An introduction to smart home devices and setup

The following are notes taken by chapter secretary Sandra Adams from our February 2021 meeting, where chapter president Ted Boardman introduced the topic of smart home devices. The goal was to provide a starting point to anyone unfamiliar with the technologies, and to help them decide if it might be useful in their home.

He explained how he explored smart home devices to tackle some home improvement projects which he wanted to do. These included using a smart plug which was a home kit device.


The smart home devices have to have a network to connect to and so if you have internet you probably have a WiFi network. Another requirement is some way to interface with the network. Ted was able to use the Home app on his iPhone to set up the smart plug. He told the app to add a device and pointed his camera at the device to scan the home kit QR code printed on any device that is available. He went entirely through the process of adding it, setting it up and getting it to work without any sight.


Ted had a problem with window coverings that were not easily closed and opened. He wanted more privacy, so he looked into window coverings that would automatically open and shut at sunset and sunrise. He was able to come up with a solution after researching options.


Question: Do you use Apple because it is more simple and more accessible? 


There are several ecosystems; Google, Amazon, Apple, Samsung and others. They are sort of resolving around different standards. Google, Amazon and Apple are working together now on a single standard for smart home devices. Ted chose Home Kit because it is easy and it is secure. All these devices that you plug into your network, they are little computers and as such they have software on them and that software can be good software or bad software. It can be secure software or insecure software and the reason to choose products that are approved by different companies like Apple, Amazon or Google is because they usually require some level of testing and meeting certain standards.


We then listened to the presentation by Libby Rosenthal, a member of the customer research team in Alexa Smart Home at Amazon.  Libby explained that when they talk about Smart Home at Amazon they usually talk about that as meaning any device or appliance in your home that can be controlled through your smart phone app or through a smart assistant like Alexa. Most of the time when folks are adopting smart home the biggest benefit they are looking for is controlling those devices with their voices, controlling them when they are away from home or to set up automations so the device can act according to a schedule or according to some sort of routine or trigger in your house. 


There is a wide variety of Smart Home products, particularly those available on Amazon.com. Smart home categories range from lighting or smart plugs which are one of the ways that folks tend to get started in smart home because it is relatively portable and can be a low cost way to get into smart home to see if it is for you and see if it meets your needs. With a smart plug you can turn on and off things within your house. With smart lighting you can make it easier to get those exact lighting conditions that might be best for you. There are other products like smart thermostats, smart door locks, smart cameras and door bells so you can see who might be at the front door and speak with them intercom style to verify who it is before you let them in. There are also things like smart detectors or smart sensors that might notify you about things like open windows or a water leak that might go unnoticed otherwise. There are lots of options out there.


When you are smart home shopping on Amazon.com be aware of different programs that they have to help you choose which products are going to be best for your needs, their certifications like Works with Alexa and Certified for Humans. These certification programs are places where product manufacturers have submitted their products for testing to help ensure that they meet a high quality bar for things like responsiveness with Alexa, reliability with Alexa, functionality with Alexa so you can have a better idea that what you are buying is going to work for your needs. They routinely review those products that are in those certification programs to make sure that they are still holding up to these standards. 


The Certified for Humans program is something that was launched in late 2019 and is there to help non-smart home experts find smart home products that will work for them and any product that is in that certified for humans program meets even higher standards. Amazon talks about them as being struggle free, tinker free and stress free from a set up experience. You can always explore the current selection of the certified for humans devices at amazon.com/certified for humans. This concluded Libby’s presentation.


You can solve opening and closing blinds at appropriate times through a smart home set up. Also can improve access to ceiling fans by using a smart bulb. There are wireless switches that you can put anywhere, that you can screw into the wall or even stick with double sided tape and they can control a smart light bulb.


There are companies that make many smart devices that are for sale on Amazon but to ensure a good experience you will want to stick with well known companies that have a reputation to protect and also to feel comfortable plugging them into your network. Each manufacturer of smart home devices takes care of updates and secures their own products. These smart devices run on batteries and they consume as little electricity as possible to make their power requirements small and therefore batteries last longer. As we have progressed, the life span for devices seems to be getting shorter and shorter. Hopefully devices will last 10 years.


Major appliances are also available such as GE washer and dryer with smart capabilities, tells you when your clothes are dry, or help you set the wash cycle. You do not want to have to replace that because they are not keeping it up to date anymore. That is why picking a major brand is really important for major purchases like that. Appliance manufacturers have different standards of how they develop and maintain products. They may not last as long as they used to but they are still built to last a good number of years (10 to 15 years).


There is smart equipment that is not connected to a network also available.

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