What is the Internet of Things and smart homes?

The smartphone is the center for most consumers. It connects across multiple channels like email, phone calls and texting. The smartphone is supplemented by more internet-connected devices to automate and streamline consumers’ lives.

Technology evolves at a fast pace. Hardware improves to increase computing power while shrinking device size. Internet access is readily available with consumers creating a digital life through an always-connected existence.

Homes are blanketed with WiFi and offer online access twenty-four hours a day. Consumers connect devices to the internet and manage them directly from an app. As more connected devices replace old technology under the Internet of Things (IoT) ecosystem, life is changing from “always connected” to “everything connected.”

Customer support also needs to be aware of these devices and how they will affect the customer experience. The Internet of Things is altering how consumers interact with technology. Instead of contacting support through a smartphone, in the future, they may contact support through a smart device.

You might not even realize it, but you’re already an active participant in IoT.

What is the Internet of Things?

In its simplest form, the Internet of Things is any physical device that can connect to the internet. Looking from a wider perspective, IoT can include anything that uses the internet like smartphones, laptops, smart televisions, automobiles that use the internet for GPS and more. The term can be applied so broadly that it’s difficult to create specific guidelines.

Some IoT devices use a mix of technology like sensors, machine learning and automation, like Nest devices, to learn user behavior. Others are simplistic like Philips Hue bulbs that are controlled through an app. Consumers have a lot of IoT product choices and many IoT hardware companies make sure that products are compatible with smartphone platforms.

For a consumer, IoT usually refers to internet connected devices used in the home. This is where the term “smart home” gained popularity. But it’s important to know that placing the word “smart” in front of the device doesn’t necessarily mean that it’s a smarter device. Smart might only refer to its ability to connect to the internet.

What is a smart home?

The term, smart home, makes you think that an entire home is covered with connected devices. In reality, the smart home dream is relatively young. Smart homes (or apartments) usually contain devices that automate actions you usually perform. It’s not common to have a home completely linked together and have everything automated from the moment you walk in the front door.

The most common devices that people use are connected speakers like Google Home, Amazon Echo or Apple HomePod. These speakers connect to each platform’s digital assistant, Alexa (Amazon), Google Assistant or Siri (iOS), and provide answers to questions by searching for information on the internet, complete voice commands or vocalize user information like calendar appointments.

Depending on the smartphone operating system you have, you might favor Siri or Google Assistant. Amazon’s Alexa is a great third-party voice that works on both Android and iOS. All three companies have spent a lot of time providing support so these digital assistants can interact with the consumer and various devices.

Common smart home devices

The smart home is a collection of connected appliances. One of the most common is the Nest thermostat. A regular thermostat is set to a specific temperature by the resident. Depending on whether you’re trying to heat or cool your home, the system attempts to maintain that temperature throughout the day. The problem is that it can only be set to a single temperature and use a lot of energy even when no one is home.

nest-thermostat

The Nest thermostat uses machine learning to understand temperature preferences. As you adjust the temperature over the first week, the Nest thermostat will log the different temperature settings and create a custom schedule. The thermostat also includes a home and away mode that uses Nest sensors and your phone’s location history to change the thermostat from an active mode to a passive mode and save utility costs.

Nest’s product line includes a security camera, video doorbell, alarm system, door lock and smoke and carbon monoxide sensor. If you were looking for an entire connected home system, Nest provides almost everything. All of these devices can be controlled through a smartphone app or through a voice assistant like Google Assistant. 

amazon ring video doorbell

Another useful device is a video-enabled doorbell like Ring. It’s common for homes to have a front door peephole to see who has arrived. With a smart doorbell, a visitor can ring the device, you receive a notification on your smartphone and see who is there through an app.

These devices also include a microphone and speaker so you can have a conversation before you answer the door. Video doorbells and connected security cameras, like Arlo and Blink, help secure home because even if you’re not home, you’ll be able to see who has arrived.

august home smart lock

Another great addition is a smart lock for the front door. Instead of using a key, a smart lock uses your smartphone to connect to the device and unlocks the door wirelessly.

August Home’s smart lock attaches to the existing deadbolt allowing residents to still use their keys but unlocks the door through its app for more convenience. The device is also compatible with digital assistants so you can even unlock your door with your voice.

A very simple, but popular smart home addition is smart bulbs. Smart light bulbs let you control the intensity and color of the light while also being energy efficient. Changing the color and intensity helps create a customized atmosphere in your home like if you’re going to watch a movie or host a party and want a different mood.

philips hue bulb

Philips Hue bulbs are the most common and offer these features. Since these lights are connected online, you can also control them when you’re not home through an app or voice assistant. 

Digital assistants in a smart home

All smart home devices can be controlled through an app or digital assistant. Google Home, Apple HomeKit and Amazon Alexa are the three popular smart home platforms. Amazon has the largest number of supported devices, followed by Google and then Apple with the smallest amount of device support.

Google Assistant and Amazon Alexa are available on the Google Home and Amazon Echo. They let you speak audio commands and control other connected devices. Apple uses Siri on iOS devices for voice control. Digital assistants provide more than online weather searches or dictating your schedule though, they are being upgraded to have even more usability. 

For example, you could tell your Google Assistant to lower the temperature with your Nest thermostat. Or you could ask Alexa to unlock your August Home lock to let a visitor inside. The convenience of voice commands is great, but it requires good voice recognition and machine learning to understand the context of the command. 

Digital assistants are getting new features through artificial intelligence too. Google Duplex is an artificial intelligence technology that uses Google Assistant to make appointments. It only has the option to make restaurant reservations now, but it’s expected that Duplex will be able to schedule more types of appointments in the future.

Everything will be connected

Smart home companies are developing products to add consumer convenience. Nest’s line of products replace a lot of aged home technology and connect all devices under a single app or platform. Ring enables residents to answer the door even if they’re not home. Connected devices give you control of your home even when you’re not there.

 Companies are also releasing bigger IoT appliances like Samsung’s WiFi washer and dryer. With Samsung’s SmartThings app, you can control cycles, get notifications when a cycle is done and even schedule cycles. GE has an entire line of connected devices that are controlled through an app. Soon it might not be uncommon to order from Instacart directly from your fridge instead of your smartphone.

Smart homes aren’t a trend, but the next stage in technology. As companies develop new home products, expect some type of internet connectivity. The smartphone is the primary device for consumers and soon it will also be the smart brain to control all connected devices in your home. As smart home devices become more advanced, they might replace every repetitive task and automate every action as soon as you enter your home.

In the future, you might see the home controlled solely through a digital assistant and your voice. Imagine ordering delivery through a digital assistant and never opening an app or talking to a restaurant. Imagine a connected refrigerator that keeps an internal list that’s automatically sent to a grocery delivery service on a schedule. These are all possibilities and customer support will have to know how to speak to these situations.