Smart Home

There are really three dominant smart-home ecosystems–Apple’s HomeKit, Amazon’s Alexa, and Google Home. While I was an early adopter of Google’s Nest smart-thermostat (I knew Nest’s founder Tony Fadell from earlier in my professional career), I’ve become disillusioned by Google’s constant bungling in anything but search. And while I am a former Apple employee and love my Mac and iPad, I feel that Apple is not really focused on Smart Home but views it as an extension of the iPhone; basically they have too tight a control over the ecosystem and not moving fast enough. (Yes, I have opinions in this space though I’ll admit to a not-perfect track record over my multi-decade technical career.) That leaves Amazon. While Alexa isn’t perfect, it is fun to use.

(I don’t have an iPhone but a Google Pixel phone (Android) so maybe my feelings would be different if I did. Ending up on Android is a result of having a company-provided phone for many years. While all my family uses iPhone, I’m on Android.)

Samsung is also a player in this space with their SmartThings solution, but I feel they are missing the bigger picture. It is all about customer “control” and there is little customer attachment in appliances and end things. Would you change your “phone” (e.g., iPhone to Android or Siri to Alexia) just to use Samsung appliances? I wouldn’t. I wish Samsung would just partner with someone; but large corporations have too much corporate ego. The various players are too big to be acquired.

I also look at local processing versus everything in the “cloud.” There is no doubt cloud technology is revolutionary in what it enables, but over-dependence is easy. It is attractive to simplify all the use cases to “everything in the cloud.” But users spend a large portion on their time at home (even more-so now in 2020) and so requiring a round-trip through the cloud for everything is silly. Case in point, I have Ring doorbell but when my router/ISP went down, a dinner guest resorted to calling my cell phone saying they were standing at my door. Ring alarm realizes the problem in assuming the Internet link is always up and switches to cellular back, but why couldn’t the doorbell at least alert my cellphone to the button press when it is on the same WiFi network? Yes, that complicates the code, but that is why you need good software solution architects. I certainly wouldn’t expect a doorbell camera to perform image analysis locally, but a press notification?

Where I have a choice (and I don’t for things such as Ring cameras), I have my time-critical smart home functions performed locally and go to the cloud for heavy lifting and communications to non-local devices. My choice for in-home hub is Hubitat’s Elevation.

If you get into home automation, be sure to look at Shodan to see if your home is exposed. Shodan is a search engine for Internet-connected devices.