If you’re looking to set up a smart home, the good news is that it’s never been easier to get started and some of the best smart home ecosystems are now available to help you get it done.
In fact, with so many devices, platforms, and protocols out there, the biggest challenge can be finding the best gear for the job and making sure it all works together as intended.
Whether your ultimate goal is complete home automation, efficiency and energy savings, or simply the ability to unify all of your everyday home operations into a simple and effective smart home package, knowing how to get started with the latest smart and connected tech is the key to building a practical system that works how you want it to.
The devices and systems that you put together in this setup are ultimately the moving parts of the whole operation that you’ll interface with everyday and with the latest and greatest devices now better (and more affordable) than ever, there’s never been a better time to build the ultimate smart home ecosystem that does it all.
Choosing and Building the Best Smart Home Ecosystem for Your Needs
When we talk about a smart home ecosystem, we’re really talking about the orchestrated collection of connected smart devices that work together to achieve all of your in-home requirements.
Depending on your individual goals for the smart home network you’re looking to create, this could take the form of anything from a simple web of smart lighting in all of the rooms of the house, to a comprehensive system of automation ranging from internal climate control through to smart home entertainment and more.
The key factor when it comes to putting together any smart home ecosystem is ensuring device compatibility so you’ll know everything will work together as expected.
With a couple of minor exceptions to the rule, the good news here is that there are only really a couple of smart home protocols and platforms that you’re likely to come across and use when putting together any system and unlike some of the other tech compatibility issues out there (looking at you Android, Windows, and Apple), the smart home landscape is actually pretty accessible and forgiving across the board when it comes to cross-device compatibility.
Things to look out for with smart home compatibility are the wireless protocols being used by a device (which mainly come down to WiFi, Bluetooth, ZigBee, and Z-Wave) as well as device and brand specific platforms that need to play nice with other brands and devices (although as mentioned earlier, many of the biggest names are now cross-compatible out of the box so this is increasingly becoming less of an issue).
The Smart Home Ecosystem Core
At the center of it all, a smart hub is the control center of the entire smart home system and takes on the main role of ensuring that every device is speaking to each other in a language that everyone understands and that can all ultimately be controlled by you – the hub is like the conductor bringing it all together.
Increasingly (although not always) these hubs take the form of smart voice assistants or smart speakers from the likes of device families such as Amazon’s Alexa speakers, Google Home with it’s on-board Google Assistant, and Apple’s Siri digital assistant.
In all of these instances, the smart speaker – regardless of whether it’s also the home hub – acts as the verbal interface to which you can give spoken instructions to turn the lights off, increase the temperature, make you a coffee, or anything else in between.
Whichever kind of hub solution or device you end up adopting will ultimately determine the backbone of your smart home ecosystem and with this in mind, this guide will walk you through the essential elements of every option to help you find the solution that’s best suited to your situation.
Top Smart Home Ecosystems
A smart home ecosystem is similar in principle to its counterpart in nature in as much as it refers to the ‘whole’ or ‘holistic’ system of devices that need to work together to achieve an optimal and balanced outcome in delivering a flawless smart home experience all day, everyday.
When we talk about the best smart home ecosystems on the market today, the conversation really comes down to a few of the biggest names in tech which are blazing the trail in the world of connected devices and consumer-side internet of things technology.
Whatever outcome or scale of smart implementation you’re looking to realize in your home, if you’re starting from scratch, the following our undoubtedly the best smart home ecosystem choices when it comes to ease of use, value for money, functionality, and of course, compatibility across devices.
Even if you’re a relative newcomer to the field of smart home tech, it probably comes as little surprise to learn that Amazon with their range of voice activated Alexa smart speaker offerings is one of the best in the business when it comes to building a smart home ecosystem that works with almost every connected device out there.
First making an appearance way back in 2014, Amazon’s digital assistant Alexa has come a long way since her first introduction to the public in the form of the original Amazon Echo smart speaker.
Indeed, in the subsequent years since launch, Alexa and Amazon’s family of Echo smart speaker systems have increased significantly in both intelligence and device offering, with the options for obtaining Alexa voice control of your smart home stretching further than ever, making it a platform now available on a list of smart devices which go far beyond the brand’s native smart speaker solutions alone.
Being one of the first of the big names to market when it came to smart technology and voice control integration, Alexa has probably the widest remit of compatible device options stretching from smart lighting and smart thermostats, to video doorbells and TVs.
What this means in practice of course is that if you opt for one of Amazon’s smart speaker or hub options (as well as a third-party equivalent with Alexa built-in), you’re going to be in a pretty good place when it comes to ensuring compatibility with almost every kind of smart device on the market.
Good news if you’re looking to keep your options open.
The important distinction to be made when it comes to the Alexa smart home ecosystem is that devices utilizing the platform can effectively take two forms – on the one hand those devices or smart speakers withe Alexa built-in (think Amazon Echo devices for example) and also, those devices which are designed to be compatible with Alexa right out of the box (in this case, look for the ‘Works with Amazon Alexa’ seal).
Arguably the most practical (and probably the most common) way to get started with a smart home ecosystem built around Amazon’s Alexa platform is to pick up one of Amazon’s own Echo smart speakers which naturally come with the smart voice assistant on-board and ready to go right out of the box.
If this is the route you decide to go down, there are now more choices than ever to choose from ranging from the lowest level (but still absolutely excellent) Echo Dot, through to the latest devices in the family which feature video functionality and a screen on top of the usual Alexa functionality.
Perhaps the best choice if you’re looking to build an Alexa smart home ecosystem from scratch however, is the Echo Plus which offers not only excellent voice control and audio output functionality, but also operates as a standalone Zigbee hub to orchestrate all of the devices in your fledgling ecosystem and allowing you to expand outwards with minimal fuss in the future.
One of the main selling points of building an ecosystem around the Alexa platform is the simplicity when it comes to detecting and adding other smart devices on your home network.
The ease of setup, use, and overall compatibility benefits of the Alexa system are partly due to the fact that Amazon established themselves as one of the major players in the smart home market early on, but these are all very real considerations when it comes to building a highly functional and reliable smart home ecosystem and for that reason alone, this is quite simply one of the best platforms for the job.
It’s no surprise that Google were also one of the early entrants into the world of voice activated smart home controllers and the range of Google Home speakers have been the core of the company’s smart speaker offering since they hit the market in 2017.
Much like Alexa, Google Assistant is no longer restricted to the brand’s own range of in-house smart speakers, with support offered across an ever-growing range of third party offerings from the likes of Sony, Panasonic, Lenovo and LG to name just a few.
As with Amazon’s smart speaker offering, the important thing to remember is that Google Assistant functionality effectively takes two forms – those devices that have the smart voice controller built-in to the device (and can therefore be controlled with your voice), and those which work with Google Assistant devices (meaning they can be be controlled by it).
One of the major advantages of the Google platform is the native compatibility with Android devices which means you’re going to have instant control over any Google smart home ecosystem directly from Android smartphones or Android Wear smartwatches as well as any smart speaker system you may or may not choose to incorporate into your setup.
What this means in practice of course, is that if you’re already familiar with the Google Assistant interface from your day to day smartphone or watch use, the transition of this functionality to cover your smart home devices is going to be seamless.
Adding connected devices to your Google Assistant controlled smart home ecosystem is incredibly straight forward – as simple as scanning the network and selecting the device from within the app – meaning you’ll be up and running in no time.
The ace up Google’s sleeve has always been their unrivaled access to data and this shows in a number of applications of the company’s smart home devices in functionality ranging from simply asking Google Assistant for information, or in the case of devices such as the Nest Hub, the ability to translate entire conversations between speakers of different languages.