An Introduction to the Smart Home + 10 Terms You Should Know from A to Z

A few months ago, I joined Plasmatic Technologies for a marketing internship and was introduced to the world of smart homes. It came as no surprise that there was an infinite number of resources covering the subject, from full blown beginner’s guides to lengthy product reviews.

I noticed there weren’t many resources for those who may not be as tech savvy, or didn’t have the time to sift through all that’s out there. As a student, I appreciate simple summaries, so I consolidated what I had learned to introduce you to the world of smart homes without the information overload.

But before we get to the basic 10 terms you should know, here’s some context about what a smart home actually is.

What’s in a Smart Home?

There’s a lot of talk as to what constitutes as ‘smart’ and most people have some idea of what smart means. When we refer to smart technology, we often think ‘responsive,’ ‘interactive,’ and ‘sensing’. These are key functions of many forms of technology, however this definition leaves out an important aspect of the smart technologies in the home; they can support device-to-device relationships that use machine learning to offer useful and actionable insights, which minimizes the need for constant human intervention.

When many devices are connected into what is effectively an ecosystem, your smart home devices can provide practical solutions to everyday problems. In product design jargon, these are called use-cases. One use-case for smart home devices may be to increase the energy efficiency of the home to reduce waste and save money. Another may be to detect problems in the home and dispatch a service professional before the issue causes damage. One of the greatest feats of technology is its ability to make better decisions than humans, and smart home technology will be no different.

Although this device-to-device relationship may seem intimidating — we all know what happened in the film Terminator — the slow but steady adoption of smart homes in North America has proven that they are reliable, useful, and offer superior value to their legacy, and often dumb, counterparts.

But what if your existing manually-controlled devices are just as functional? What if your thermostat, security system, or basic CCTV camera work just fine? Are smart homes just a novelty investment for techies who have money (and time) to spend?

Turns out, smart homes offer many more benefits than just making your home look cool. For example, they make the home more accessible. Securing the home, checking who’s at the door, and turning off bedroom lights can all be done from your phone, anytime and anywhere.

The voice capability offered in a growing number of smart home products offer a solution for those with visual or mobility impairments who may have trouble using a physical device. Music, lights, and other functions around the home can all be turned on with a simple voice command. These use-cases will be important in the future as a growing proportion of our population seeks to age at home.

Although a smart home may seem like novelty investment present day, they may very well become the norm in the near future, as research predicts more than half of North American homes will have a Smart Home system by 2021 (source: Berg Insight). Smart technologies are also becoming increasingly affordable and easier to use, enticing a larger audience to dabble in smart solutions without breaking the bank or needing an entire weekend to install them.

Below I’ve included some common terms to help get you started. You’ll likely run into these terms in smart home forums or product pages.

  1. Automation — the process of controlling a system through mainly automatic means. Home automation involves using smart devices to control and influence the home.
  2. Cloud — a cloud is a network of servers that store your data remotely, often on the internet. This is how your smart speakers are able to receive their updates automatically, since they are always connected to the internet.
  3. Hub — a device that provides special wireless network connectivity and range for smart home devices and sensors.
  4. Internet of Things (IoT) — this is the term for networked devices and sensors that are able to connect to the Internet and share data between them and a variety of cloud services.
  5. Interoperability — one of the most important factors in building a smart home! Your devices must be able to interact and connect with one another. Awesome devices are those that can interact with many to deliver real value and a seamless user experience.
  6. Mesh — a collection of wireless network devices designed to provide better coverage and reliability in large or multi-level homes.
  7. Smart Home — a home with systems that can be controlled through interconnected smart devices. Ideally enough devices would be installed for the home to be able to adapt to your behavioral patterns, offer insights into comfort and safety, and simplify life.
  8. Wi-Fi — you probably use Wi-Fi regularly to connect to the internet, but Wi-Fi can also be used to enable IoT in your home. Although a router installed by your broadband provider is the most cost-effective option, a high quality router, Wi-Fi extenders or even a mesh may be needed to ensure reliable support for smart home devices.
  9. Voice Assistants — The increasingly popular voice activated assistance from Amazon and Google, respectively the line of Alexa enabled Echo devices and the Google Home are great for invoking various smart home commands but ultimately rely on smart home devices to provide information and do things.
  10. The two Z’s Zigbee and Z-Wave —two (competing) wireless connection channels embedded in many smart home devices. Popular brands that use Zigbee are Philips and Samsung while the number of Z-Wave powered product exceed 1500 different devices!

Conclusion? Smart homes use complex technology to make our lives simpler.

Stay tuned for my list of 5 hassle-free smart home devices at $50 or less. In the meantime follow us to stay in the loop of all things smart home.