What is smart home tech? Everything you need to know

In the world we live in, we’ve all got so much to do. Family, work, our health and saving for our future are the common responsibilities we all share. Smart home gadgets boomed in 2017 because the tech simply got better and gave us more control and automation.

What is a smart home?

A Smart Home is a fully integrated, interactive and voice activated environment that relies on your speech and touch alone to make your day easier. All you need is a smartphone or tablet and a good broadband connection for accessing the apps to control your smart devices. Your smart home will cater to your needs and can save you money, as well as be your personal assistant, bodyguard, security guard and entertainer.

Whether you’ve been locked out, need a recipe or want to unwind with the best available music – a smart home should deliver you every need at the touch of a button or a simple voice command.

Still not sure how a smart home works? Luckily for you, Amazon have created this amazing virtual tour of their Amazon Echo and Echo Show products. The first-of-its-kind interactive tool lets you see what a smart home can do with before you own a device and showcases some of the 15,000 incredible Alexa skills that are available with their Echo and Echo Show devices.

What is available?

Frankly, quite a bit. More connected home gadgets, from locks to switches to speakers, have cropped up in the last 12 months. Monitoring and lighting, smart heating and pollution trackers, smart appliances such as cookers and fridges with built in tablets, and smart entertainment like wireless speakers, projectors and picture frames, are thriving. All of these are operated by voice control or apps.

How popular is it?

Voice activated speakers were only launched in the UK last year, but in 2016, 80 million smart home devices were delivered worldwide – a 64% increase from 2015. What’s more, 40% of households are predicted to have a Smart Hub like the Amazon Echo in 2018. This is pretty revolutionary stuff.

Who is behind it?

There are dozens of companies and emerging brands now providing smart home tech, but the leaders in this field by far are Amazon, Samsung, Google and Google Nest, Apple and Philips.

But watch out, not everything is compatible

It’s pleasing to hear that the tech giants are working together to make their gear integrated, but be careful because they’re not quite there yet. Google Chromecast for example still won’t let you cast movies from the Amazon app, and the Google-owned Nest, for instance, does not work with Apple.

When you look at what they’re offering though, it’s fair to say that each company is beginning to carve out their place and a speciality in the home tech market. For example, Amazon Echo and Google Home provide hardware hubs – or brains – that act as the control centre for other gadgets in your home.

Apple HomeKit allows gadgets from Elgato, Philips, Honeywell and Netatmo to be controlled using the Home app in the iPhone, iPad and Apple TV (until December, that is, when the just-announced Apple HomePod smart speaker goes on sale).

How to get started

Start small and build up. It’s worth looking at getting a hub device first. The Amazon Echo is one of the smartest options, because as well as being a ‘brain’ to link all other smart home gadgets that would otherwise work off of individual apps. It can act as an alarm clock, organise your diary, plan your journey to work, find you food recipes, tell you the weather – and that is by no means an exhaustive list. It can also even give advice on what gifts to buy.

Thermostats, such as the Ecobee3 Thermostat, will save you money and therefore feel worthwhile. They’re programmable and will help you practice using smart home tech. Other money saving gadgets are the Curb monitoring device. An instant money saver giving you real-time energy consumption data for your home.

What’s coming in the future?

The key trend next year is smart furniture, which Ikea has already started peddling alongside a host of smaller brands. More furniture is cropping up that has wireless charging embedded, so that as soon as you place your gadget down, it soaks up that charge.

Another key trend will be setting triggers around your home that go off as you move around it. Wearing a smart bracelet that makes decisions for you, so that when you wake up, the downstairs lights will turn on and coffee will start brewing.

Interactive projectors are another product that people are buzzing about. They are already available, like the Sony Xperia, and reflect onto any flat surface. But what’s really smart about it is that you can then interact with the image itself. And not just in your Star Trek dreams.