iPhones displaying on-screen remote control software.

Smart Connected Home Automation – Integrated Systems

Home automation for Macs and mobile devices has existed for a long time, but the quality has been pretty awful and the technology has been patchy and expensive. Now seemingly overnight everything is getting cheaper, better, and more readily available!

Today’s article is a list of integrated smart connected home automation systems aimed for mainstream audiences. Integrated systems have more than one controller and sensor that work together. They can frequently also integrate other companies’ products into the system. This lets you have just one iPhone app (or web page, Mac app, etc.) to control the system instead of a different app for each product.

This is part 2 in a series on Home Automation for Apple Users.

What’s A Protocol?

Home Automation devices have to have some method to “speak” to a central controller or hub, similar to how your home computers all talk to a modem to connect to the internet. Some of them can use regular Wifi to do this communication, the same way your computer does, but there are also other protocols in use – you will hear words including “Insteon”, “Z-Wave”, and “ZigBee”.

Don’t worry though, as a user you don’t need to know ANYTHING about these protocols except that they exist. It’s like when you drive a car – you need to know what fuel to ask for at the service station, but you don’t ever need to know how that fuel will work or what’s different about a diesel engine.

If you have a ZigBee device and an Insteon device, for example, then you can only get them to work with each other if your hub device speaks both protocols. I was going to add a list of which protocol or protocols are used by each system on this list, but expedited publishing in advance of WWDC has meant I don’t have time to do so – if you have any specific questions feel free to leave a comment under the article and I will check.

If you are confused about this you can grab a local nerd or geek like me to take care of it, or you can just avoid the problem by only buying gadgets of the same brand – like the “Belkin Wemo” range, they’ll always work together.

SmartThings

SmartThings Devices
SmartThings Devices

System Includes: multi sensor (movement, vibration, orientation, and temperature sensor), motion sensor, presence sensor, outlet switch, moisture Sensor, and lots more. Speaks ZigBee, Z-Wave and Wifi protocols, so widely compatible with many other products.
Full list of SmartThings devices.
TUAW Review of SmartThings.

LightwaveRF

System includes: globes, remote switches, energy usage sensor, magnetic open/close sensor, light sensor, movement sensor, wall sockets.

Insteon

System Includes: Light bulb, wall switch, outlet, thermostat, motion sensor, door and window sensor, water leak sensor, smoke sensor, and lots more.
Full list of Insteon devices.

Revolv

Revolv hub and iPhone app.
Revolv hub and iPhone app.

System Includes: Speaks Z-wave, Wifi, and Insteon protocols (ZigBee coming soon) so widely compatible with many other products.
Full list of Revolv devices.
TUAW Review of Revolv.

Control4

Lets you control the full range of products including audio/video, lighting, climate and security with a variety of interfaces.
Full list of Control4 devices.
Hub is required (they call it a Controller).

Please remember that this list is not exhaustive! It is, as I have already noted, a hugely rapidly changing landscape… there are new products, products being obsoleted, existing systems that become compatible with new protocols, and systems that increase the range of devices they produce.

If I had the money what would I buy? It’s an interesting question actually … the Revolv seems to be the system which has the most technical ability and can communicate with the widest range of products, but SmartThings is the system that’s the most popular at the moment so lots of interesting third-party programming is being done around it and it seems to have the most awesome apps.

There’s one more article in this series, listing a bunch of non-integrated products, which I will try to publish tomorrow. I’m not sure if WWDC on the 2nd is really going to announce stuff related to home automation, but if it is then ATMac’s readers will definitely be most educated on the current state of the marketplace!

– Ricky

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