Digital assistants are all the rage these days and they seem to live in so many places like your car radio, watches, smart phones, tablet, computers and the very popular “smart speaker” category. The smart speaker category has grown rapidly and has seen adoption from major brand names in the audio and tech industries — including Google, Amazon, Apple and Sonos. But when smart speakers suddenly transformed into interactive, internet-connected interfaces, things changed in the connected world of consumers. Home control just became more easily accessible to most people, whereas before, it wasn’t an easy or affordable thing to achieve.
Prior to tablets, a cost-effective control interface for the home didn’t exist. In fact, cost-effective home control doesn’t even really exist today, depending on who you ask the question of “what is cost-effective home control?” and how they answer. The problem of that ever-evolving question is that everyone values money differently, and everyone would justify certain costs and expenses over others, so there’s no even playing field in terms of “cost effective,” nor is there a set definition of a standard system, let alone home control system. Trust me though — prior to using tablets as a touch panels for a home automation or single-room control system, there was a huge cost for buying the interface. In today’s world, there are simplified versions of connected homes, containing subsystems with internet connected devices, usually each with their own connected hubs, that store their data to control that single “Internet Thing.” Some work together well with others and some only work in their own family of products; lots play with at least one digital assistant. Of the ones that I see starting to add value more than others, all use these three things: a smart speaker, a digital assistant and a touch screen, all of which connect to the internet and offer the ability to control other smart devices.
This type of connected device really shines in a few places like the master bedroom, the kitchen and in the home office. All three areas have different needs. Everyone has different preferences, so finding the right size touch panel to assist with audio and digital assistant of choice for you, and your respective space, might be tricky — or is it?
If you take my original “cost-effective” home control/touch panel scenario into consideration, there are several great ways to get audio, digital assistance and home control in one area, but not necessarily one unit or device. Building a system this way will require multiple devices and up to three different manufacturers. First you’ll need to pick a tablet capable of running apps that can connect to the internet and other smart devices. Then, you’ll need to decide on a smart speaker (or speakers), depending on if you want stereo or mono audio playback in your space. Lastly, and perhaps most importantly, you need to decide on which assistant you prefer to use for voice commands. Apple’s Siri is built into its smart phones, tablets, computers and now its smart speaker, HomePod. If Apple’s ecosystem is heavily integrated into your life, this might be your preferred scenario, but if you prefer Amazon’s Alexa or Google’s Assistant, the Echo family or Google Home products might be devices you’d want to consider instead. There are a ton of configurations we could cover here between audio brands, tablet choices, sizes and mounts or stands, mobile operating systems with digital assistants and how to mix, match and control your environment with ease.
That slightly older scenario could easily cost you $1,000+ for a lower cost tablet, connected-speaker and digital assistant. Now Amazon, Google, a few others have bundled the three into one concept and they made it more attractive in cost, and appealing to modern day homes by way of design and image capabilities. Is this the new hub for home tech? A better question is, “What type of interface do I need in these areas?”
Amazon makes several adaptations to its Echo products that now offer video interaction alongside its very helpful Alexa assistant, in its Spot and Show products. Google now offers its Home Hub, which is in my opinion, its version of Lenovo’s “Smart Display” with Google Assistant built-in. This new method will run you between $89.99-$179.99. This new method will also limit you on audio quality and may limit you to certain eco-systems or connected devices, but that’s another story entirely. These new, connected smart-displays are aimed at home automation in the DIY space, but when connected correctly and paired with other smart devices, this could be the new smart home revolution we all need, but again, this is another story.
Smart homes aren’t lacking what Google, Lenovo, Apple and Amazon are bringing to the table, but they are lacking an attractive price point to buy into them. You couldn’t even buy a tablet at the price of what these new (limited) devices are now, let alone with a smart speaker with assistant built in. My recommendation to you is that if you don’t already own one of three major devices — tablet, smart speaker and/or digital assistant in some form — look into building your system with this category of smart product. Google, Amazon and even Lenovo have made excellent products capable of visually and audibly aiding you at home, in whatever you choose to do from maps, scheduling, day-planning, cooking, reminders, home control and beyond. While Apple does not have its own version of these smart panels, I wouldn’t be surprised if you see a similar, more polished and more expensive version by late 2020; it will probably be about half the size of the current HomePod, using a screen the size of the iPad Mini as well.
Size does matter, but again, this is another story. What’s important to note is that you should plan your control interfaces’ sizing based on the area in which you plan on using them in. That is to say, don’t put 2.5″ screen in an area where details like words and video clarity would be better viewed on a 6-10″ screen and vice-versa. The right size screen is something that will continually change as technology advances, and as the need for more info to be consumed grows, our devices will evolve as well. If Apple is your an absolute must have, just use an iPad, a nice stand or mount and the HomePod. To all others, I highly suggest you purchase Google Home Hub, Amazon’s Echo Spot or Show or Lenovo’s Smart Display. While the die-hard Apple fans are awaiting the next big thing, you’ll already be using it.
There are only a few options right now, and only a few choices when it comes to design options, but again, Apple is on the way. I imagine other companies will follow soon as well, and I hope for the more design-oriented companies, such as Bang & Olufsen, Samsung and LG will get involved soon to provide a more luxurious experience in this category. I’d also like to see a pro-sumer version that could be integrated into larger control system like Crestron, Savant, Control4 or Universal Remote Control.
If you don’t have a smart panel in your home, get one. Email me your action shots at home with the family or friends, and I’ll use your story on my next blog post.