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North Hills Monthly

Home Smart Home

Mar 01, 2017 08:25AM ● By Jennifer Monahan

Samsung SmartThings app

For everyone who views The Clapper™ as cutting-edge technology, get ready to have your mind blown. Today’s sleek and savvy “smart” gadgets and apps make the futuristic world of the Jetsons look downright clunky.

A smart device refers to electronic items like phones, tablets, TVs or watches that are connected without wires to a network and can interact with both their human users and other smart devices. An array of apps is emerging to make these smart devices do all kinds of amazing things in your home.

Creating a smart home requires the purchase of smart products such as light bulbs, cameras or thermostats. Once the gadgets are installed, the homeowner downloads the appropriate app to interact with the device. After the app is linked with the device, the user can manage devices through a phone from anywhere in the house—or anywhere in the world, as long as a reliable wireless connection is available.

“People in their 20s and 30s are asking for these types of products,” explained Kent Koch, owner of Koch Construction Company, Inc., who helped to complete the new luxury townhomes at 2500 Smallman Street in the Strip District. Although the 2500 Smallman project was a high-end endeavor that incorporated smart technology, Koch said that the technology is accessible for people of many income levels.

“People can buy a lot of these smart devices off the shelf at home improvement stores,” he explained, adding that smart lightbulbs are one of the most widespread trends. “Every day people can do this; you screw the lightbulb in and run it from your phone.” 

Some of the most popular smart home management systems include Samsung SmartThings, Apple Home, Wink and Nest.

Samsung SmartThings is set up so that users manage all of their smart gadgets through a hub device, which sells for as low as $99. The SmartThings app is free, and allows homeowners to manipulate the various gadgets via a smart phone. Once the hub is in place, users can purchase whatever gadgets fit their individual needs—everything from light switches and outlets to sensors, speakers and locks. Using these basic tools, homeowners can set up security systems monitored from their phone or tablet; program lights to turn on, off, or dim at particular times of the day; or make sure that soothing music plays when they walk through the door after a tough day at work. Vacationers can even tell the home sprinkler system to water their lawns from afar.

SmartThings has its own brand of products and plays nicely with a wide range of other brands as well. Reviewers say that they appreciate the freedom to be as creative as their imaginations allow; one parent wrote about programming the lighting system throughout the house, using changing colors and dimming to help signal the phases of bedtime to his young children. 

Nest is a smart home app for phones. It connects directly to many smart devices without the need for a hub. The app works with both iOS and Android phones. While Nest has its own smart products like indoor and outdoor cameras, thermostats and carbon monoxide detectors, it is compatible with smart devices from many other brands. One of Nest’s unique features is that the devices are supposed to learn the homeowner’s habits and work with each other to save energy. For example, the thermostat could sense (via motion sensor cameras) that no one is home and adjust accordingly. The Nest thermostat can be utilized as a hub of sorts, but requires the user to be more tech-savvy—and more willing to fiddle around with programming and protocols—than the average 40-something homeowner.

Like SmartThings, Wink utilizes a hub device and a free smartphone app to control the various smart devices that a homeowner chooses. The hub connects smart devices from a range of brands, so users can choose components that suit their individual needs. Products include lighting, outlets, dimmers, detectors, sensors, cameras, locks, sprinkler systems and window treatments. The Wink system is compatible with Amazon’s Alexa, so all automated functions can also be voice activated. 

Apple’s free Home app debuted in 2016 and works with all Apple HomeKit products as well as a host of other brands. Their line includes standards like thermostats, locks and window blinds, but reviewers say one outstanding feature is privacy. While other smart home management systems rely on the cloud and allow companies to collect data about which devices are being used and when, communication among the Apple devices is encrypted and theoretically private. An iPhone or iPad functions as the hub device while in the house. If users wish to control home features from off-site, they would need to invest in an AppleTV to serve as the on-site hub.

With a small investment of time and money, everyday people can convert their “home sweet home” into a smart home—even if that just means replacing The Clapper™ with a smart lightbulb and a free phone app for now.