With the rise of modern technology comes the demand for automated devices. Gerry Sy gives you the lowdown on the basics of a smart home.
Immense progress in internet connectivity, paired with the popularity of smartphones and more affordable technology options has made smart homes a viable alternative for many households. And while home automation has been increasing in popularity for more than two decades now, the technology only gained substantial traction in recent years. Remarkably, not only has the technology become more accessible for the average Filipino household, but it has also become more convenient to use. In fact, it is adaptable to even the less technologically adept people. Thus, it is safe to say that if you can operate a smartphone, it will definitely be easier for you to understand how smart home gadgets work.
I, for example, am always looking ahead into the future; looking for highly intuitive devices and assistants that can execute not only tasks that we are already doing, but also perform tasks we want to do. I have witnessed massive developments in smart home technology in the past five years. As mentioned earlier, with the development came accessibility. What used to be a complicated set-up requiring cabling works during construction and expensive control units, now only requires a smart speaker or hub and wireless devices.
Technology back then used to be restrictive and highly proprietary—with only devices and equipment from the same brand or manufacturer allowed to speak only with each other. But these days, third-party applications and devices employ universal operating standards and protocols that allow more seamless integration and connectivity. Simply put, recent models of home appliances and gadgets—regardless of brand or manufacturer—can now digitally talk to each other.
Additionally, there are devices available in the market now that can “smarten” earlier models. An example of which is Android TV Boxes and wireless display adapters that convert old television sets into smart TVs or Smart IR blasters which allow older models of remote-controlled devices such as split-type air-conditioning units to be integrated into your smart home interface. Although there is still so much to be desired from AI devices, technology powerhouses are incessantly developing codes to make them more intuitive or smarter. Routines, personalized skills, along with music and video streams, task trackers, and location-based commands can now be personalized in no time!
There are currently a lot of options in the market. You can choose between having an AI-powered smart speaker, a smart hub, a central control unit, or a simple app on your smartphone. The war for domination on who is the best may confuse you a bit on which system to choose. Anyone who has ventured into the smart home market will always have something to say about which is the better one. On the question as to which one is smarter, it’s up to you. It all boils down to your personal preferences, devices you want to control, features and functions you find more important, online services you subscribe to, skills you are looking for, or maybe the extent to which you can customize it. Each one has its own merits.
In this article, I will try my best to go through the strengths of two of the most popular smart speakers and voice assistants, Amazon Echo (Amazon Alexa) and Google Home (Google Assistant). And for good measure, I am introducing a third player: Vimar Home Automation. This third player is for those who are uncompromising about interior design and are willing to indulge a little bit more to get the best of both worlds: function and form.
When Amazon launched the Amazon Echo with Alexa in 2014 and Google first released Google Home in 2016, both technology giants have since been outdoing each other—vying for the top spot in AI-powered smart speakers. The competition and race to releasing updates have resulted in a close similarity between the two with just a couple of pertinent features differentiating one from the other. Each one comes with functions that the other is not yet able to do (as of this writing), but the gap is closing in. By highlighting these unique functions, I can hopefully help you navigate through your options and make an informed decision.
Blueprint for Customized Skills
The Alexa app allows users to create different skills, which you can personalize when you select Blueprints in the app’s menu. These skills are private and exclusive to your Echo devices only. You can even go ahead and program these skills by selecting from any of the templates provided in the app. This allows a venue for creativity and opens limitless potentials for teaching your device new skills, whether you use this for fun or productivity.
Alexa Guard for Security
My personal favorite is Alexa Guard. You can switch on Alexa Guard on your device or set it up as part of your routine when you leave your house.
Alexa Guard is a feature on Echo devices that acts as a pair of ears for your home when you’re not there. This makes Alexa your personal house sitter and security guard. The way it works is that it listens for suspicious sounds that indicate a threat in your home. Additionally, it listens for movement, breaking glass, smoke detectors, or carbon monoxide detector alarms. Once the far-field microphones detect any of those dangerous sounds, it will trigger Alexa to notify you by sending you a short clip of the sound.
You can even select which sounds you want to be notified about. Plus, Alexa Guard can be configured to switch on your smart lights at intervals to make it appear like someone is home.
Alexa is not just a great assistant for your smart home, but you can also take her with you in the car. You have a choice of plugging in your Echo Dot into a USB port, or you can use Amazon’s Echo Auto and plug it into a USB port or the lighter port in your car.
From there, you can speak to Alexa as you would at home, plus, you’ve got an assistant on-the-go. This could make your journey a lot more productive and you can keep your hands on the wheel at all times.
Location As A Trigger
When you set up Alexa’s location settings, you can program your smart home controls and have your preferred presets set up prior to arrival. Alexa will then track your location from your smartphone and will trigger routines that you have set up. This includes switching on lights, getting your smart AC to power up, playing your selected playlist, and whatever else you program her to do.
Aside from convenience, this can help manage your energy efficiency. For example, you do not need to leave the lights on for when you come home late or leave your AC running if you need to make a quick errand run.
Detecting Your Frustration
Another great AI feature of Alexa is Frustration Detection. Amazon knows that Alexa does not get things right every time. Thus, Alexa now analyzes not just what you’re saying, but even your tone of voice when you say that it got a command wrong. Your voice assistant analyzes how you say it, which allows Alexa to detect irritation or frustration in the tone of your voice. It will then react to this by adjusting its results or behavior without needing another command. If Alexa senses frustration in your voice, she will also apologize and attempt to clarify and recover.
As Amazon continues to update this feature, we can expect better and more precise results in the future.
You might have wondered at one point why your voice assistant did what she did. By asking questions like, “Alexa, tell me what you heard” and “Why did you do that?”, your digital assistant will tell you what she “heard” you say or explain why she performed a certain action. This feature helps add more clarity for users.
When you wake up in the middle of the night, you will no longer be blinded by your phone’s bright screen or worry about bumping into something in the dark. You can even ask her what time it is or whisper a command, like turning on the lights, without waking people up with your noise.
The nice thing is, you don’t need to change the settings or say a special command. All you need to do is whisper to Alexa, and she will whisper back to you. Some may find this a bit eerie or unsettling at first, but you will get the hang of it eventually.
Alexa has a wide range of music streaming services. Apart from Spotify, and the obvious Amazon Prime Music, Alexa also supports Apple Music. Other music streaming services on Alexa include Deezer, Gimme, iHeartRadio, SiriusXM, Tidal, TuneIn, and Vevo.
There is no surprise to this feature, being a product of Amazon. The Amazon Echo can track your packages when you shop on their site. Plus, Alexa will know when exactly your package will be delivered. She will notify you from the time your order has been shipped to the stage of delivery it is in, and even the time that it arrives at your doorstep.
Make no mistake though—this feature does not work with other online shopping sites. If you are a fan of Amazon Shopping, this is something you will surely appreciate.
High-Ranking In Comprehension And Responsiveness
When it comes to accuracy in responding to questions, Google Assistant gets the highest marks. No surprise here. The name says it all: Google.
In a recent study by Loup Ventures, Google Assistant scored 100% for comprehension and 92.9% for responding correctly. Alexa and Siri coming in second and third place, missing by just a few points for comprehension but falling far behind in terms of giving the right answers.
Google understands contextual speaking, which allows for a more natural flow in conversations. When you ask your voice assistant a question and you have a follow-up question once it gives an answer, Google Home will be able to understand that you are referring to the previous subject and will answer you accordingly.
More Voice Options
Google Assistant leads with the most control over Google Home’s voices and accents, allowing more room to personalize your voice assistant based on your preference. This might not seem like a big deal, but Google Home has two voices: male or female. While other platforms allow you to change between languages, only Google has the choice between voices.
Respond to up to 3 Commands In A Row
It can sometimes be tiring to talk to voice assistants—saying the wake word (“Google, turn off the lights” or “Google, play music,” for example) at the beginning of each sentence and giving one command at a time. But with Google Home, you can give up to three commands in one go. This, however, works best for relatively simple tasks or tasks that are related to each other.
This is a great feature because it saves time and allows you to speak more naturally.
Google Home’s ability to perform real-time translation for up to 27 different languages is one of the best features of this voice assistant.
Google has fewer music streaming services compared to Amazon Echo. It is compatible with Spotify, Pandora, iHeartRadio, Deezer, Google Podcasts, and TuneIn, although Google also has its own exclusive streaming service called Google Play Music. Google Home’s edge in music streaming is that it is compatible with YouTube Music.
However, if you have Google Chromecast integrated into your smart home system, you can technically use any streaming service.
Chromecast is one of the selling points of getting Google Home. In fact, Google Home is integrated with Chromecast, so any device with a Chromecast attached become automatically integrated and can be seamlessly controlled through the voice assistant.
Play Songs In Context
Similar to understanding contextual speaking, Google Home can also understand context when you are talking about music. This is a great feature especially when you can’t recall the song title or the artist.
By setting up shortcut commands on your Google Home hub, you can simplify commands or interactions with your voice assistant.
Amazon Alexa or Google Home
If you still can’t make up your mind on which product to get, you can actually get both and use them side by side or in different areas of the home. You can use both assistants simultaneously as they respond to different wake words. More importantly, almost all smart home devices in the market are already compatible with both Google Home and Amazon Alexa.
Vimar By-Me Automation Plus
Vimar is an Italian company known worldwide for integrating electrical energy and innovation with a strong tradition of design. They have found the perfect balance between style and function, offering solutions with solid roots in technology and design; therefore creating perfect harmony in your home.
Core Of the Smart Home
By-me Plus is the connected automation system based on a BUS paired cable and distributed logic. That way, you have total control over lights, temperature, sound diffusion, curtains, and shutter automation. Additionally, you can control water and energy management, and multi-zone thermoregulation.
Vimar By-me Plus makes it possible to conveniently control spaces from one single point: touchscreens, smartphones, and tablets. The solution allows intuitive and efficient management of function the user has programmed—from basic light and heating or cooling controlto the more complex creation of scenarios.
Support And Updates
Wherever you are in the world, you can be connected to your home and receive updates on what is happening through the View App and Vimar Cloud. The app integrates a notification system with a completely customizable interface while supporting all functions in the system.
Integration With AI-Powered Smart Speakers
Aside from the View App being compatible with programmable electronic controls, touchscreens, smartphones, tablets, and PCs, the system can be integrated with Amazon Alexa and Google Home.
Vimar allows you to regulate the intensity of any light source: incandescent, fluorescent, or LED. This energy-saving feature allows the user to manipulate the mood and ambiance with impressive light effects. Strategically placed glass panels with laser-engraved icons also indicate functions and with just one touch, you can easily switch on or off all lights.
Additionally, you can also create events and presets which can be triggered by specific schedules or situations.
Automated Lights And Roller Shutters
The IP platform of By-me Plus provides a gateway that enables seamless integration of lights and roller shutters systems based on Plug & Play preconfigured devices. This assures the user a functional upgrade with minimal effort and cost.
The Vimar system manages up to four different sound sources and enables different audio settings per room. Each space has its own sound feed, with a consistent signal that utilizes digital signal transport and premium quality speakers.
Vimar can seamlessly integrate with smart home solutions that regulate temperatures. Heating and cooling can be controlled and regulated on a per room basis. Elegant and beautifully designed thermostat panels or electronic flush-mounted probes installed in single or multiple points are perfect for any kind of thermoregulation system for optimal in-home climate management.
Load Control And Energy-Saving
Here, smart energy management, which is produced by a photovoltaic system, is conveyed to previously selected household appliances. That way, the system reduces network withdrawal and supports the maximization and consumption of the power that is generated.
In cases where the contractual limit is reached or exceeded, the system automatically switches off some of the load based on prioritization to prevent a blackout.
Interior Design And Aesthetic Coordination
Vimar wiring devices and panels have a wide array of designs to satisfy any style. With this, solutions are perfectly balanced to create harmony, continuity, and attention to detail. The integration of design and technology ensures the best execution and personalization of shapes, materials, finishes, functions, and colors.
Vimar’s Eikon, Arké and Plana design series offer a complete package of multi-chromatic and material versions. These three styles complement any device, creating a perfect blend of functionality and aesthetics.
View Pro App
Vimar recently launched View Pro App for the most discerning and sophisticated homeowner. This allows the installer to program, modify and redesign scenarios in all systems locally or remotely with a tablet or a PC. The Cloud service also ensures the remote maintenance of all devices, guaranteeing a service with the highest security and respect to the homeowner’s privacy.
Smart Home Technology As We Know It
Smart home technology is evolving before our very eyes. Every advancement and improvement serves to make our homes more connected to us. Thus, we can now skip mundane and repetitive tasks, allowing us to perform more important chores simultaneously.
When we choose a smart home system, it is important to think about how it can help us optimize our days more than redefining our lives. Regardless of your choice of brand and whether you want to go all out on automation or just for certain tasks, choose what you need—not what the market dictates.
Choose technology that integrates not only with the online world but more importantly, one that integrates with your lifestyle, your priorities, the needs of your families, and your budget.
Gerry Sy is the Founder, President & CEO of Intellismart Technology, Inc., a diversified technology company that offers customized integrated solutions for various industries. His other ventures include Stork.Ph, Opulence Design Concept and SuperSam. As an entrepreneur, Gerry Sy values hard work with a sense of urgency and discernment. He expects people he works with to be resourceful and innovative. Gerry is also happily married with four children.
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