and also works with Alexa.
The best way to jump into the smart home market now is to buy an Amazon Echo plus a smart LED lighting system, like the Philips Hue, or TP-Link Smart Plug Mini and Smart LED Light Bulb. You will be very happy you did.